Published: May 15, 2018
Review and Photos by W.A. Demers
BRONX, N.Y. – It was if someone had flicked a switch and a tenacious winter was instantly replaced by summer when the New York Botanical Garden Antiques and Art Fair blossomed with a gala preview party, augmented by a collectors’ plant sale, on May 3. The event continued through May 6 inside a 10,000-square-foot tent at the New York Botanical Garden. On opening night, fans set up at each end of the tent strove to keep temperatures in the comfortable range, aided by a late evening downpour that brought the above-normal readings for early May down to a bearable level.
There were about 500 guests in attendance at the preview party, according to the garden’s director of public relations Nicholas Leshi.
And, while antiques, fine art and decorative accessories evoking our love for all things horticultural were the main draw, there were plenty of ancillary events during the weekend, including demonstrations in floral design each day, a plein-air invitational on May 5 with painter James Gurney joined by more than 20 established plein-air artists spread across the garden grounds and a specialty plant sale all weekend.
Just under 30 dealers were assembled for this boutique show by manager Karen DiSaia, who, operating without her husband Ralph, temporarily felled by pneumonia, soldiered through to make it a successful presentation.
Most dealers acknowledged having done well, although, as with any show these days, results were not uniform. Three days after the garden show closed, Tim Brennan and Dave Mouillseaux of the eponymous Briarcliff Manor, N.Y., firm, when encountered at Brimfield’s New England Motel show said they had done “very well,” with most of their midcentury offerings selling, although visitors seemed to ignore a collection of period iron they had brought. Surprisingly, a woodcut portrait of Georgia O’Keeffe in their booth did not sell, even though an exhibition at the botanical garden, “Georgia O’Keeffe: Visions of Hawai’i” focusing on the iconic artist’s immersion in the Hawaiian islands in 1939, was set to open on May 19 and run through October 28.
The portrait was priced at $250 and was titled in pencil “Georgia O’Keeffe” lower left and signed “M. Sweet Welch” lower right. Marsha Sweet Welsh (American, Twentieth/Twenty-First Century) is known for her portraits of famous women, like Alberta Hunter and Jean Harlow, that exhibit “the panache and glamour of their public persona,” according to author Elizabeth McClelland. “In her hands the woodcutting tools discern the age-etched features of Georgia O’Keeffe, the gloss of a tulip and the artist’s own skepticism in self-portrait,” she writes. Born in Cleveland, Sweet Welch obtained her BFA from Miami University and then went on to obtain her MFA from Case Western Reserve University and the Cleveland Institute of Art.
First-time exhibitors at the show, Martin Greenstein and James Elkind of Lost City Arts, New York City, said the event “lived up to its reputation, opening night was very impressive. There was a large crowd and they appeared to be able and ready to buy.”
Their booth featured several works by Modernist sculptor Harry Bertoia (1915-1978) and son Val Bertoia (b 1949), including an impressive gong sculpture that the pair had sold some 20 years ago, having come back into their collection when the owner, a Colorado resident, was moving and did not want to take the sculpture with him. A sound sculpture piece by Val Bertoia made of vertical brass rods was on offer, as was a fabulous fountain from 1937 by Swedish sculptor Arne Jones (1914-1976) that playfully splashed water throughout the weekend and a massive finial from the Woolworth Building that was at Broadway and Columbus Avenue.
“We had some very promising inquiries,” said Greenstein after the show. “At our price point, it isn’t unusual for buyers to want to think the purchase over. There is also always the issue of being a local dealer and the convenience of making a purchase after the show. When all is said and done, the sales for us weren’t impressive but the participating dealers, attendees and, of course, Karen made it an enjoyable experience with expectations of postshow sales.”
Leatherwood Antiques dealers Mo Wajselfish and Johnny Young got past the dramatic but blessedly brief illness of Young, apparently overcome by the heat during setup, that occasioned a trip to the hospital. Ultimately, the Sandwich, Mass., dealers said they enjoyed the show. Among their sales was an ornate American late Nineteenth Century Heywood wicker table, some iron decorations, including a putto, a pair of colorful chickens that were on one wall, copper and wood finials, window frames and a variety of Vienna bronzes. “We had a lot of interest in the booth,” said Wajselfish.
