Published: September 19, 2000
Online Bidders Hunt ‘Fallow Deer’ by William Morris
Contemporary Glass Records Achieved at ewolfs.com
ewolf.com’s September 14 to 16 Art, Antique and Contemporary Glass sale set a record auction price for a William Morris piece with “Canopic Jar, Fallow Deer,” created in 1994. The final total of $131,000 also set a record for any piece of contemporary glass offered in an Internet auction. With the 15 percent buyers’ premium, the new owner, who declined to be interviewed, paid $150,650.
“This was a huge, monstrous piece – amazingly difficult to blow, physically – and artistically just a tour de force,” said ewolfs.com assistant director Bridget McWilliams. “Lesser pieces I’ve seen come up at auction before, but not a piece of this magnitude.”
Standing 42 and a half inches tall, this work consists of two parts: the top, with a fallow deer head with two seven-point antlers, which rests on a canopic jar “decorated with scenes of ancient hunters and hybrid deer men wielding bows and arrows, chasing fallow deer stags across an ancient mystical landscape,” according to the ewolfs.com catalog. It was estimated at $100/200,000
McWilliams guesses Morris has made about 15 or 20 such deer pieces, with progressively more points on the deer antlers. Her print sources on the piece in this sale quotes Morris as saying he thought it would be “amazing” to put two points on the deer’s antlers, and “never would have imagined” being able to make seven points.
“I think when he first envisioned doing these deer heads, he was questioning whether he could get even two points on the deer antlers,” she said.
Seller information was also kept under wraps; McWilliams could only say that this piece was consigned by one of “a large community” of contemporary-glass collectors in Cleveland.
Another Morris piece in the auction, a 24-inch-high mottled red-orange “Rhyton Horse,” 1997, sold for $29,900.
It is fairly rare to see the Seattle-based Morris’ work in online auctions, says McWilliams. Ewolfs.com has had only one other of his pieces this year.
“He’s just an unbelievable glass blower,” McWilliams says. “He’s the hottest glass-maker today. I think he’s definitely on par with Chihuly, who has been for a number of years the most famous contemporary glass maker.”
In fact, Morris worked as a “gaffer,” or master glassblower, for Dale Chihuly in the early 1980s, according to the Holsten Galleries Web site. A Chihuly piece, a pinched bowl form in translucent blue glass, estimated at $3/5,000, sold for $4,025 in this auction.
“Canopic Jar, Fallow Deer” is an example of how Morris’ work has been influenced by what Holsten Galleries describes as his interest in archaeology and ancient pagan cultures. Canopic jars, according to touregypt.net, are “Containers – usually numbering four – found in ancient tombs that stored organs and viscera believed to be essential for the dead person’s existence in the afterlife,” and fallow deer have been farmed in Europe for more than 2,000 years.
With Morris’ melding of mystical images and this form, McWilliams says, “You’re reminded of prehistoric cave paintings and prehistoric Egypt.” The designs on his urns, she says, are created by applications of different colors while blowing.
Another exciting offerings in this auction were five of Max Kalish’s bronze sculptures of American workers. Three of these, “The Digger” ($22,000), “The Foundrymen” ($17,500) and “Laborer Taking a Drink of Water” ($22,500) sold for significantly above their identical estimate of $10/15,000. Also, “The Discard” sold for $5,000, and “Mother and Child” sold for $7,500. These were each estimated at $5/8,000; all Kalish lots came from the same Cleveland collection.
“He was an artist who worked in Cleveland, but not too much is known about these particular castings,” McWilliams says. “We don’t know how many of these were made. It’s rare to find them at auction, and very rare to find five at once.”
These sculptures are notable for their facial features, for which the Lithuanian-born Kalish is renowned. This may have stemmed from his work as a plastic surgeon in World War I, while his inspiration for portraying American workers came from his own labor in Cleveland factories and shops.
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