Published: August 29, 2023
Review & Onsite Photos by Rick Russack
PORTSMOUTH, N.H. — Guyette and Deeter has not conducted a live sale in Portsmouth since 2019. Its return on August 8-9 resulted in its strongest sale to date, grossing $5.4 million. It included offerings from three major collections: the decoy and folk art collection of Russ and Karen Goldberger, which by itself earned $1,850,000. American art from the Betty and Kenneth Lay collection tallied $1,350,000, while the George Quay collection of carved fish and decoys from Ontario and Quebec realized nearly $400,000.
In addition, there was a Henry Gudgel walking stick, cigar store trade figures, weathervanes, game boards and painted furniture, along with folk art carvings by Edgar Tolson and Elijah Pierce. And there were about 300 additional lots of decoys, decorative carvings by makers, including Elmer Crowell, fish by Hans Jenner and Oscar Peterson, and contemporary carvings. Realizing the top price of the sale, $480,000, was Mary Cassatt’s “Mother Resting Her Cheek on Her Daughter’s Blond Head.” Ten items earned more than $100,000 each, 20 items sold for than $50,000 each and more than 100 additional lots exceeded $10,000 each.
The sale reflected Jon Deeter’s intention to add to the variety of the company’s offerings. Earlier this year, they conducted their first sale of sporting firearms. This sale included fine American paintings and they have been including weathervanes and other traditional folk art in their sales for the last few years. Deeter and company decided to go all out for this live sale. It took place in a new venue in Portsmouth, with walls being built to create gallery-like settings. The preview — which attracted about 200 — included light snacks and an open bar. Lunch was provided by the house during the sale and also included an open bar.
The indexed catalog of nearly 400 pages included profiles of the collectors and biographies and essays about dozens of carvers written by Bill LaPointe. For this, the house retained the services of Mehves Lelic, curator of the Academy Art Museum in Easton, Md., to research and catalog the Lay collection.
Russ & Karen Goldberger Collection
The first 71 lots in the sale were from the Russ and Karen Goldberger collection and three of those sold for more than $100,000 each. A separate 125-page catalog was produced for the collection, which was also included in the larger catalog for the entire sale. An interesting feature of the cataloging of the Goldberger collection was the inclusion of numerous first-person “collector’s notes” that appeared only in the printed catalog and discussed the Goldbergers’ thoughts on the carvers and/or the particulars of a bird being offered. It was also interesting that the Goldbergers did not limit their collecting interests to a single flyway or region. As Russ explained, “We tried to get the best examples that we could from the various parts of the country that my business career had taken us to.”
The Goldbergers are well-known decoy and folk art dealers who have been buying, selling and collecting since about 1977. They have decided to downsize their home and so their collection came to the market, but their business will continue. Russ held senior marketing positions in several consumer product companies and that marketing background resulted in them creating one of the first websites devoted to selling antiques, and they became the largest retail decoy business in the country. In 1993, along with Alan Haid, Goldberger published Mason Decoys: A Complete Pictorial Guide, the essential reference book on Mason decoys, which has been updated over the years. Fittingly, the first three decoys in the sale were Masons, the first of which was a challenge-grade rig-mate pair of American mergansers that sold to a phone bidder for $42,000.
Bringing the top price of the collection, and also the highest price of the decoys in the sale, $120,000 was a circa 1930 pintail drake, made by the Ward Brothers of Crisfield, Md. It retained the original paint and showed minor hunting wear. The editorial note accompanying the catalog description compared this decoy to another pintail in the collection made by Charles Walker, noting “We are fascinated by the different artists interpretation of the same species.” Two other Goldberger decoys brought prices exceeding $100,000.
Earning $108,000 was a rare circa 1900 ruddy turnstone in spring plumage. Made on Long Island by John Dilley, circa 1900, it had carved wings, glass eyes and detailed paint. The catalog had an extensive essay on Dilley, and another on shore-bird hunting on Long Island. Dilley’s birds were, at one time, mistakenly attributed to Jess Birdsall and later, to Elmer Crowell. The catalog states “(Dilley’s) birds are among the very finest of their kind from the entire flyway.”
