Published: May 25, 2021
Review by Madelia Hickman Ring, Catalog Photos Courtesy Garth’s Auction
COLUMBUS, OHIO – Two Ohio collections – that of the late Chris Powell and his wife, Christine Powell of Zoar, and one belonging to James W. Gibbs of Salem – made up approximately half of the 427 lots offered in Garth’s Auction’s May 15 sale titled “Americana featuring Ohio Valley Items.” Several works from both collections featured among the top prices realized in the sale, which was more than 96 percent sold by lot. It was the first sale conducted in the firm’s facility at the old Municipal Light Plant since the start of the pandemic. Bidders in the room were fewer than in pre-Covid-19 days, with online registration and bidding by phone or absentee bid still at pandemic-era levels.
“I felt overall that we had very strong results on most items,” Jeff Jeffers said. “It’s still clear that there is value to be had as some prices are strong but not through the roof. I was very pleased with the glass market, and the market for wrought iron lighting, and lighting in general. Those prices seemed to be back somewhat to their former levels.”
The top lot in the sale, however, was not from either Ohio collection. A large painted trunk attributed to the Checkboard Artist of Somerset County, Penn., flew to a private collector, bidding on the phone, for $81,000. It had come from the collection of a Maryland lady who had acquired it from a picker in the 1970s and was something of a discovery as it was not known to exist prior to the sale and had never been published or exhibited. The trunk had much of its original paint, though some replaced lid moldings and a replaced front base molding may have kept the piece from bringing more.
The trunk joins the small but prominent body of work by the unknown folk artist, all of which command sizeable sums when they appear on the market. Examples that have sold at auction include a wall box with arched back featuring a standing bird in a square field on the front that sold at Christie’s in September 2016, for $56,250. It had provenance to the collection of Mr and Mrs George W. Scott, Jr, and was being offered in 2016 as part of the estate of Daniel W. Dietrich II. A miniature chest with incised circle, star and checkerboard design and vibrant original paint brought $377,000 when Sotheby’s offered it as part of the Ralph O. Esmerian collection in 2014. In November 2015, Garth’s sold a document box by the same maker for $63,000; it had central pinwheel decoration and checkerboard ends. Of these, the present trunk is the largest example to have come to auction.
The Maryland lady who consigned the trunk also consigned a Pennsylvania miniature grain-painted slant-lid clerk’s desk in its original red and black grained paint. A phone bidder from the Midwest pushed it to $3,360.
But back to those Ohio collections…
Christine Powell and her late husband, Chris, lived in a historic home in Zoar and were avid collectors of material made in that town, collecting it over time from various historic Zoar family auctions. Jeffers noted that everything in the sale from Zoar was theirs, as well as several other of the sale’s top lots, notably a Scottish silk on linen sampler that featured figures, animals and foliate motifs in the upper register and a large house flanked by gnarled trees in the center and lower register. An inscription read “James Paton” and “Catherine Leckie” with “Catharine Paton Born March the 20, 1804, Bothwell Castle 1816.” A private West Coast collector, bidding online, sewed up the bidding at $10,000.
Zoar Village was founded in the early Nineteenth Century by a group of German separatists. Based on utopian ideals, the community lasted for about 80 years but much of its original layout and many of its original buildings survive to this day. Among the Zoar works from the Powell’s collection was a leather-bound notebook that had belonged to Simon Beuter, the Zoar Society original – and head – gardener. The laid paper and “Watman & Co., London” embossed stamp pages are filled with English and German penciled notations, lists of fruit, flowers, ornamental trees and shrubs, as well as garden grids. According to Garth’s catalog note, Beuter was in charge of the community plot from about 1845-1898, when the society disbanded. He maintained the radiating gardens, which had been laid out in geometric patterns with Germanic precision, and taught community members how to plant. As a result of the society’s garden, Zoar became the Ohio destination for seeds, plants and cuttings. The Powells had acquired the volume from the Beuter family estate sale in 1988. Jeffers noted that interest was not limited to the local area and it brought $2,625 from a New England private collector.
An Ohio collector, bidding from the salesroom, paid $2,400 for a blue-painted blanket chest that had been made in Zoar in the second quarter of the Nineteenth Century. Other pieces of furniture made in Zoar included a hanging cabinet with glazed door that finished at $900, while a cupboard brought $660, and a wardrobe finished at $688.
Jeffers describes 95-year-old James W. Gibbs, whose collection was also a sizeable portion of the sale, as “a wonderful guy,” with “a wonderful eye and passion. He did a marvelous job of putting his collection together,” which until it came to Garth’s was in an early three-story Victorian home in Salem. Among the high points of Gibbs’ collection was a folky sewing caddy done in vibrantly figured tiger and curly maple with a cloth pin-cushion top. It soared past its estimate to sell to a Midwest dealer, bidding online, for $3,875.
Though Gibbs had a passion for Americana, he collected broadly. His Chinese export punch bowl filled up to $3,000, and a modern Chinese export-style view of the harbor at Macao and Hong Kong by Brian Coole (American/British, b 1939) sailed to $2,400. Bidders blew a near pair of etched glass hurricane shades, first half Nineteenth Century and either American or English, to $2,000, and a late American school portrait of an Amish boy wearing a straw hat topped off at $1,063.
Garth’s next Americana sale will take place around Labor Day.
Prices quoted include the buyer’s premium as reported by the auction house.
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