Published: August 6, 2019
KILLINGWORTH, CONN. – Americana collector and dealer Lewis W. Scranton passed away at his home August 1. He was 83 years old.
Scranton was known as a consummate collector and the quintessential “Connecticut Yankee” – or, because of his imposing 6-foot-5-inch height, the “Lanky Yankee.” His specialties ran a wide swath, encompassing early New England furniture in paint or old surface, American silhouettes, decorated tin and New England redware and slipware. If not exhibiting at many antiques shows throughout New England, one could often find him at the head of the line for a show that was about to open.
Lew, as he was known in the trade, was an 11th-generation descendant of Guilford, Conn., founders. During his 50-year career, he developed a collection reflecting the rich history of colonial New England furniture and decorative arts. A friend of Guilford Historical Society’s Hyland House for almost half a century, he served as president of the board, as a board director and participated as a dealer at the society’s antiques show fundraisers.
In a 2016 cover article in Antiques and The Arts Weekly, Laura Beach profiled him this way: “Lewis W. Scranton has spent his life reconnecting the past. A preservationist at heart, the 79-year-old Connecticut native has waged a highly personal battle to save, bit by bit, house by house, a once agrarian state now all but overcome by development. He is drawn to early architecture and open spaces, but it is objects, with their power to summon memory, that most compel him, and context, disappearing in our hypermobile society, that animates him.”
The article was written on the occasion of the news that the dealer was, after a lifetime of collecting, readying much of his personal collection to go to auction at Skinner. That sale is still remembered for its old-fashioned style – a tribute to the way the business once was – where Scranton insisted on an onsite sale with runners but no reserves, estimates or online bidding.
He told Beach that he bought his first antique was a drop leaf tavern table – like one he saw in Wallace Nutting’s Furniture Treasury – back in 1956. That Fort Edwards, N.Y., purchase led to others until Scranton became an expert on regional Connecticut furniture. He became a dealer in 1968, focusing primarily on shows, and until recently operated a “by chance” or “by appointment” shop.
Scranton graduated from Guilford High School in 1954 and studied floriculture at the University of Connecticut, graduating in 1956, when he began working as a grower in Guilford and Madison, Conn. Lew married his wife, Janet, in 1959, shortly before they spent a year and a half in Germany with the US Army, where the first of his two daughters was born.
His love of local history blossomed in the 1960s when Lew began working as a real estate agent selling vintage homes. This appreciation of historical architecture fed into a passion for the historical objects, furniture and design found within them. Scranton soon went full-time and became a fixture at many of the prominent New England shows for the rest of his career, including the Connecticut Fall Antiques Show, the New Hampshire Antiques Show, the ADA Antiques Show and plenty of the early country shows that no longer exist. At his peak, he was exhibiting at 30 shows per year.
When asked what gave him the greatest pleasure in his career, Lew Scranton replied, “I can’t answer really. It’s the combination of all the stuff together. I just love looking at these wonderful old things.”
Entrenched in the business for half a century, many of Lew’s friends were dealers in the trade.
“Lew Scranton was the quintessential ‘Old Yankee Antiques Dealer,'” wrote Stephen and Carol Huber. “He loved the objects, and the hunt! He had a no-nonsense approach to buying and selling and never tired of sharing a new ‘find’ with his friends, of whom there were many. When we think back over our many years of friendship with Lew and Janet and their daughters, Abby and Rebecca, we remember numerous gatherings at their Eighteenth Century house – fire roaring, dealers sharing stories, Lew showing us all some new rare piece he just got on a house call. And always, his special knack of being clueless about a joke or quip with a double meaning, which made us love him all the more.
“Lew’s love of the outdoors, especially plants and stone walls, led them to their last Eighteenth Century home because Lew loved all the wonderful stone walls that surrounded the property. They originally dubbed it ‘The Snake Pit’ due to the excessive number found in the cellar, but quickly they turned it into a beautiful and sensitively restored cape with a wonderful porch. Lew declared it his most favorite place to be in the world.
“Lew was ‘one of a kind’ – a good old fashioned dealer who had the good fortune to be in the business at a great time and left this world doing what he loved, immersed in a bucolic setting, looking at his stone walls and picking berries.”
Steve and Lorraine German, Mad River Antiques, wrote, “We were so sorry to hear about the passing of our friend Lew Scranton. Lew embraced us from the time we started in the antiques business in 2001. He became a great friend and mentor and was always happy to share his knowledge about redware with us. We will really miss him.”
Lew was predeceased by his wife of 50 years, Janet Hetzel Scranton, and is survived by his daughter Abigail S. Patrizio and her husband Carmine N. A. Patrizio of Clinton, his daughter Rebecca W. S. Durbin and her husband Philip B. Durbin, granddaughter Katharine W. Durbin, and grandson Jackson W. Durbin, all of North Laurel, Md.
A graveside service was held August 5 at Evergreen Cemetery, Killingworth. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to the Killingworth Historical Society, PO Box 707, Killingworth, CT 06419. Arrangements in care of the Guilford Funeral Home, 115 Church Street, Guilford. To leave a message of condolence, please visit www.guilfordfuneralhome.com.
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