Published: December 13, 2022
Review By Rick Russack, Photos Courtesy Rafael Osona Auctions
NANTUCKET, MASS. – Wouldn’t marine, nautical and Nantucket items be what you would expect from an auction on Nantucket? Rafael Osona’s December 3 Christmas Stroll Auction delivered on those expectations. The sale, grossing just over $500,000, included numerous paintings by Nantucket artists, other marine paintings (some with mermaids), woolies, whalebone walking sticks, nine Carl Voorhees carved whales, 34 lots of Nantucket baskets and several tea caddies. There was also a selection of fine jewelry, silver (including some made on Nantucket), quilts and coverlets, numerous lots of Nantucket-made Stephen Swift furniture, a collection of doorstops and still more.
Paintings were the stars of the day. Topping the sale, as expected, were two paintings by Ralph Cahoon Jr (1910-1982). Bringing $28,800 from a decorator bidding for a client, “Sailors Cavorting with Mermaids at Ship Tavern” included 15 sailors, mermaids and the brick waterfront tavern. The other, bringing $27,675 from a folk art collector in the Midwest, was titled on a scroll at the bottom of the painting, “Mr and Mrs J.S. Harmon and Family.” It depicted mermaids, people, three dogs, a cat on a whale, a kite and more. This painting has an interesting story and brings to mind the old saying, “it’s very small world.”
After the sale, due to the spelling of the family name, Antiques and The Arts Weekly contacted Barnstable, Mass.. auctioneer Ted Harmon, of Decoys Unlimited, and asked if he anything about the painting. He identified the J.S. Harmon named in the painting as “my late brother John Stanley Harmon. He knew Ralph (Cahoon) well and had a few paintings Ralph did for him. My niece Trish is one of the girls in the painting. My late brother Bob also had Ralph do a painting of him and the family business at one time and my brother-in-law, the late James Peacock had a few paintings by Ralph, and he also bought Ralph’s home in Osterville [Mass.,] which had Cahoon decorations on all the doors and furniture in the house. We all knew Ralph and Martha (Cahoon’s wife, also a painter), but my brother and brother-in-law were more their generation. I knew him but not like they did. The Cape was a very small place back then and we all knew every one of the locals. My very first foray into antiques was because Ralph helped our family buy a houseful of antiques in Cotuit.”
Ralph Cahoon was born on Cape Cod and spent most of his life there. His wife, Martha, was also born on the Cape. His interest in art developed early, and while in high school, he took a correspondence course on painting. His early efforts were directed towards decorating furniture, but he began painting around 1930. Most of his paintings were sold to well-to-do families who owned vacation homes on the Cape. One of Cahoon’s early supporters was Joan Payson Whitney, the heiress, art patron and philanthropist whose other achievements included co-founding and co-owning of the New York Mets. The paintings in the sale were typical of his subject matter, fanciful waterfront scenes of seamen cavorting with mermaids, that usually included sailing ships in the background. The Cahoon family home in Cotuit, Mass., on the Cape, is now the Cahoon Museum of American Art.
Other Nantucket paintings in the sale did well. Included were two iconic “Red Sail” works by Luminist painter Robert Stark Jr (1933-2014), who also had strong connections to Nantucket. He attended Nantucket schools and after graduating from the high school, served in the Navy during the Korean War, returning after the war. He was the founder and director of Nantucket’s oldest gallery, The Stark Gallery on Old North Wharf. Both paintings brought about the same amount, with “Red Sail, Blue Skies” earning $17,220, and “Red Sail at Sunset” sailing to $16,440. It was a scene of a catboat with a red sail in Nantucket Harbor near Brant Point Light. A contemporary Nantucket landscape by Kenneth Layman, “Barrett Farm Road” realized $13,530.
Osona Auctions is known for having a large selection of Nantucket baskets and there were more than 30 in this sale. Most popular were baskets made by Jose Formoso Reyes (1902-1980). A signed circa 1966 swing-handled friendship basket with bone attachments drew the most interest, finishing at $7,680. It had a carved seagull, with Tuckernuck, Muskeget and Nantucket Islands depicted on an oval rosewood plaque and was signed upon the base “Made in Nantucket, Jose Formoso Reyes, 1966.” Another Reyes basket, with simpler, typical decoration of a carved Charlie Sayles whale on an oval pine plaque, signed Reyes, brought $2,240.
The sale included nine whale wall plaques by Vermont carver Clark Voorhees Jr (1911-1980). His carvings were made in various sizes, representing various species. Bringing the highest price was a carved and painted sperm whale, 36 inches long. It sold for $5,228. An 18-inch carved and painted humpback whale earned $3,998, while a 22-inch narwhal, a less common subject, sold for $2,835.
Contemporary Stephen Swift furniture, also made on Nantucket, sold well and there were about a dozen lots. The company, now in its third decade, bases many of its designs on earlier forms. A pair of high-back mahogany rocking chairs earned $6,300, and a set of six cherry and ash “Pomfret” Windsor-style armchairs, made about 1999, brought $3,840. A high-back Windsor-style settee sold for $3,998.
Silver included flatware services as well pieces made on the island. A marked James Easton Nantucket coin silver ladle, dating to the first half of the Nineteenth Century, brought $2,560. A set of six marked coin silver teaspoons by William Hadwen, circa 1820-38; each engraved with “P.P.” for the Paddock family of Nantucket topped off at $640. Of the flatware services, a 92-piece Cartier sterling service, circa 1965-80, produced by Old Newbury Crafters, was the top seller, finishing at $8,610. This set had a three-letter monogram on each piece; the three initials matched those of the buyer.
Tea caddy collectors had nine to choose from and their favorite was a British Regency tortoiseshell example with a double compartment and shaped front. From the first quarter of the Nineteenth Century, it realized $4,160. Other tortoiseshell examples brought a little bit less, and there were also inlaid tiger-maple examples.
A few days after the sale, Rafael Osona was pleased. “We had a good sale, over a half-million dollars, and our regular Nantucket customers bought a lot of stuff, either for homes here or for homes elsewhere. I’d say about 30 percent of the sale went to buyers on the island. But the internet has broadened our reach. We’ve sold to several foreign countries and probably all 50 states.” When asked about his next sale, he said “it will be on Daffodil Weekend.” He explained, “years ago thousands of daffodils were planted on the island and now there’s an annual three-day event all about daffodils. People dress up in daffodil costumes. There are lots of antiques cars on the island, some decorated with daffodils, and they follow a seven-mile route. People line up along the road to see the cars. Cars are judged, prizes given for the best, streets are closed, tail-gate picnics are all over the place and the event draws thousands of people. It’s usually the first weekend in April and we always have a sale that goes along with that.”
All prices include the buyer’s premium as reported by the auction house. For additional information, 508-228-3942 or www.rafaelosonaauction.com.
January 24, 2023
January 24, 2023
January 24, 2023
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