Published: September 10, 2002
Story and photographs by Bob Jackman
BOLTON, MASS.- On August 9 and 10 Skinner conducted an “August Auction” with a strong folk art thrust. American weathervanes, signs, hooked rugs, and paintings provided highlights although a dozen Skinner departments placed rdf_Descriptions into the auction. Furniture lots also sparked competitive bidding. Total sales were $558,254. Eighty-three percent of lots sold, and many of the lots that passed were Oriental rugs.
A half dozen weathervanes with uncommon motifs excited considerable interest. A silhouette fox weathervane ran to the front of the pack at $4,700. The vane featured a molded zinc head that retained patches of old gilt. The body was cut from thick copper sheet and bore a blackish oxidized surface. An unconventional aspect of construction was a tapered pole. To maintain a proper fit, the supporting sheet of metal also had a tapered diameter.
The fox’s sleek pose hinted that the weathervane had once sat atop a kennel of fox hunting dogs. Rather than depicting a stalking or walking fox, it shows a running fox with both front legs and both rear legs reduced to single forms. While foxes dart around when playing, they run with full extension when chased, as on a foxhunt.
As trotting racetracks decline in numbers, sulky weathervanes become increasingly nostalgic and alluring. A 34-inch long, painted sulky weathervane ran to $4,406.
The Archangel Gabriel has inspired a small number of fine weathervanes. At this auction, a cast-zinc vane featuring Gabriel in a flying position with his horn extending behind him sold for $3,819. The figure with traces of mustard paint stood about two feet high.
Another uncommon weathervane was sword and spire fashioned from copper that sold for $2,468. The 23-inch sword had an oversized hilt that made the form recognizable from a distance. The stark, simplified geometric lines suggested that the design was post-Victorian.
Since they are both decorative mechanical devices powered by the wind, weathervanes are often grouped with whirligigs. The best of several whirligigs at this auction was a wood and tin sailor that sold for $3,819. The sailor’s body was a lightly carved cylinder offering a suggestion of a waist. Both legs were straight with oval cross-sections. The paddle arms had the thickest, crustiest old paint, and seemed to have been the most frequently painted component of the figure. A tin breastplate may have been a later addition. If the plate were not in place, an exposed area of end grain in the wood would have been an ideal spot for wood rot to become established. By adding a tin plate, rain flowed over the sailor’s chest without sinking into the wood.
A couple dozen signs spanned the full range from handcrafted wooden statements to machine cut and painted metal advertisements. Topping the field was a double-sided watchmaker’s sign that dealer John Sideli won for $4,406. The rim and winding lobe of the sign were gilt cast iron and each face was painted tin. The maker’s or painter’s name was partial visible at the bottom of one face were the letters M A I ? E T T appeared. The painting on the faces was well conceived. The second hand dial occupied the lower half of the face as was common on late Nineteenth Century watches. The clock hands indicated 8:17, a time that placed them in the bottom half of the dial. The upper half of the dial was given over to a double line of text reading “EXPERT/WATCH REPAIRING.” Old, possibly original, paint on the faces was in very good condition, and the gilt on the rim was excellent.
Most hooked rugs in the sale had condition problems. Some had such strong designs that they sparked competitive bidding despite those problems. A rug with an abstract flower design sold for $999 against an estimate of $400/600. The huge flower rose out of an undersized triangular flowerpot. A single huge red blossom with an orange edge and yellow center dominated the composition. Two black leaves on stems rose to either side. All this was set against a textured gray-blue background. Unfortunately there were breaks in several areas. If this rug expertly restored, it will be a dramatic and valuable example of a North American hooked rug.
The rug appeared to be a cooperative project between mother and daughter. The main design and the field immediately adjacent to the design were hooked to a consistent height by an experienced hand. However much of the open field area of the rug was more variable in height, an indication of a less experienced hand.
Another attractive lot in the folk art field was a leather firebucket in green paint with gold lettering. The lettering read, “H B Thornton / Saco / 1817.” The Thorntons were prominent members of the Saco, Maine community throughout the Nineteenth Century. They were leaders in creating Thornton Academy that continues to this day. It brought $1,058.
The most abundant type of painting offered was the Nineteenth Century folk portrait by an unknown artist. The most successful portrait was an oil painting on paperboard of a man that sold for $3,408. It was a bust portrait with the man’s torso at a 45 degree angle to the canvas. The man’s head was turned so he gazed directly at the viewer with a strong, sincere expression. His attire was distinguished by a vest with red polka dot decoration and an oval border that contrasted with a white shirt. The combination of the man’s expression and vest raised this portrait above others in the field.
In addition to paintings from the American Primitive School, there was also a fine landscape “West Point from Garrison-on-Hudson” by the French/American Impressionist Kenneth Frazier (1867-1949). The fine image captured the glow of a low sun, perhaps of sunrise, on porch posts in the foreground and the deep purple of mountains on the opposite shore. The painting had once been in the collection of the Brooklyn Museum of Art. Someone won a prize when this work sold for $2,820.
The top furniture lot was a Quebec table with stretchers that went to a phone bidder for $9,988 against an estimate of $2,000/2,500. The Eighteenth Century table had William and Mary-style block-and-turned stretchers. Overall the table is a more dynamic, active statement than most furniture of the period that tends to project a stable, stately quality.
Energy came from legs and stretchers whose highly curved forms contrasted with the rectilinear case. Blocks at intersections of legs and stretchers were nearly square compared to the rectangular blocks seen on American furniture of the era. Turnings were robust with large diameters. To accommodate larger ball turnings, the trumpet section of each leg was shorter than that seen most tables of the era. The center finial that descended from a block was particularly large.
Another furniture lot that trounced the estimate was a birch slant-lid desk that went for $5,875 against an estimate of $400/600. It was a country desk with ogee feet with a square cross-section. Its unusual feature was an eight-point star inlaid in the center of the lid. A narrow rectangle of light-colored wood was inlaid into the top to further accentuate the star.
Perhaps the best buy in the furniture field was a Connecticut lowboy or dressing table that sold for $2,115 against an estimate of $800/1,000. Winning bidder was Attleboro, Massachusetts dealer Bill Taylor.
Taylor commented, “I like it as a very rare form with panache. There are a couple of highboys and a couple of dressing tables with this same leg, with the bulging knee. They have all been attributed to the area around Woodbury, Connecticut. These legs are unmistakably from that group of works. This dressing table is from that early Queen Anne period. It’s a transitional piece. The case is like a William and Mary lowboy, but the legs are definitely Queen Anne. I especially like forms with that bulging knee.”
Taylor continued, “The piece has some imperfections. Obviously the drops are missing. It has an old refinished surface. The teardrop pulls are missing, but the drawer fronts were never drilled for later brasses. Each location for a pull has a single hole, and that can be used to insert replacement William and Mary teardrop pulls.”
Four dozen poster lots sold well with collectors and dealers contesting most lots. Generally smaller posters with good graphic design sold in the range of $100 to $250 with larger posters going in the $250 to $1,000 range. The most successful poster lot was a travel poster touting Catalina Island off the coast of California. The large 50- by 39-inch work sold for $2,468.
The Catalina poster incorporated many desirable features beyond size. It promoted a specific community that continues to be a popular resort destination. The artist chose landscape elements – a sun-drenched Spanish mission, a public fountain, a ferry approaching the island, and the distant mountains of the California coast – that remain appealing today. The design was well composed and executed in strong, appealing colors.
All prices cited include the buyer’s premium.
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