Published: September 15, 2020
Review by Greg Smith, Photos Courtesy Steenburgh Auctioneers
EAST HAVERHILL, N.H. – Two 100-foot tents and a blue sky greeted bidders to Steenburgh Auctioneers’ annual Labor Day Weekend Auction on September 6, the firm’s marquee sale of the summer.
Held on a five-acre field, it was the auction house’s third sale since July, and auctioneer Josh Steenburgh said, “We had a great day.”
In a time when buzzwords like “adapt” or “new normal” are mentioned regularly, Steenburgh’s formula for this sale remained unchanged: no online or phone bidding, and he holds back the best for this auction. About 200 people responded with vigor and attendance, Steenburgh said, and all were masked and appropriately spaced under the sprawling yellow and white canopies of the dual tents.
The 400-lot sale went 100 percent sold.
The auction’s contents were offered primarily from three estates, two of which were in Orford, N.H. One of those was a fourth generation family estate that included a number of the finer offerings in the sale. Among them was a group of portrait paintings of a single family by Zedekiah Belknap (Mass./N.H./Conn., 1781-1858). “We believe it was the Wilson family from Marlborough, Mass.,” Steenburgh said, relating that the Orford estate had roots to Marlborough. Samplers from the Wilson family were also offered from that estate in the sale. The portraits were housed in four matching stencil-decorated frames and depicted three women and a man. “They were the best looking Belknaps we’ve had,” Steenburgh said. “I’ve seen many Belknaps that make me think, ‘what would happen if I had commissioned this picture? Would I be happy?’ But these were attractive, well-done paintings.” They sold to a collector for $4,250.
Steenburgh related that three lots attracted the most attention: a landscape painting by William Jurian Kaula (Mass., 1871-1953), a two-handled splint basket and a New England paint-decorated dometop trunk.
From the Orford estate came the two-handled splint basket, which sold to the trade for $4,500. “It was in pristine condition, but it was a surprise, that price was strong,” Steenburgh said. He related that the consensus was that it was Shaker-made because of a flat rim on the top, though some thought it might have been from Nantucket.
The landscape painting by William Jurian Kaula attracted considerable attention before it sold for $4,000. Steenburgh said he had handled a few works by the artist, but none as large as this oil on canvas, which measured 24 by 29 inches. The landscape work fit within the spirit of the artist’s output as cataloged by the Smithsonian when the institution wrote, “His paintings show atmospheric landscapes in cool colors and often emphasize dramatic cloud formations.” Kaula had a studio in both Massachusetts and New Hampshire and painted alongside his artist wife, Lee Lufkin Kaula.
Fetching the highest price in the sale was a paint-decorated dome top trunk from New England that sold for $7,500 to the trade. Steenburgh said it was a single consignment from a collector who had purchased it at an onsite auction in Vermont in 1982. It had not been seen since. The box featured nice bands of paint with squiggle decoration, the top with foliate corners and a central painted oval.
On producing the live event, Josh Steenburgh said, “My anxiety is getting too many people – it’s an odd position as an auctioneer to not want to have too many people show up, but everyone was cooperative and everyone really spread out. There’s a way to make this work if we all cooperate and be respectful of each other. Everyone was so appreciative that they had something to do, I’ve never got so many comments of thanks. My dad, who has been in the business since the 70s, called part of the sale, my mom was there – she has worked with us since day one – my wife and both my daughters were there as well. It couldn’t have gone any better I don’t think.”
All prices quoted include the buyer’s premium. For additional information, 603-303-3072 or www.steenburgh.com.
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