Published: October 4, 2022
Review by W.A. Demers, Photos Courtesy Rago Arts & Auction Center
LAMBERTVILLE, N.J. – It was time to bring out modern design at Rago Arts & Auction Center on September 23 with a sale featuring American and European furnishings, decorative arts, studio ceramics and contemporary glass by leading makers of the Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries. A Judy Kensley McKie “Grizzly Bear” bench clawed its way to the top of the lots, more than doubling its $120,000 high estimate to sell for $262,500. The 2001 patinated bronze sculpture, 19 by 71 by 21 inches, from a New York private collection bore an incised signature, date and number to underside “7/10 JKM ’01” and was number 7 from the edition of 10. Additional highlights included more of McKie’s critters as well as master works by Peter Voulkos, Paul Evans, George and Mira Nakashima, Wharton Esherick and Wendell Castle.
Strong results were posted for the 279-lot sale, which totaled $3,788,900 with 92 percent sold by lot and 119 percent sold by value.
Another of McKie’s furniture-as-art pieces, a “Jaguar” bench, pounced on a $200,000 final price, while a “Jaguar” console table was bid to $87,500. From 1992, the sleek patinated bronze bench, 26 by 58 by 17 inches, bore an incised signature, date and number to underside “12/12 JKM 1992” and was number 12 from the edition of 12. Also from 1992, a patinated bronze console table, 30 by 58 by 15 inches, was dated and numbered to underside “7/8 JKM 1992,” number 7 from the edition of eight. Taking flight from a private Palm Beach collection was a pair of “Swan” sconces from 1994 of patinated bronze, numbers 10 and 11 from the edition of 32, which alighted at $40,000. McKie (b 1944) is an American artist, furniture designer,and furniture maker. Based in Boston, she has been making her signature style of furniture with carved and embellished animal and plant motifs since 1977.
With the fanciful name “Scoobydoo,” a Peter Voulkos (1924-2002) ceramic sculpture turned in a $112,500 result. It was made in Shigaraki, Japan, in 1996 and fired in the Shigaraki Ceramic Culture Park’s anagama. It bore an incised signature and date to base “96 Voulkos” and measured 45 inches high with a 23-inch diameter. The consignor had acquired it directly from the artist at Peter Callas’ studio. Also by Voulkos was an untitled piece in the form of a plate that was gouged and incised. The 1973 gas-fired stoneware with porcelain pass-throughs had an 18-inch diameter and more doubled its high estimate to finish at $18,750. Voulkos was an American artist of Greek descent. He is known for his abstract expressionist ceramic sculptures, which crossed the traditional divide between ceramic crafts and fine art. He established the ceramics department at the Los Angeles County Art Institute and at UC Berkeley.
Betty Woodman’s (1930-2018) unmistakable ceramics whimsy was in full force with her “Autumn Pillow” pitcher from 1998, a glazed earthenware confection with riotous colors standing 24¾ inches high and with an impressed signature “Woodman” near the base. From a private Florida collection, it earned $68,750, more than twice the high estimate. Woodman was born in Norwalk, Conn., starting pottery classes at age 16 and immediately took to clay. She attended the School for American Craftsmen at Alfred University in New York from 1948 until 1950. In the 1980s, Woodman’s work evolved from functional pottery to the more abstract, transforming her career.
A selection of George Nakashima furniture from the Dr Seymour and Mrs Phyllis Lifschutz collection was a key highlight of this sale. Bringing the highest price, $112,500, was his “Minguren II” coffee table from 1965, which featured one of Nakashima’s earliest Minguren II bases. Of English oak burl and rosewood the 22½-by-76-by-50-inch table had an impressive single slab top with expressive figured grain, sap grain and burl details, natural seam separations joined with five rosewood butterflies and two free edges. It had been acquired directly from the artist by the Lifschutzes and was signed with client name to underside “Lifschutz.”
From a different collection and fetching $56,250 was a Nakashima Studio rare desk with wall case of American black walnut, English walnut and pandanus cloth. The 1960 desk featured a single slab top with an all-around free edge, expressive grain and burl details, and the wall case featured three sliding doors concealing three adjustable shelves. Overall, it was 30 by 79 by 87 inches.
Also from this collection came a rare Nakashima Studio cabinet from 1961. The American black walnut, and oak burl cabinet featured a single slab top with rich and expressive grain, sap grain details and two free edges above four doors with one central burl pull concealing five adjustable shelves. It sold with a digital copy of the original order card for $50,000.
Nakashima’s “Minguren I” coffee table was an earlier design from 1989. It featured walnut burl, American black walnut and rosewood, measuring 15 by 50¾ by 20¼ inches, worked into a single slab top with an all-around free edge and exhibiting figured grain, burl details, several exposed knots and rosewood butterfly. Signed and dated to underside “George Nakashima Sept 8, 1989,” it sold with the original drawing and invoice for $43,750.
A triple chest of drawers by the New Hope, Penn., artist was also notable, going out at $40,000. Crafted in 1964 of laurel and American black walnut, the 32¼-by-100-by-20¾-inch chest featured a single slab laurel top with one free edge over 12 drawers.
Furniture by the American designer, sculptor and artist Paul Evans (1931-1987) is a staple of Rago’s modern design sales, and this auction featured a trio of exceptional pieces among its top selling highlights. A “Wavy Front” cabinet from 1973 had been acquired directly from the artist. Of welded, gilt, polychromed and patinated steel, the 32½-by-98¾-by-22¾-inch cabinet featured four doors concealing three adjustable shelves and two drawers. There was a welded signature and date to underside of one door “Paul Evans 73 LJ,” and the cabinet sold for $112,500.
A set of eight sculpted bronze chairs (two armchairs and six side chairs), also from 1973, featured bronzed resin over steel and suede upholstery. They went out at $52,000. And a round sculpted bronze wall-mounted bar cabinet, model PE 122, Paul Evans Studio for Directional, 1970, bronzed resin over wood, lacquered wood and vinyl, left the gallery at $43,750.
American sculptor and furniture artist Wendell Castle (1932-2018) was a leading figure in American craft. He has been referred to as the “father of the art furniture movement” and included in the “Big 4” of modern woodworking with Wharton Esherick, George Nakashima, and Sam Maloof. He was represented among the sale’s top highlights by a playfully designed sideboard titled “Again and Again,” 1994, which sold for $37,500, nearly quadruple its high estimate. The sideboard featured four drawers, mahogany veneer, polychromed mahogany and oak. Unique, it was registered with the artist’s studio as number 2795 and measured 38 by 76 by 30 inches.
Prices given include the buyer’s premium as stated by the auction house. For information, www.ragoarts.com or 609-397-9374.
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