Realizing $102,000 was a running black bellied plover made by Elmer Crowell, East Harwich, Mass., in the first quarter of the Twentieth Century. There were other important Crowell decoys in the collection, including a turned head black bellied plover, with raised wingtips and fine feather paint which brought $54,000. The pose, with a slightly turned and cocked head, is quite rare for Crowell shore birds.
Having lived in New Hampshire for more than 30 years, many of the birds in the Goldberger collection were the work of New England carvers such as George Boyd — who lived about 15 miles from their home — and Gus Wilson, a lighthouse keeper from Maine. There were four Wilson’s topped by a rare preening white-winged scoter which sold for $75,000 and a rare preening, wing-up black duck which sold for $60,000. Leading the six Boyds in the collection was an early rig-mate pair of mergansers which earned $57,000.
After the sale, Goldberger made a point of saying how pleased he was with the way Jon Deeter and his staff handled his collection. “Please be sure to mention that when you write about the sale. Not only did they promote the collection well, and get strong prices, they did a great job cataloging everything and they were a pleasure to deal with from start to finish.”
Betty & Kenneth Lay Collection
The Betty and Kenneth Lay family collection was comprised of nearly 50 paintings by blue-chip American artists, including Mary Cassatt, Winslow Homer, George Bellows and several others. The Toledo, Ohio, collectors began to collect in the 1970s with the works of Edmund Osthaus and went on to include the works of Impressionists, Hudson River School painters and pre-Raphaelites. The star of their collection, drawing the highest price, $480,000, was a signed oil on canvas painting titled “Mother Resting Her Cheek on Her Daughter’s Blond Head” by Mary Cassatt (1844-1926). Mehves Lelic’s extensive catalog notes states, “This painting is one of the finest examples of her intimate and tender subject matter: mothers and children. She often portrayed the bonds between mother and child, capturing the warmth, love and care that define these relationships.” A drypoint and aquatint, also by Cassatt, titled “The Barefoot Child” brought $18,000. Another, a unique and previously unrecorded drypoint, “Study For The Bath,” earned $46,800.
The second highest price of the Lay collection, $360,000, was earned by Winslow Homer’s watercolor portrait of his older brother, Charles Savage Homer Jr, an avid collector of his younger brother’s work. At one point in his life, 1887-1889, Winslow, a self-taught etcher, was producing etchings, sometimes of his completed oil paintings. “Eight Bells” was one of these and he made it one year for his painting of the same name; it made $66,000. Homer eventually turned away from etching, because, as the catalog states, they were well-received by critics but they were not very successful in the marketplace.
Another work that did well, earning $114,000, was an unsigned oil on canvas landscape by George Bellows (1882-1925). Titled on the reverse “Bleak Hills,” it’s a depiction of Woodstock, N.Y., from a vantage point on a mountain above the village. Four works by Edmund Osthaus (1858-1928) included an oil on canvas of a St Bernard mother resting on a crate watching over her pups, which realized $22,200. The Lay collection also included works by Childe Hassam, John Frederick Peto, Charles Burchfield and several others.
George Quay Collection
In the 1980s, George Quay amassed a collection of carved trophy fish, including a group of models of fish weighing more than 50 pounds; his decoy collecting interests centered on birds by carvers who worked in Ontario and Quebec. Of the many outstanding carvings in this collection, it was a rig-mate pair of canvasbacks made by Ontario carver Ivar Fernlund in the first quarter of the Twentieth Century that brought the highest price, $57,000. It’s believed that Fernlund made not more than 150 decoys in his lifetime.
A pair of hooded mergansers, by another Ontario carver, Al Weis, in the same time period, sold for $33,000. Because mergansers were not popular in his area, this pair was never user used and remained in his shop until he retired in the early 1960s. He carved primarily for own use, most likely not producing more than 200 birds, although some believe his production was less than half that.