Katonah, N.Y., dealer Barbara Israel may have won the prize for the most massive piece of garden dÃ©cor with an Istrian stone wellhead, a cylindrical shaft with square top with chamfered corners and suspended arches, one of which encompassed an armorial shield, probably Venetian, circa 1575-90.
Also attracting attention was a pair of seated terracotta spaniels attributed to Moorhead Clay Works, Philadelphia, circa 1890, and, on an outside wall, an impressive pair of French terracotta griffins, circa 1860, their forepaws resting on shields with the monogram “AR.”
A large (45,000 square feet) house cleanout in Maryland by Firehouse Antiques dealer Paul Thien had yielded a pair of frosted and paint-decorated hurricane lamp chimneys that were most unusual. The Galena, Md., dealer said the paint loss and straw marks on the glass pointed to an approximate date of 1910. Thien sold them along with a number of architectural items he had brought.
Bruce Emond of the Village Braider produced an artful booth full of CorTen steel sculptures by a French artist. CorTen is a trade name for a steel alloy material that weathers rather than corrodes and develops an outer layer patina – a definite plus for sculpture that is meant to be viewed outdoors. In a process that recalls nature’s fractal artistic hand, the sculptor created figures, plant stands incorporating huge seashells and other architectural pieces. Several of these pieces sold, including mirror surrounds, while the Plymouth, Mass., dealer also wrote up sales for cast stone urns, architectural finials, large planters and gnomes.
Cast stone figures of animals once again formed a compelling menagerie on ascending steps in both corners of the booth of James and Judith Milne, At Home Antiques, Kingston, N.Y. Owls, hedgehogs, dogs, rabbits, ducks, turtles, otters and geese were on parade here, as were thousands of pounds worth of urns, fountains and planters, figural sculptures and weathervanes. New this year was a midcentury fountain the couple had sourced from an estate on Long Island, a folky yet Modernistic series of copper basins descending on sleek wrought iron stands, creating a graceful cascade of water that was both relaxing and artful to watch.
From Pennington, N.J., Jeffrey Henkel caught visitors’ attention with a pair of late Nineteenth Century cast iron wrestlers that sold on the show’s first full day. “Quality items sold well,” he said. A tall pair of columns with carved parrots at the top, out of Texas, dated about 1905, did not sell but were notable, as was a late Nineteenth Century cast iron Native American trade figure and a pair of signed and dated bronze seated dogs by Wheeler Williams.
Cast iron furniture, both white and green, again dominated the booth of Francis J. Purcell Inc, Philadelphia. Each year the firm also features a massive working fountain burbling away in the booth. This time it was a Fiske example, circa 1870, of zinc and iron surmounted by an Italian putto with fish. Just before the preview opened Francis J. Purcell III, son of the firm’s late founder, could be seen adjusting the fountain’s jets to get them to produce a graceful arc. He noted that in addition to releading the fountain’s joints, it had required some new plumbing, not surprising for a nearly 150-year-old survivor. He had the good fortune, however, of finding a specialty supplier of new old stock for the jets that needed to be replaced.
Fine art, especially high-quality naturalistic and horticultural prints, were not left out of the mix, with several dealers, such as D.M. De Laurentis, Dinan & Chighine and David Brooker Fine Art, offering oil paintings, watercolors and engravings that bring the outdoors in. Southport, Conn., dealer Brooker featured a set of eight early Twentieth Century watercolors, Belgian or French, of various plant forms. Another wall was filled with a colorful gallery of small vegetable, fruit and seafood still lifes by Mimi Roberts.
“The show was great, the dealers were great,” said a weary but upbeat DiSaia about her fifth year of managing the event – this time not having the pack-in/pack-out help of her husband Ralph. “The garden was very happy with the outcome. They had really pushed to have the show reflect more original, one-of-a-kind art, and to a great extent that is what was presented.”
For additional information, www.disaiamanagement.com or 860-908-0076.
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