Published: April 21, 2020
By Greg Smith
OLD LYME, CONN.- Americana dealer Lee Hanes passed away April 10 from lingering health complications. He was 84 years old.
Hanes was born in Philadelphia on February 14, 1936 to William Hanes & Edith (Kitchin) Hanes.
He lived a creative life from start to finish, inspired to collect from a young age as he knocked on doors in his neighborhood and asked for old printed cans.
Hanes went on to study at the University of Virginia, where he majored in psychology.
After graduating, he took a job as a door-to-door encyclopedia salesman. That knack for selling, a gift that many of his peers recognized in him, led him to an early career in advertising, where he won many awards for his creative direction. He held positions in Boston and San Francisco.
Hanes began dealing Americana antiques in the early 1970s, selling part-time from his home in Foxborough, Mass., with his first wife, Fenna.
He began selling at antiques shows in the late 1970s.
“I first met Lee at the Litchfield one-day flea market run by Russell Carrell in the late 1970s,” said longtime friend and antiques dealer Morgan MacWhinnie. “We set up next to him and we were friends ever since. We ran around exhibiting at shows together since that time, 42 years. I will really and truly miss him. I loved him, we always talked on the phone as friends and about the business. He was a very honest, knowledgeable dealer, and he loved the business – loved antiques. I found the man to be a very wonderful friend.”
Lee separated from his first wife in 1979 and thereafter began a lifelong relationship with Joy Ruskin, a third-generation antiques dealer whose grandparents and uncle had a shop in Boston at the time. They had known of one another in business from when Lee would come into the shop.
Joy also began doing antiques shows independently in the late 1970s, and she remembers a one-day show in Hamburg, Penn., when the two took note of one another. Soon after, she recalls driving across Connecticut when Lee was doing another one-day Russell Carrell show in Ridgefield and the two went out to dinner afterwards. “It worked,” she said.
“We started doing shows, and then we decided to live together. One thing led to another.”
They married in 1980.
“We had different areas of knowledge, but we learned from each other. Our favorite thing to talk about was antiques,” Joy said.
The pieces naturally fit together when they combined their fields of interest into a single booth. “I always said he was president of metalware and furniture and I was president of ceramics and textiles,” she said. “We talked, studied together, researched together, we had a huge library.”
In the early days, Lee would call all of Joy’s ceramics “glass,” she said. “Anything that was ceramic or glass, he called glass. He’d say ‘put the glass in this box.’ He learned quickly, though.”
Lee’s enthusiasm for antiques never tired. “Everything excited him: a great painting, a wonderful piece of needlework, a camp stove,” Joy said. “Anything that he thought was unusual or rare would excite him. And he loved the hunt. There was nothing he liked more than getting in the car and driving to a group of shops, a show or an auction, and finding something wonderful.”
Over the course of their career together, Lee and Joy did 30 shows per year at their peak. More recently, they did 12 shows annually. Some clients came to him for specific needs in metalware and furniture, while others enjoyed listening to his knowledge.
Flourtown, Penn., dealer Priscilla Boyd knew Lee Hanes since she was 16 years old. “I have enormous respect for his knowledge and expertise,” she said. “He always had time for me. He was an unbelievably respectful and polite gentleman. We set up next to each other at Brandywine and I asked him so many questions – he was always full of information. Lee Hanes was the best salesman in our business.”
Lee’s favorite antiques show was Brandywine, where he had exhibited since 1978.
“He loved that show,” Joy said. “The committee is terrific and we had so many customers and friends there. Lee and Frolic Weymouth loved each other. They were the same age, same generation and had some of the same friends. Frolic would just pluck himself down in the booth and tell his friends to buy things. Lee loved going there and doing that show. The people were so welcoming.”
Between Lee and Joy, each had a lane in their shared business.
“He would buy something and say ‘oh, you have to find out about this.’ He recognized a great thing but he liked me to do the research. He never used the internet, but he would go into his books to look up a candlestick or a joint stool.”
Lee was the booth designer.
“He couldn’t sleep the night before a show,” Joy said. “Even before our last York show, when he was already in poor health, he was so excited. This was something so naive and wonderful about him. He would love finding the rare thing and selling it. He would spend hours at his desk planning the booth, which was always fun because we would get to the show and I’d change a few things. He was very good, he had a great sense of design. Some people told me our booths had a unique look, and that was all him.”
One of Lee’s collecting passions was taper sticks. His wide-ranging personal collection spanned from the 1400s to Art Deco, with most of them from the Eighteenth Century.
His favorite thing he owned was a dated 1699 chip-carved box he bought in Bermuda, 15 inches wide with a slant top.
“Lee was a true gentleman,” said McMurray, Penn., dealer Tom Brown. “Lee and Joy together were known as the ‘good, better, best.’ They have a deep range of knowledge over all levels of material that they are always willing to share with dealers and collectors. Sometimes during the hardest times, Lee’s humor would carry us through. When he and Joy got together, they formed a powerful couple in the business. We will miss him very much.”
“Lee always was upbeat with a true zest for life and a ready smile,” said Bev Norwood. “He greeted you as if you were the only person in the room. I can still hear his voice saying, ‘Hey, Bev! How are you?’ as he entered the Original York Antiques Show where we were across-the-aisle neighbors. Novice to advanced clients and dealers often sought Lee’s advice and counsel. He had a discerning eye and possessed a depth and breadth of information. Lee and his extraordinary wife, Joy Hanes, worked in tandem to set up an attractive and inviting booth; always in record time. On the final day of any show, Doug and I would just be underway with packout when we would hear them say, ‘Great to be with you! See you next time.’ While Lee’s many friends and relatives are so saddened by his loss, no one could be more impacted than Joy and all the family. May we reach out to them. They need us, more than ever.”
Outside of antiques, Lee loved Abyssinian cats, always keeping at least one throughout his adult life. He leaves behind two, Squeak and Mickey.
Lee was also passionate about classical music, loving nothing more in the summer than going to Tanglewood for the weekend and attending concerts. “The more romantic the music, the happier he was,” Joy said. “His favorite was Rachmaninoff, but he would be in the front row for Brahms or Beethoven as well. Locally, we loved attending concerts by the New Haven Symphony. Lee always tried to get front row seats so that there would be no impediments between him and the music. And at home, he would play a symphony on YouTube and walk around the living room conducting.”
Lee is survived by his wife, Joy; his brother Dennis, Valley Forge, Penn.; daughters Jennifer Schromm, her husband Michael and their two sons Will and Winston, Duxbury, Mass., and Heather Thompson and her husband David, five children, Drew, Jake, Nate, Fenna, and Jackie, Charlotte, N.C., and son Winston Hanes and his wife Uki and two children, Marc and Fenna X, Bali, Indonesia.
Lee left behind wishes for a gathering of family and friends. Joy is planning that for late summer. Please do not send flowers, as the cats immediately destroy them.
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