The collection included a folky early heron decoy, dating to the late Nineteenth Century. The distinctive weathered surface, wooden legs and the pieced construction, appreciated by Adele Earnest led her to refer to heron decoys as “solitary persuaders” or confidence decoys although some writers believe herons had been hunted for their plumage. It had been in the Mackey collection and was one of the few birds pictured in Richard Bourne’s first auction catalog for the Mackey sale. It brought $30,000. Another folky bird with a neck and head of tree root, known as the red-throated merganser, sold for $330,000. Only four of these are known to exist.
Quay was one of the first Americans to search out and collect carved trophy fish. A large and unique Atlantic salmon, 53 inches long and carved by Hardy Brothers of London, depicted a 43 pound salmon which had been caught in Quebec on June 28, 1912; it sold for $19,200. There were two carvings of 50-pound salmon. One, 57-inches long, had been caught in October of 1892; it sold for $18,000. The other, a 59-inch 50-pound fish had been caught in 1906 and sold for $8,400.
Various owners’ collections
Beyond the collections noted above, there were dozens of other noteworthy items consigned by other sellers, including 20 additional carvings by Elmer Crowell, including decorative and miniature carvings. His decorative preening whimbrel, with raised wingtips and relief tail feather carving, earned $33,000. A circa 1915 feeding kingfisher sold for $20,400 and a signed decorative blue jay, with raised wingtips and relief tail feather carving, flew to $18,000.
The miniature carvings included several by George Boyd. Boyd, who lived and worked in Seabrook, N.H., spent his entire working life in the shoe industry and listed himself as “shoemaker” on all official documents. He began carving as early as 1895 and his miniatures were sold by stores like Macy’s and Abercrombie & Fitch. Miniatures selling for $3,000 each included a pair of black ducks, a godwit and a yellowlegs. Finishing slightly less at $2,700 each were a trumpeter swan, a white heron and an upland plover.
Guyette and Deeter’s last few sales have included traditional folk art such as weathervanes and cigar store Indians, along with carvings by contemporary masters such as Frank Finney. This sale expanded their offerings in these categories. Easily the most sought-after, and earning $144,000, was a walking stick by Henry Gudgell (1829-1895); it is one of only two known. Born a slave, it was previously thought that the only walking stick he ever made was in the collection of Yale University, where it was discussed and pictured in several books and articles. This one has been thoroughly researched and documented and was accompanied by a photograph of a family member holding it. The carvings on the stick include alligators or lizards, a tortoise, raised swirl bands and more. The printed catalog includes two pages devoted to the history and importance of this walking stick.
A biblical scene of “Jesus Taken Before Pilate” carved by Elijah Pierce (1892-1984) realized $36,000, twice its high estimate. Pierce, a barber by trade, carved numerous African American sports heroes, biblical scenes, as well as the animals he started caving as a child. Three carvings by Edgar Tolson (1904-1984) from his “Fall of Man” series, circa 1970, brought prices between $4,800 (for one with a minor defect) to $19,200 for a group with Adam and Eve, a serpent, an apple tree and four animals.
Native American cigar store figures have done well in previous sales and there were about a half dozen in this sale. Topping the offerings was an 80-inch-tall “leaner” made in the 1870s by Thomas Brooks, New York City, which realized $72,000. Olde Hope Antiques was included in its provenance. A Native American princess, about 81 inches tall, including the base, earned $30,000. She was thought to have been made by Samuel Robb or Thomas Brooks and held a bundle of cigars in one outstretched arm and a bundle of tobacco in the other; its provenance included Alan Katz.
After the sale Jon Deeter remarked, “It was our best sale yet. We had first class stuff and we got in front of the right buyers. The American art in the Lay collection was a new category for us and I’m glad it did well. I was particularly pleased with the size of the crowd that turned out for the preview party, and they filled the salesroom the following two days.” Deeter emphasized, “We believe in the live auction format and the fun preview party. People enjoy being able to socialize with friends with like interests and discuss with one another the items being offered. It fosters collecting and provides both a social event and a learning experience.” The company’s staff, including LaPointe and Lelic, were circulating throughout to answer questions and discuss the items being offered.”
Prices quoted include the buyer’s premium. For additional information 410-745-0485 or www.guyetteanddeeter.com.
September 19, 2023
September 19, 2023
September 19, 2023
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