Published: February 5, 2008
Hours before the New York Ceramics Fair opened on Tuesday, January 15, Jonathan Rickard and Don Carpentier, two of the most passionate of the contemporary crop of English slipware scholars and collectors, were putting the final touches on the fair’s 2008 loan show.
“Delicious Dipped Ware: Chocolate, Cinnamon, Caramel, Butterscotch, Blueberry, Peach and Toffee †The Colors of Pleasure” offered evidence of the visceral appeal of the Ceramics Fair, a serendipitous, somewhat random array of objects both sculptural and painterly, steeped in millennia old traditions or assertively cutting-edge.
After nine appearances in New York, the Ceramics Fair has developed a loyal, sociable following. The opening night rush, signifying the start of “Americana Week,” attracts the best sort: collectors and dealers in town for the flurry of shows, sales, lectures and parties, as well as curators from more than two dozen museums around the country. The confluence makes the floor hum.
It is hard to see any silver lining in the real estate and financial markets’ recent battering. The global stock market’s dramatic drop the week of January 14 probably caused antiques buyers to hesitate and it may have dampened show attendance, which increased opening night but tapered off during the week.
“We’re not sure if the drop was attributable to the weekend weather report or Sunday afternoon football,” said show manager Bill Caskey of the Topanga, Calif., partnership Caskey-Lees.
The slightly quixotic but highly appropriate venue for this jewel box of a fair is the small but grand National Academy Museum at 89th Street and Fifth Avenue, near the Guggenheim Museum. The Beaux-Arts mansion accommodated 32 booths, several shared, on two split-level floors of the narrow structure, whose wings attach to an elegant, marble-clad central staircase.
The New York Ceramics Fair was founded by a core group of London dealers and their American counterparts, many of them specialists in English pottery. Most of these original exhibitors remain.
“We concentrated on Eighteenth Century material this year,” said Alan Kaplan of Leo Kaplan, Ltd, whose firm is also known for paperweights and contemporary glass. An outstanding selection of Toby jugs started at $1,000 and climbed to $30,000. “Tobies are much more popular now than they were, particularly the earlier examples,” he said.
One of Kaplan’s best Tobies, a circa 1780 Ralph Wood “Roman Nose,” was acquired by the Wright’s Ferry Mansion, the Susquehanna River house museum administered by the Van Hess Foundation.
Many opening night buyers made a beeline for Sampson & Horne, where they were treated to early English pottery, especially delft. Early sales at Sampson & Horne included a circa 1790 Wedgwood black basalt portrait bust of the celebrity actor David Garrick.
English pottery for the American market is one of the show’s most vigorous categories. Known for Staffordshire figures, Long Island dealer Elinor Penna always brings the most patriotic examples she can find. This year, she had matching 14-inch figures of Wellington and Lincoln, always desirable, as well as a trio of founding fathers: Benjamin Franklin, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.
Nearby Penna, William and Teresa Kurau offered quantities of English china decorated with American themes, including an 1835 Clews platter with a view of New York Bay from Governor’s Island and an Enoch Wood plate with the steamboat Chief Justice Marshall plying the Hudson River. The Lampeter, Penn., dealers sold a rare footed compote bearing the Arms of Virginia and a platter with a view of Sandusky, Ohio.
Connoisseurs flock to Gary and Diana Stradling, well-known dealers in Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century American porcelain, pottery and glass. The Stradling’s sold one of the pieces, a “Washington & Lafayette” slip-decorated redware platter from Norwalk, Conn., as well as an experimental pottery mug signed by George E. Ohr.
Sharing a booth with the Stradlings for a second year was New York dealer Ian Simmonds, a specialist in early American glass.
New dealers Gardner & Barr, specialists in Venetian glass, sold their catalog piece, the circa 1875 Guggenheim cup, for a price in the six figures.
Paul Vandekar, Marcia Feinstein and James Labaugh combined English and Chinese ceramics, just as many collectors do in their homes. Vandekar’s opening night sales included a large Leeds pottery horse.
“When you see something like these, you have to own them, even if just for a while. Then you have the pleasure of selling them to someone who feels as you do,” dyed-in-the-wool collector Marcia Feinstein of Vintage Interiors II said of a pair of circa 1815 Coalport Imari palette ice pails, covers and liners she was offering for $20,000.
Two of the best Chinese Export porcelain dealers in the world, Cohen & Cohen and Santos, both of London, returned to the New York Ceramics Fair. The Cohens are out with a new catalog, Ladies First, which gathers a group of Qianlong porcelain figures of maidens. Santos announced the publication of volume two of its huge study of Portugal and the China Trade.
Fredericksburg, Va., dealer John and Barbara Suval showcased choice famille verte, including a circa 1710 shaped tray, based on a European form, with twisted handles. It was $18,500.
Chinese porcelain made for domestic consumption was in stock at Vallin Galleries of Wilton, Conn., and Ita J. Howe of Bethlehem, Penn. Vallin’s Peter Rosenberg sold a Seventeenth Century blanc de chine figure of a Buddha.
The New York Ceramics Fair annually includes the work of Michelle Erickson, one of the country’s most gifted artists working in clay. Erickson, who creations are for sale at Period Designs in Yorktown, Va., as well as at select galleries in the United States, borrows from a repertoire of traditional techniques, forms and subjects to create contemporary social and political commentary.
“Such commentary was not uncommon in Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century English wares,” observed Erickson, whose has pieces at the Yale University Art Gallery and other museums with important American collections.
Caskey-Lees remains committed to the collector-driven New York Ceramics Fair, which Bill Caskey calls “a feather in our cap.” After shows in San Francisco, Caskey-Lees returns to Manhattan in March for New York Arts of Pacific Asia and in May for the New York International Tribal & Textile Arts Show.
“Both are going to be pretty smashing this year,” said Bill Caskey. For information, 310-455-2886 or www.caskeylees.com.
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