Published: November 5, 2019
By Greg Smith
NEW YORK CITY — The Wunsch Americana Foundation has named Laura Beach, Lita Solis-Cohen and Mira Nakashima the 2020 recipients of the Eric M Wunsch Award for Excellence in the American Arts. The award ceremony will be held January 22 at Christie’s Rockefeller Center location during Americana Week in New York.
The Wunsch Americana Foundation, led by Peter Wunsch with sons Eric and Noah, is dedicated to funding educational and preservation initiatives in the American arts through programming surrounding auctions and exhibitions, strategic loans to major institutional collections and by championing the work of American designers of the past century.
Since 2013, the Wunsch Americana Foundation has recognized and awarded figureheads in the field who are central to the promotion and furtherance of research, conversation and the underpinning visual vocabulary of American design. Past recipients include Patricia E. Kane, Linda H. and George M. Kaufman, Richard H. Jenrette, the Chipstone Foundation, Brock Jobe, Arnold Lehman, Morrison Heckscher, Peter M. Kenny, Thomas Jayne, Wendell Castle, the Classical American Homes Preservation Trust and the Decorative Arts Trust.
The 2020 award honors two journalists who have been witness and reporter to some of the field’s most notable events in the past generation: Laura Beach, editor-at-large of Antiques and The Arts Weekly; and Lita Solis-Cohen, senior editor at Maine Antique Digest.
“Laura and Lita have been dedicated to the field for a lifetime,” Noah Wunsch said. “They are constantly pushing forward the message of artist craft and American design, both of which are critical to our mission. And they are making sure people are having those conversations and doing the work to incite them. They are a wonderful example of fantastic journalism for this base and help to further it.”
Beach receives the award nine months after accepting the 2019 Antiques Dealers’ Association Award of Merit, for which she was honored in Philadelphia in April. She began writing for Antiques and The Arts Weekly in 1986, eventually serving as its editor in recent years before assuming an at-large status. She continues to pen stories on recent research, notable exhibitions, landmark auctions and important shows and events. 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.
“At a time when leadership in the field of American art and design is much needed, the Wunsch Americana Foundation has stepped forward with innovative programs and initiatives meant to unite enthusiasts; rally new audiences; and build bridges between old and young, commerce and the academy and collectors and makers,” Beach said. “This year, I am especially grateful to Peter, Eric and Noah Wunsch for their recognition of the role the trade press has long played in creating a public gathering space for those of us who hold the American arts dear.”
“It was 32 years ago when Laura Beach answered our ad for reporting help at The Bee, Antiques and The Arts Weekly, and she appeared to be full of energy and knowledge of the antiques world,” R. Scudder Smith, publisher, said. “From day one, her great writing talent and knowledge brought wonderful show and auction reviews, feature stories and antiques news to our pages. Without question, this important award is in the right hands,” Mr Smith said.
Beach continued, “To me, the excitement and meaning of the antiques field has always been about the quirky, visionary, singular people who — all reason to the contrary notwithstanding — cast aside convention to devote their lives to recovering the past and interpreting its meaning for others. I am energized and inspired by these exceptional people, also grateful to Antiques and The Arts Weekly and others for giving me the time and space to write about their accomplishments.”
Lisa Solis-Cohen has been one of the most recognizable voices on the Americana market and its players for decades. After working in education initiatives at the Philadelphia Museum of Art from 1953-73, Solis-Cohen began writing pieces for the Magazine Antiques, which led to her role as the antiques writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer from 1973-93. During this time, she additionally wrote a syndicated column on antiques that was distributed to 35 newspapers around the United States and another column in Metropolitan Home. She began writing for Maine Antique Digest in 1975 and has provided that publication with comprehensive reporting ever since. Other publications that she has contributed to include The New York Times, Art + Auction, and even one piece for Antiques and The Arts Weekly.
“I’m flattered to stand next to Laura, who is just the best writer; and I adore Mira, who has been a dear friend for a long time,” Solis-Cohen told Antiques and The Arts Weekly. “I like Twentieth Century design as much as Eighteenth Century design, and now I’m living with both. I feel very lucky to have had this career because it has kept me going, and I lived through the great market when Americana was really collected passionately by many people.”
Clayton Pennington, editor of Maine Antique Digest, called Solis-Cohen the best in the world at what she does. “She loves Americana, she loves American decorative arts; she reads all the books, goes to as many sales as she can and knows everybody,” Pennington said. “And if she doesn’t know something already, then she knows who to ask. She’s covered all the landmark sales in depth on the market. I think when people look back on the marketplace for Americana, they will be able to go back to her work and see how she chronicled its history.”
Solis-Cohen recalled the passion of the market in the era of Eric Martin Wunsch, for whom this award is named: “It’s a field that combines aesthetics and history, and that’s what was so exciting for these early collectors. And what a privilege it was being able to write about their auctions, because that reflected so much of their passion, interest and the fun they had. I think the scholarship and the owning of these things was fun, and the hunt in January, at both shows and auctions, was great sport for these people. Eric Martin Wunsch really loved it, and I can still see him walking down the aisle at Sotheby’s and Christie’s after he made a purchase with the expression of a conqueror.” She added, “But he would never talk to [the press] after.”
Architect, furniture maker and author Mira Nakashima has run the Nakashima Woodworkers studio since her father, famed Twentieth Century craftsman and architect George Nakashima, passed away in 1990. She continues the firm’s legacy, focusing on the personal characteristics of each individual wood slab and allowing that personality to inform the design process.
In choosing Mira for this award, Eric Wunsch recounted a personal collecting experience. “My wife and I had a son one year ago, and we were looking for a nursery chair. There was only one target in my mind: I wanted a Nakashima rocker. I found one at Rago, and we conceived the idea that Mira would be an eventual honoree of the award. As our thought process narrowed down, there were some synergies between what Mira has taken on and accomplished in assuming this very important foundational legacy in American decorative arts and evolving it into something that pays tribute to George’s amazing legacy. Anyone would acknowledge that the practice and studio is now hers, and she has put her imprint on it. The way that she continues to evolve the fundamental aspects of George’s aesthetic with Mira’s natural influences, she has turned that incredibly important legacy into her own. Obviously, the members of our foundation can certainly understand the pressures that go along with taking on a legacy like that and hopefully imprinting it with the next generation’s ideas and priorities.”
With past recipients of Wendell Castle, another godfather of the studio furniture movement, and Audrey Heckler, who amassed one of the most significant collections of Twentieth Century outsider art (on view through January 26 at the American Folk Art Museum), the Wunsch Foundation is focused on building a bridge between historic American design with the very best from Twentieth Century and contemporary makers.
“Building that bridge is hugely important,” Eric Wunsch said. “Monumental,” Noah added. Eric continued, “Our foundation is informed by the idea of elements, and beyond that, this question of honoring a family legacy and hopefully evolving that legacy to meet the interest and priorities of the next generation is something we are very focused on, and it’s something the field needs to be focused on. To evolve the conversation, Noah and I love Eighteenth Century American furniture, but we also identify with, live with, love, American studio furniture and American craft. Whether it’s Castle or Nakashima, these are incredibly central figures to what American decorative arts is as we know it. As a foundation, we want to take a central view of American decorative arts and continue honoring those who inspire us and are at the top of their field.”
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