Published: January 31, 2023
Review by W.A. Demers, Photos Courtesy Rago
LAMBERTVILLE, N.J. — Rago posted outstanding results for early Twentieth Century design, a sale conducted on January 19 that included new world records for Newcomb College Pottery vessels by Leona Nicholson and Mazie Teresa Ryan and totaled $2,295,113. Top lot honors went to a rare and early vase with alligators by Mazie Teresa Ryan for Newcomb College Pottery, which sold for $151,200, far above its $30/40,000 estimate. The 1904 glazed earthenware was 7½ inches high and had a 9¼-inch diameter. On January 20, the firm conducted its Modern design sale, totaling $3,266,765 and led by an important George Nakashima “Arlyn” coffee table, 1978, redwood root burl and American black walnut. Measuring 16 by 56 by 38¼ inches, its result was $100,800. Officially named in 1988 after Arthur and Evelyn Krosnick — owners of a spectacular dining table now held in the Museum of the American Arts and Crafts Movement — Arlyn tables employ an architectonic base holding aloft sections of rare, exceptionally beautiful slabs of wood, most often redwood root burl.
In all, the two sales totaled $5,561,878. Early Twentieth Century design was sold 94 percent by lot, 124 percent by value; Modern design, which set a new world record for Doyle Lane, with untitled (Clay Painting) realizing $81,900, was 94 percent sold by lot, 155 percent by value.
Stylized moths created a frieze in cloisonné technique on the shoulder of a Grueby Faience Company covered jar, 1898-1910, which surpassed its $75,000 high estimate to finish at $138,600. From a private collection, it is one of only four known examples of Grueby pottery decorated with cloisonné in which lines of slip were used to contain the flow of the different colored glazes. One is held in a private collection, another at the Newark Museum of Art, and a third example was recently donated to the Metropolitan Museum by Dr Martin Eidelberg. In catalog notes, David Rago, the firm’s co-owner and auctioneer, wrote, “The Moth jar is an iconic work by one of America’s most important Arts and Crafts producers and is the only one we’ve seen in over half a century.”
The early and large vase with magnolias by Leona Nicholson (1875-1966) for Newcomb College Pottery was the sale’s cover lot. Newcomb College Pottery comes in a wide variety of styles and is considered to be some of the finest American art pottery of the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Century. Nicholson was a potter, pottery designer and teacher, who from 1908 to 1929, worked intermittently at Newcomb College as an art crafts person. This vase, 14½ inches high by 9 inches in diameter, more than doubled its $45,000 high estimate to realize $100,800.
Tiffany pieces, highly sought-after in the modern art market due to their high production quality, intricate and nature-inspired designs and stunning use of colored glass, were notable on the first day. An early and monumental vase with peacock feathers, circa 1896, of hand-blown Favrile glass brought an above estimate $94,500. It stood 20½ inches high and had a 10-inch diameter and bore an etched signature and number to underside “Louis C. Tiffany D1218.” There was also a Tiffany Studios Favrile Pottery coupe with frogs and water lilies, 1904-14. The moss green-glazed earthenware piece measured 7 by 8¼ by 8 inches and went out at $50,400.
In the lighting category, an 18-light Lily table lamp, circa 1910, brought $69,300. The patinated bronze, hand-blown Favrile glass example stood 22 inches high on a Pond Lily base. It was marked to 10 shades “L.C.T. Favrile” and five shades “L.C.T.”
George Ohr (1857–1918), the “Mad Potter of Biloxi,” was represented by a large vase, 1897-1900, employing his trademark in-body dimples and pinched rim. With a mottled green and raspberry glaze and impressed signature to underside “G.E. Ohr, Biloxi, Miss.,” the 7 ½-inch-high vase left the gallery at $63,000.
A set of two tiles featuring poplar trees reflected in a large pond were created circa 1908 by Arthur Eugene Baggs (1886-1947) for Marblehead Pottery. Fetching $60,480, the set was one of only two complete sets known; the other set is in the permanent collection of the Museum of the American Arts and Crafts Movement, St Petersburg, Fla. One tile measured 6 by 6 by 1 inches and the other was 6-1/8 by 6-1/8 by 1 inches. Impressed with manufacturer’s mark to underside of each example “MP” with ship symbol and original paper labels “Marblehead Pottery #7” and “Marblehead Pottery,” the set had descended in the artist’s family.
Day two shifted focus to the masters of Modern design — George Nakashima, Wharton Esherick, Dale Chihuly, Paul Evans and Doyle Lane (1925-2002), whose untitled (Clay Painting) of glazed earthenware over painted wood soared to $81,900 from its $20/30,000 estimate, setting a new auction record for the Los Angeles artist. The 47½-by-46½-by-1¼-inch work was an exemplar of Lane’s pottery skills at the wheel and in the kiln, as he created abstract “clay paintings” along with beads, pots and stunningly glazed tiles. The catalog describes his works as “undeniably tactile and bold, his innovative glazes screamed to be touched.”
In addition to the redwood root burl “Arlyn” coffee table mentioned above, George Nakashima was also represented among the day’s top highlights by a Conoid dining table, 1972, of American black walnut and rosewood, which was bid to $60,480. It featured a single slab top with expressive grain, sap grain detail, two free edges and several natural fissures with one rosewood butterfly. Signed and dated to underside “George Nakashima Sept 1972,” it had descended in the family of Dr Marshall Sager, Pottstown, Penn., who had acquired it from the artist and was sold with a digital copy of the original order card.
American artist and craftsman Wharton Esherick’s (1887-1970) influence on craft furniture design and architectural forms spanned decades. He pioneered the postwar American Studio Craft movement, synthesizing a combination of expressionist art and craft to create nontraditional furniture — pieces that were both sculptural and functional while presenting organic, asymmetric forms. Such was the case with an exceptional stepladder of oak and cherry created in 1965, its sweeping supports transforming the mundane to sculpture. Measuring 32½ by 18 by 24 inches, and bearing a carved signature and date to front stretcher “W.E. 1965,” it stepped up from an $18/22,000 estimate to a final price of $60,480. Also by Esherick was a Wagon-Wheel coffee table of cottonwood and hickory, 1951, selling for $58,950 and a rare table lamp, 1931, of carved walnut and aluminum that dwarfed its $6/9,000 expectation to earn $50,400.
A lineup comprising a set of eight sculpted bronze chairs by Paul Evans (1931-1987) for Directional, circa 1970, made nearly three times its high estimate at $94,500. Evans’ experiments with welded and enameled sculpture in the early 1960s caught the eye of the Directional furniture company, which was looking for handmade furniture with distinctive character. Evans’ new American craft designs were a perfect fit. Made of bronzed resin over steel and upholstered with camel-toned fabric, the set comprise two armchairs, model PE-105 and six side chairs, model PE-106.
The cover of the Modern design sale’s catalog featured glass artist Dale Chihuly’s (b 1941) “Star Sapphire chandelier” of 1999, both massive and stunningly intricate. It was 28 inches high and 28 inches in diameter and nearly doubled its $35,000 high estimate to sell for $69,300.
Prices given include the buyer’s premium as stated by the auction house. For information, 609-397-9374 or www.ragoarts.com.
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