Published: May 7, 2019
Review and Photos by Greg Smith
PHILADELPHIA – The Antiques Dealers’ Association of America (ADA) presented its annual Award of Merit to writer and Antiques and The Arts Weekly editor-at-large Laura Beach on April 27 before a banquet of her peers.
In a piece penned by W.A. Demers (Antiques and The Arts Weekly, issue April 26, 2019), Beach summed up her three-plus-decade career, saying, “I went everywhere, did everything and met all.”
In her 33 years of writing, Beach has also served as the deputy editor of The Magazine Antiques and contributed to Antiques & Fine Art, The New York Times, Architectural Digest, Art + Auction, Connoisseurs Quarterly, and has authored a book on artist Stephen Huneck. By her estimation, she has written more than 1.7 million words.
Quick to illuminate the energetic qualities of an industry focused on the inanimate, the introductory speech given by Elizabeth “Penny” Stillinger noted Beach’s prevailing interest in people. “Her portraits of curators, collectors, dealers and others in our world are vivid and insightful,” she said.
As he presented the flame finial award to Beach, ADA vice president Arthur Liverant remarked, “I can’t imagine anybody who deserves it more, who has been such a pillar in our industry. You have kept us alive, photographed every dealer’s booth in this room right now – at least 50 times. You have written about us, you have told stories and you have kept our confidence.”
Beach held the award high as she delivered her first-person account of a long career surrounded by knowledgeable and intriguing people.
“I want to say that I have loved every single minute of the last 33 years and have often marveled that I got paid for having so much fun,” she began. “One of the fun things about being a ‘newsie’ is that an essentially reserved person like me can call up a complete stranger to ask an impertinent question and not fear reprisal – that is, until now. But as luck would have it, the ADA has given me the last word tonight.”
Beach recalled some of the lessons passed down from editors she has worked under and alongside. From R. Scudder Smith, publisher of Antiques and The Arts Weekly, she learned “to have a good time, tread lightly and be an empathetic listener.” From Alice Winchester, the second editor of The Magazine Antiques, she said, “When I once praised a colleague’s writing ability, [Winchester] brought me up short. She said, ‘Yes, he’s a good writer and he’s also a good thinker,’ so the idea that journalistic excellence requires both of those qualities is something that has never left me.”
Her speech went on to include mention of many figures – curators, collectors, auctioneers and dealers among them -that she encountered in her travels. Among others were John Keith Russell, R. Scudder and Helen Smith, Gregory Cerio, Mary Allis, Carol and Stephen Huber, Alice Winchester, Russell Carrell, Lillian Cogan, Cora Ginsburg, Nina Little, Philip H. Bradley, Zeke and Arthur Liverant, Joe and Jenifer Kindig, H. Richard Dietrich Jr, Joan and Victor Johnson, J. Welles and Hannah Henderson, Barbara Israel, Max Berry, Dick Jenrette, Stephen O’Brien, Tim Martin, Luke Beckerdite, Andrew Schoelkopf and Susan Menconi, Gavin Ashworth, Burt and Ira Little, Nancy Druckman, Betsy Garrett, Charlie Montgomery and Sumpter Priddy.
“I am glad that I was present in what David Schorsch recently described to me as the ‘golden age of Americana,'” Beach said. “I’m glad I witnessed auctioneer Dick Withington’s unsurpassed showmanship under a tent on a summer day in New Hampshire. That I was with Dick Bourne as he auctioned the Elsholz glass collection. That I remember people spilling out of their seats at Skinner’s Bolton sales room. That I recall crowds by the hundreds at Ron Bourgeault’s August sales. That I was there when Pook & Pook knocked down the Maentel triple portrait for nearly $700,000 in 1999. That I was there when Harold Sack won the Nicholas Brown desk and bookcase for $12.1 million in 1989.”
In her closing remarks, Beach spoke to the dealers in the room and expressed her admiration for them.
“What strikes me now in a way that it never did as a younger person is the enormous courage that it takes to commit to a life as a dealer. It takes courage to live by your wits, to be bold and take chances. It takes courage to be persistent, to believe in what you do. It takes courage to recognize beauty and meaning in the physical world and to seek that beauty out. It takes courage to dedicate your life to that pursuit. So ADA dealers, here’s to looking at you.”
If one were to query Laura Beach on the right woman, some of them enumerated above, you may hear her use the word “doyenne,” a term of recognized stature that defines a woman at the top of her field. It is correctly turned around and applied to herself, a writer who has told, retold and defined decades of work in the fine and decorative arts with a steadfast and reliable voice.
Our hats are off to Laura Beach, and we at Antiques and The Arts Weekly offer our sincere gratitude for the three decades of coverage that she has provided for our readers.
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