By R. Scudder Smith
NEW YORK CITY — This is a banner year for the American Folk Art Museum. Not only has it changed its name from the Museum of American Folk Art, it has opened the doors to a new museum, many years in the planning stages, on West 53rd Street. There it is displaying the wonderful collection of Ralph Esmerian, a gift that has pushed the museum to the very top in the world of folk art.
One would think that this “full plate” for the museum would be enough, but not so The team of Keeling, Wainwright Associates was secured as manager, a top of the line group of exhibitors was signed up, and The Metropolitan Pavilion, a downtown venue, was secured.
There was always some question from the very start, will people travel downtown to visit an antiques show on 18th Street, or are they just to use to having shows presented to them in midtown? It was a question that has now been answered for the American Folk Art Museum – Yes, they will. In fact, more than 850 people showed up for the preview opening of the new American Antiques Show on Wednesday evening, January 16, and they came ready to buy.
“The material is high and consistent and this show has now given the industry a high standard to follow,” said Josh Wainwright, manager, who, according to one museum official, “has run the show with perfection.” One of the dealers familiar with the Metropolitan Pavilion questioned the use of the building for an antiques show, citing the number of pillars in the exhibition space. That concern did not seem to be a problem in the end as the pillars were worked into corners of booths and just seemed to disappear. The facility was clean, includ-ing the restrooms, and the polished wood floor went uncovered in a good number of the booths, proving to be an asset for furniture display.
The lobby of the building was of good size, allowing room for the early people to wait for the show to open, and the inner lobby had ample room for the museum shop, coat check, information table and two booths. One of the booths was taken by Stephen B. O’Brien, Jr, of Boston, who showed a collection of carved decoys, watercolors and fish carvings.
Of great importance was an Atlantic salmon model carved by Charles Edward “Shang” Wheeler of Stratford, Conn., 47 inches long of carved and painted pine. With a price tag of just under $125,000, it sold preview night. A Nathan Cobb, Jr, Canada goose, stick-up of a floater decoy, Cobb Island, Va., one of about 15 known, was offered, along with a pair of seagull decoys, Merry Meeting Bay, Maine. Both birds were by the same carver, circa 1940, one with out-spread wings, the other with the wings folded.
The other lobby booth was occupied by James M. Kilvington of Dover, Del. Displayed were a turkey breast corner cupboard from Sussex County, Del., circa 1800, and a Long Island ladder back armchair with splint seat, circa 1760, worn black painted surface, among the furniture offered.
M. Finkel and Daughter of Philadelphia had the front booth facing the entrance to the show and it was well hung with samplers. “Our six most important samplers were hung on the back wall over the sofa,” Amy Finkel said, and on opening night, “four were sold.” Among them was the family register of the Poyen family of Newburyport, Mass., circa 1820. Also shown was a sampler from Mrs Buchanan’s School by Eliza I. Blanchard, 1825, Marietta, Lancaster County, Penn. A Philadelphia presentation sampler was by Elizabeth Kandle of Salem County, N.J., circa 1840.
“We are very happy with the show and it has been wonderful for us,” Amy said on the third day, indicating that up until then they had sold about 18 samplers, the sofa, many smalls, and a hooked rug. She also mentioned that the Young Collectors Night proved to be a very successful event, “attended by a group that was interested in the objects on the floor and were buying.” She added that “it was the best group that I have ever seen at this show.”
Mark and Majorie Allen of Amherst, N.H., displayed a good number of pieces of furniture, among them a Queen Anne drop leaf table in mahogany, Massachusetts origin, with molded and carved skirt, cabriole legs and raised pad feet. It was from either Boston of North Shore, Mass. An oil on canvas depicted a Hudson River view of the Hasbrook House near Fishkill, N.Y., circa 1850, the school of Victor DeGrailly. Brass candlesticks included a pair of English brass sausage-turned trumpet sticks, circa 1660, and a pair of gilt brass silver form cluster column sticks, circa 1675.
Trotta-Bono, American Indian Art, Shrub Oak, N.Y., displayed a large Cheyenne/Lakota painted buffalo robe, circa 1865, 9 feet long and 8 feet wide, against the back wall of the booth. The painted scene on the robe depicted a single episode of attack and horse stealing. Warrior Society members are indicated, such as Dog Soldier, Crooked Lance/Elk Warrior. An Iroquois portrait mask from Brantford, Ontario, was of basswood, horse hair and paint, late Nineteenth Century, and a Sioux feast bowl, Minnesota, S.D., was of maple with brass tacks, circa 1830-50.
