Published: January 5, 2021
Review by Greg Smith, Photos Courtesy Skinner, Inc.
MARLBOROUGH, MASS. – December is always a crowded time for the Twentieth Century decorative arts sales, but Skinner’s 580-lot offering on December 8 was one not to be missed. The sale grossed $703,000, a figure that Skinner’s director of Twentieth Century design, Daniel Ayer, was pleased with.
“We’ve been a beneficiary of the rise in online buying during the pandemic,” Ayer said. “We saw good results back in June, when people were still getting their legs under them as far as the pandemic went. By the time the December sale rolled around, people are in their homes more, looking to upgrade their home environments. Between demand for dealer merchandise and buyers who come direct to us, the result was great.”
Among the notable consignments in the sale was an anonymous museum that deaccessioned two works by contemporary textile artist Sheila Hicks (b 1934), both among the sale’s top three lots. Leading it all at $40,625 was the artist’s 1962 “Study for White Letter Textile,” a cream-colored weaving with four-sided selvage finish that she completed in Mexico using hand-spun wool. The artist lived and worked in Taxco el Viejo, Mexico, from 1959 to 1964 following her graduation from the Yale School of Art, where she received her MFA. She was guided on her thesis of “Pre-Incaic Textiles” by archaeologist Junius Bird of the American Museum of Natural History and artist Anni Albers.
Behind at $22,500 was an “Evolving Tapestry Textile” of 42 individual elements, including natural and bleached linen with polished red cotton wrapped and stretched, stitched by passementerie technique. This was completed later than the other, dating to 1987. An earlier version resides in the MoMA where it was exhibited in a 1969 exhibition titled “Wall Hangings.” The museum wrote, “Composed of hundreds of bound and stacked ‘ponytail’ units, this work assumes a different form each time it is exhibited. The repetitive, tactile process by which it has been constructed and installed reflects Hicks’s preoccupation with gesture in textile fabrication.”
Ayer said the sale was able to raise more than $70,000 for the museum.
A collection of Dedham Pottery was consigned by “a rare cross-Dedham collector,” Ayer said. “Among Dedham collectors, usually you see them split into the experimental, crackle or oxblood glazes, but he collected all three.”
Among them were three 8½-inch diameter plates in blue and white: a Poppy plate, $4,063; a Fish and Wave plate, $2,750; and a Tiger Lily plate, $1,625.
Among Dedham Pottery’s most storied works are those with the experimental oxblood glaze, an aesthetic that the founder Hugh Robertson compulsively pursued against better judgment. The best example was in a circa 1888 work that was made at the Chelsea Keramic Art Works, which would prove insolvent a year later. The vase measured 7½ inches high and sold for $3,125. Following that pottery’s closure, Robertson popped up two years later in 1891 with the Chelsea Pottery, which had new backers who included a provision in their support that the potter focus on more profitable lines of pottery, explicitly forbidding the manufacture of the costly oxblood glazes that were wanting for buyers. It did not deter Robertson from doing so. In 1895, when he moved the company from Chelsea to Dedham, he renamed under Dedham Pottery and continued producing his Asian-inspired glazes. An oxblood vase from 1895 went unsold in the sale.
“Along the way,” Ayer said, “he was producing glazes in 1890 that it would take another 60 years to reproduce. So ultimately, I think his oxblood glazes may have led to the demise of the company because he was so obsessed with the experimental, he wasn’t paying much attention to the market.”
Perhaps always ahead of his time, Dedham’s experimentals found favor on the secondary market. Selling for $3,125 was one featuring a bumpy lava-like green glaze with white highlights around the neck, 7¾ inches tall. Another example in a glossy tan glaze with brown dripping highlights found a bidder at $1,500.
Ayer said that bidding was global, even on furniture. Taking $33,750 was a dining set featuring nine chairs designed by Tove and Edvard Kindt-Larsen and produced by Thorald Madsens, together with a dining table attributed to Finn Juhl. The buyer is shipping it all back to Copenhagen, where it was originally produced.
“They came from a woman in Rhode Island who was downsizing,” Ayer said. “We had a consignment day in Providence, she brought me one chair and I immediately recognized it. She said he had a number of these but her cat had clawed the upholstery. I said, ‘Don’t worry about the cat.’ We sent the team to pick up the chairs and a picture came in on the table they were around: it looked like a Juhl table, so it all came together.”
Other works of Danish design included a Poul Kjaerholm PK12 chair, produced by E. Kold Christensen in chromed tubular steel, brown leather seat and braided leather to the back rail, which sold for $10,000. A teak desk designed by Hans Wegner for Andreas Tuck sold for $6,875.
Two lots by American furniture maker Silas Kopf found good interest, including a $16,250 result for a granite and marquetry half-round two-door cabinet. Circa 2010, the cabinet featured a granite top with granite inset panels around the doors to the front, the doors featuring a marquetry scene of a butterfly over flowers. In 1988, Kopf was the recipient of a Craftsman’s Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, which he used to study traditional marquetry methods at the École Boulle in Paris with Pierre Ramond. At $5,625 was a maple chest, 38 inches wide and 17 inches high, that featured a singular maple branch with leaves to the top.
Skinner put together a virtual event for the sale, which included vignettes hand-picked by Manhattan designer Phillip Thomas. Ayer then hosted a Zoom preview with 100 attendees where he walked through the vignettes and gave some background on the items.
Skinner’s next Twentieth Century design sale is scheduled for June 2021, with a possible single-owner auction in late spring. For additional information, www.skinnerinc.com or 508-970-3000.
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