Published: October 2, 2007
Merrilee J. Possner died September 21, after a courageous battle with cancer. She was 64 years old.
Daughter of the late Julia and Sidney Possner, she was born in Brooklyn and lived in Washington, D.C., New York City, and, most recently, in Portsmouth, N.H., where she was in charge of the Americana department at Northeast Auctions.
Following graduation from Brooklyn College, she moved to Washington, D.C., where she worked for the Library of Congress. Returning to New York City, she earned an MSW and was a social worker for two decades.
A love of American antiques led to a second master’s at New York University in folk art studies and an internship at the American Folk Art Museum. She was later employed at Christie’s, heading up the Americana department at Christie’s East.
She joined Northeast Auctions in 1992 as the head of research and appraisals of Americana.
“I first met Merrilee in the late 1980s when she was the head of American furniture and folk art at Christie’s East,” stated Northeast Auctions principal Ron Bourgeault. “I would like to say I was special as she always greeted me with a smile, hug and thank you for coming to see one of her previews and auctions, but after a while I realized that was her modus operandi. Her smile and her enthusiastic greeting also extended to countless numbers of collectors, dealers and museum staff.
“Often I would arrive at Christie’s East, receiving her warm greeting and then I would jokingly say to her ‘If you ever move to New Hampshire, I have a job for you,'” recalled Bourgeault. “I still remember the day back in the fall of 1992 when I received a phone call from her as she happily stated, ‘Guess who has moved to New Hampshire?’ It was one of the best phone calls I ever received. She quickly joined the Northeast Auctions staff and while it was apparent that folk art was her passion, she also harbored a broad interest in all decorative and fine arts.
“The Ricketson auction was held in May of the following year and Merrilee single-handedly cataloged Massachusetts bombe and block front furniture as if it was second nature. Later that year we sold the Kaufmann collection of English furniture, decorations and paintings, and again she cataloged the collection with the same skill and expertise,” Bourgeault said.
“I deeply mourn losing her but I’m truly grateful that she is no longer in any pain. Quietly, she left Portsmouth for Maryland to be with her sister Karen as she was preparing to leave this earth. I was honored to have her work with me and proud to call her my friend.
“We are all sad to lose her, but she leaves a legacy to us in the many folk art collection catalogs she created and her scholarly work that will be available for future generations of American folk art enthusiasts,” said Bourgeault.
Merrilee was a board member of the Portsmouth Historical Society and a proprietor of the Portsmouth Athenaeum.
She is survived by her sister and brother-in-law, Karen Possner and Stan Wiggins of Bethesda, MD.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Strawbery Banke Museum, PO Box 300, Portsmouth, NH 03802; the Portsmouth Historical Society, PO Box 728, Portsmouth, NH 03802; or Community Hospice of Maryland-South, 8200 Professional Place, Suite 104, Landover, MD 20785.
Ron Remembers Merrilee
I had always hoped that the day would never come when I would have to write this, but now that it has, I am privileged to write about the life of Merrilee. We all mourn her loss as she passed away on September 21, 2007, in Bethesda, Maryland after a courageous battle with cancer. She was a true New Yorker, born in Brooklyn and resided in Manhattan for two decades. I quickly learned of her great love of folk art and that she had avidly pursued a master’s degree in folk art studies at New York University while doing an internship at the Museum of American Folk Art.
During Merrilee’s career at Northeast Auctions she had seen the summer Americana sales grow quite rapidly. Starting in 2000 we had a series of single-owner folk art and Americana auctions, including Virginia Cave in 2000, Audrey and Thomas Monahan in 2001, Isobel and Harvey Kahn in 2002, Cora Ginsburg in 2002, Miriam and Arthur Spector in 2004, Horton Foote and Mary Lou Kilcup in 2005, Susan and Raymond Egan in 2006, and Dinah and Stephen Lefkowitz this past summer. I am forever indebted to her as her personal touch and professional expertise helped make all of these auctions such great successes.
Throughout her life in Portsmouth, Merrilee had a deep interest and concern for the historical preservation movement. She actively participated by becoming a board member of the Portsmouth Historical Society, a proprietor of the Portsmouth Athenaeum and was an active member of both The Warner House and Strawbery Banke.
Although throughout this past year her health was gradually beginning to fail, she hid it very well. “Keeping busy helps to keep my mind off of it” was her motto as she cataloged the collection of Dinah and Stephen Lefkowitz and collaborated on the catalogue design with them.
John Newcomer arrived early this summer to help her. Merrilee had a wonderful summer with him as he was always there to help outweigh her health issues with joy and happiness. She was so excited to learn that we would be selling the Claude and Alvin Bisnoff collection this fall. Anxiously she began her cataloging efforts; her great love of samplers came first. As she finished the last of the samplers, her strength started weakening and she handed the torch to Johnny
If friends wish to make a memorial gift her family has suggested the following organizations: Strawbery Banke Museum, PO Box 300, Portsmouth, NH 03802; The Portsmouth Historical Society, PO Box 728, Portsmouth, NH 03802; Community Hospice of Maryland-South, 8200 Professional Place, Suite 104, Landover, MD 20785.
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