“This show has been great,” Alan Katz of Woodbridge, Conn., said even before the preview ended. Eight rdf_Descriptions were quickly sold, including the wonderful hand painted picture by Christian K. Witmyer of Ephrata, Lancaster County, Penn. “The Broadway, The Narrow Way” dated circa 1870-90 and was executed in wonderful bright colors. Among other rdf_Descriptions sold within the first two hours of the preview were a folk art cane, carved and painted wood showing the head of George Washington, circa 1870; an optician’s trade sign of small size, cast-iron and tin, painted and gilded surface, circa 1880; a carved granite seated dog, New England, circa 1920; and a carved wooden figural group of Vermont origin, circa 1880, showing a man in a horse drawn sleigh with a woman standing by. It is ex-Shel-bourne Museum collection.
Nathan Liverant and Son of Colechester, Conn., brought some fine examples of American furniture to the show, but the market for “brown” furniture was not there. On the Monday after the show a man called the Liverant shop and inquired about a Sheraton bench. He was told that he should have attended the new American Antiques Show, but his response was, “I do not collect folk art.”
Apparently many people felt that way as the market for unpainted, formal furniture was weak at the show. It was, however, because of the rdf_Descriptions offered for sale. A gumwood kas with inlaid stars and boldly turned front feet, attributed to Roel of Demarest, Bergen County, N.J., dated circa 1790-1810, and the mate to this piece is in the Boston Museum of Fine Art. A Queen Anne maple bonnet-top highboy of small size, slender cabriole legs, Connecticut Valley, circa 1750-70, original brasses, had a small drawer at the top of the upper section, an unusual treatment for a highboy. A Federal shelf clock, mahogany, bell shaped gilt and paint decorated dial, brass movement, had a signed dial by Thomas Snelling who worked in Philadelphia and New England, circa 1810.
Grace and Elliott Snyder of South Egremount, Mass., had a good show selling a decorated tall-case clock, a hooked rug, a candlestand, a pair of candlesticks and a single stick, and an architectural plant stand, polychromed with pinwheel cutouts in the base. It dated from the second half of the Nineteenth Century.
“I think the show has more potential in its new location, but it must have sustained attendance during the four days. The preview was well attended, but a show needs more than that,” Grace Snyder said. Hanging against the back center wall of the booth was a pieced and applique table cover, New England, circa 1830, 62 by 92 inches, and a set of four white painted Federal side chairs from Portsmouth, N.H., circa 1820, delicate gold decoration, said to have been made originally for a wedding.
Shaker furniture and accessories filled the booth of John Keith Russell of South Salem, N.Y., including a Shaker tall chest of drawers in pine, gray painted surface over earlier ochre and red paint, probably Watervliet, N.Y., circa 1830. It measures 69 inches high and has six long drawers and two short ones. A Colonial Revival secretary desk in cherrywood, maple and pine had an old red stain and varnish surface, inscribed by the maker “Oct. 25th, 1870, made by Philip N. Houghtaing, Charleston, Montgomery, N.Y.” It measures 60 inches high, 36½ inches wide and 23½ inches deep. Among the rdf_Descriptions he sold were a Shaker light stand, probably New Lebanon, N.Y., circa 1840, and a Chauncey Jerome marine timepiece with a label on the back, New Hampshire, circa 1850, 14 inches in diameter.
Judith and James Milne of New York City were on a show schedule that would exhaust most people just thinking about it. They were setup for The American Show, Wednesday through Sunday, and at the same time were doing Stella Antiques at the Armory, 26th Street. That ran Friday through Sunday. After packing out of both of those shows, there were headed off for the Stella piers shows on the next weekend. If there is a light side to this schedule, however it is that they left the Metropolitan Pavilion with a great deal fewer things than when they set-up.
Among the rdf_Descriptions sold was a step back cupboard that measured about ten feet wide. It was in the original blue paint, Pennsylvania, circa 1880, and in two parts with 16 drawers in the lower section and open shelves on top. “We wanted to keep this piece for ourselves,” Judy said, “but we could not fit it through the doors and into the right room.”
Two large oil on canvas paintings depicting farm scenes also sold, as did a large wooden cow trade sign, 49 inches wide and 31 inches high, that was formerly on a dairy barn in East Haddam, Conn. The “sold” list continues to include a folky cast cement trio of figures, circa 1930, including Alice, the Mad hatter and the turtle. A goose whirligig also found a buyer, as did a New York table, several quilts, and a number of hooked rugs. Hanging against the right wall was a sea captain holding a spy glass weathervane, wood with old painted surface, Nineteenth Century.
Attracting a great deal of attention at the show was a carved, painted and stenciled hall rack with a deer head flanked by stenciled scroll work and iron hangers, all above a mirror. This piece was on the outside wall in the booth of Jeffery Tillou of Litchfield, Conn. It was signed and dated by the maker, J.M. Holmes, 1858, Colbrook, Conn. Holmes is listed as working with a Mr Roberts in Hitchocksville, Conn., circa 1840. “It is such a wonderful and rare piece, I can’t believe it made it through the preview,” Peter Tillou told a number of friends who were inspecting the rack.
Also in the booth were a patent model of a fire pumper, “La France,” made in Elmira, N.Y., circa 1870; a carved eagle with outstretched wings, perched on a rock dated 1807, New England, pine with an all original gilt surface; and a Queen Anne chest on frame, probably New Hampshire, circa 1750-70, with the original brasses, center drop finial, cabriole legs and pad feet. It was of tiger maple and maple. A red dot was fixed to a wonderful carving of an angel holding a wreath, American, mid-Nineteenth Century, gilded yellow pine. History has it that this figure went by open wagon through the South to herald the publication of Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
“We expected a knowledgeable crowd, and that is what we got,” Gordon Wyckoff of Raccoon Creek Antiques, Bridgeport, N.J., said on the third day of the show. He added that “people did not hesitate, but bought quickly the things they saw and liked.” As a result, they had a good show selling textiles, china, many smalls, wood carvings, and the only piece of furniture to move was a country Sheraton paint decorated settee with brush and stencil decoration. The decoration included Greek key design and fruit on the top back splat, done on a black and red ground. It was from Lancaster County, Penn., circa 1830. A Mahantango Valley chest was dated 1827 and attributed to Mayer, and a sold tag was fixed to a Pennsylvania roof ornament in sheet iron, Nineteenth Century, a peacock with full crest, one wing.
Heller-Washam of Woodbury, Conn., and Portland, Maine, had a good number of case pieces including a Chippendale figured cherrywood chest of drawers, shaped and molded overhang top, ogee feet, Connecticut, circa 1775. It sold the opening day of the show. A pair of carved pineapples came from a New Hampshire tavern, 30 inches tall, circa 1790, and a cast zinc eagle clasping a torque in his claws was from New York State and dated from the Nineteenth Century. Four mirrored sconces on the front wall were sold, as was a Chippendale mirror with phoenix on top.
Jan Whitlock of Chadds Ford, Penn., offered a pictorial summer quilt with a central compote of stuffed fruit, surrounded by whimsical birds and women holding springs of flowers. It is of cotton, probably New England, and dated from the first half of the Nineteenth Century. It measures 67 by 76 inches. A sold tag was on a wool embroidered table rug with houses, flowers, tall trees and summer garden on a brown foundation. It was probably made from recycled clothing, New Hampshire, mid-Nineteenth Century, and measured 27 by 38 inches. A set of four Nantucket baskets with brass ears dated from the late Nineteenth Century.
“It’s been a real good crowd, people interested in the things being offered here, and best of all they are buying,” Jolie Kelter of Kelter-Malce, New York City, said. A wooden whale weathervane was sold and about to be taken down, to be replaced by a trade sign for an artist’s studio, and a five-drawer chest in bright yellow paint, wooden pulls, New York or New England, circa 1830, had a red dot on one of the drawers. Wonderful paint decoration was on an Empire chest if drawers, Maine, circa 1850, and a set of six thumb-back Windsor side chairs, 1830, Delaware River Valley, yellow ground with scenes painted on the back splat, was offered with a companion rocking chair.
Russ Goldberger of Rye, N.H., said, “This is the best New York show Karen and I have ever done and the amount of business on the floor answers questions on the economy.” He added that it is also an indication of “when to be in New York.”
Their “sold” list was lengthy and included the best three of the game boards offered, a Provisions trade sign, a red and black decorated two-drawer blanket chest, a fireboard, a blue painted basket in perfect condition, a leather fire bucket, a couple of miniature decoys, a Queen Anne candlestand with square top, and a spice chest. “We had a great beginning with the preview, but we have also been selling every day,” Karen noted.
Melissa Williams Fine Arts and Douglas L. Solliday American Antiques, Columbia, Mo., offered an American tiger maple, maple and cherrywood Sheraton child’s chest of drawers, Ohio or Western Pennsylvania, circa 1820 with the original pulls. It measures 25½ by 25½ by 13 inches. Also in the booth was a highly figured maple and rosewood Neo-classical apprentice chest from up-state New York, carved capitals, applied mold-ing and brass pulls. It dated circa 1830. A yellow dressing table and washstand from Maine dated 1835 and was light yellow with green and black decoration. “It is quite unusual to find a match pair,” Douglas Solliday noted.
Paintings filled the booth of Childs Gallery, Boston, among them an oil on canvas by William Jennys, American, portrait of Captain James Clarkson, 30 by 25 inches, 1807. The Davis children were shown in an oil on canvas by Edward Savage, American, circa 1795, 501/8 by 40 inches. Pictured were Eliza Cheever Davis and John Derby Davis.
Thomas Schwenke of Woodbury, Conn., probably had the most formal furniture of any dealer in the show and by closing had sold a matched pair of Classical rectangular stools in mahogany, ogee molded frame, probably New York, circa 1825-30, and a North Shore bow front chest of drawers in the original finish. He noted that formal furniture was not a big seller at this show, adding that “attendance was definitely tilted towards folk art.”
A Pennsylvania painted settee, circa 1865, 80 inches long, was shown in the booth of John Sideli of Sheffield, Mass. The settee was decorated across the top back splat with a compote of fruit in three places. Perfect original paint was on a showroom sample of a carousel horse, circa 1880, and a pair of barber poles with acorn ends, 36 inches long, found in a Rhode Island barn, sported a sold tag. Also sold was a pie safe in salmon paint with six punched tin panels in the doors.
A portrait of a man with red hair, attributed to Ruth Henshaw Bascom, black coat and white stock, hung in the booth of Joan Brownstein Art & Antiques of Ithaca, N.Y. At the front of the booth was a pair of demilune Hepplewhite gaming tables, probably Baltimore or Philadelphia, walnut with inlay decoration on the aprons and legs. The dated circa 1785-90. Among the painted pieces of furniture was a pair of Windsor side chairs attributed to Samuel Gragg, Boston, circa 1810.
Channing of Santa Fe, N.M., showed a Mexican festival mask, white with red, black and green paint decoration, Nineteenth to early Twentieth Century, and a Hohokam corrugated ceramic vessel with fire clouds, Arizona, dating from the Seventeenth Century. An Antonito back bar, about twelve feet long, red painted with green back boards, was from San Luis Valley, Southern Colorado, circa 1880.
A pair of carved and painted seagulls with glass eyes, metal feet, circa 1882, were signed “AT” and dated below the right wing in the booth of Odd Fellows Antiques, Mount Vernon, Maine. They were from New England or the mid-Atlantic states, and one had folded wings and the other was carved in flight. The wingspan measured 29 inches and from beak to tail, 27 inches. A large figure of a wooden carved Indian sold opening night, and a red tag was placed on an Odd Fellows ceremonial axe, Whitewater Lodge No. 41, Richmond, Ind. It was carved and painted wood, circa 1860, 38½ inches long.
There was not a lot of tramp art on the floor, with the exception of the booth of Clifford A. Wallach of Brooklyn, N.Y. There the variety was great, including a radio cabinet with carved eagle, circa 1930, Ohio; a wall plaque with eagles, hearts, flowers in pots, and stars, New Hampshire, circa 1890, 23 by 23½ inches; and a model of the Empire State Building, signed P. Notteboom.
H.L. Chalfant Antiques of West Chester, Penn., showed a collection of furniture that included a Queen Anne bonnet top highboy in walnut, tobacco leaf finial, cabriole legs, shells carved on the knees, with the case by Joseph Armitt and the carving attributed to Samuel Harding, Philadelphia, circa 1730. Also of Philadelphia origin was a mahogany Chippendale four-drawer chest with molded top, pierced brasses, circa 1775.
A writing arm Windsor chair made for Yale Law School, with a view of New Haven painted on the crest rail, circa 1830, was shown by Ballyhack Antiques of Cornwall, Conn. A colorful hooked rug showing a bird-tree, Pennsylvania, Nineteenth Century, hung against the back wall and one of the corners was taken by a cupboard, two pieces, Hepplewhite, circa 1810-30. This cupboard, 91½ inches tall, was Pennsylvania or possibly New England.
David Wheatcroft of Westborough, Mass., had a hound chasing a stag weathervane mounted at the front of his booth. This fine example, with perfect patina, dated circa 1880 and measured 51 inches long, 26 inches high. It was sold, as was a redware loaf dish with three colors of slip. A bull weathervane, bold yellow painted surface, circa 1870, was marked sold after the preview.
A cast and sheet iron horse weathervane by Gilmanton Iron Works, the largest of the three sizes made in this design, 36 inches wide and 26 inches high, was in the booth of Sidney Gecker of New York City. Two carved eagles were offered, one painted green and gold, New England, 31 by 31 inches, Nineteenth Century, and the second by John Haley Bellamy, Kittery, Maine, circa 1870, 30 inches high and 59 inches wide. The bird was mounted on a half round base with 13 yellow stars painted on it.
Samuel Herrup of Sheffield, Mass., reported a good show with lots of interest in pottery, wood carvings and painted smalls. The blue painted and decorated Schoarie blanket box found a buyer the first day, and among other pieces of furniture was a painted and decorated shoe-foot hutch table in maple, probably Massachusetts, circa 1820, scalloped apron on the front and back. It had an old surface and measured 27 inches high with a 41 by 42 inch top.
A handmade model of a trolley, painted wood and tin, about 40 inches long, found in California, was in the booth of Harvey Antiques of Evanston, Ill. Dating from the early Twentieth Century was a delicate root stand, round top, with the original red painted surface, and among the fabrics was an Amish crazy quilt in pristine condition, Arthur, Ill., circa 1910-1920, 75 by 67 inches.
James L. Price Antiques of Carlisle, Penn., offered a paint decorated two-drawer blanket chest, freehand decoration in shades of green and sienna on yellow, stamped initials “JS,” circa 1825, from Northeastern New England. A corner cupboard, Pennsylvania origin, circa 1820, had arched doors surrounded by dental molding that was repeated across the top of the cupboard. This York County piece had glass in the doors in the upper section, measured 7 feet, 2 inches tall, took a 40-inch corner, and had red interior shelves. The cupboard had been painted a brownish red stain during the Victorian period and was later cleaned down to the original blue decorated surface.
“This show has been extraordinary for me and the people from the museum have been very supportive and helpful,” Jackie Radwin of San Antonio said. She noted, “I have changed to look of my booth a couple of times, moving things about as others sell.” For those looking for blue painted she offered an Eighteenth century sawbuck that was found in Maine, and an apothecary from Westerly, R.I., circa 1810 with dovetailed case and drawers. Among the rdf_Descriptions sold were a heart rug dated 1864, a Howard Index horse weathervane, a New England tray top tea table, and a Riley Whiting grain painted tall-case clock.
Lincoln and Jean Sander of Redding, Conn., had a good show selling, among other things, a English Chippendale wing chair with vertical rolled arms, a William and Mary lowboy, a sampler and several pieces of stoneware. Attracting much interest was a still life on velvet, “Flowers in a Blue Compote,” American circa 1820-35, 17 by 21 inches and in the original frame.
A pencil on cardboard, “Black Dog,” was by Bill Traylor and hung in the booth of American Primitive Gallery, New York City. A herd of horses in the center of the booth included a rocking horse with red painted surface, a pull toy horse, a horse that began life as a rocker, and a midsize standing horse with a leather saddle.
A chair table in old red surface with a top measuring about six feet in diameter was in the booth of David Good-Samuel Forsythe Antiques, Camden, Ohio, and Washington Courthouse, Ohio. Across the back wall was a large cast zinc and copper banner weathervane with the original gold leaf surface, attributed to Harris & Co., Boston, circa 1880. It was originally mounted on the Fourth Congregational Church in North Abington, Mass., and measures 72 inches long and 55 inches high.
When all is said and done, and regardless of the words “folk art” missing from the title of the show, it has already been pegged “the folk art show” and has drawn that audience. Brown furniture took a back seat, and it appears that is where it will remain. At this point, there does not seem to be a way to change the direction of the show, and possibly that should not even be considered based on many success stories from exhibitors.
There is no question that The American Antiques Show came onto the scene first class all the way. For not only did it present a prime roster of exhibitors, but it also provided several attractions that not only proved interesting, but drew a larger attendance to the show. Appraisals, show walks with knowledgeable guides, wine tasting and a Young Collectors Night all found an audience.
The American Folk Art Museum can proudly wear two feathers in its cap. One for the new building on 53rd Street, and the other for a grand new show.