Published: June 13, 2017
Review and Onsite Photos by Rick Russack, Additional Photos Courtesy Thomaston Place Auction Galleries
THOMASTON, MAINE – A three-day sale, June 2-4, offered more than 1,300 lots at Thomaston Place Auction Galleries. Kaja Veilleux, owner of the company, began the second day of the sale by commenting on the variety of offerings. “We’re really taking you on a trip around the world,” he said. “We have decorative arts from China, the Mideast and Southeast Asia, Africa, several European countries and a lot of American things, including Inuit and Native American objects. There are paintings, furniture, folk art, toys, art pottery, autographs, Twentieth Century decorative arts, vintage cars, jewelry, art glass and even a jukebox. Something for everyone.”
He was right. There were numerous absentee bids, internet bidding on three platforms and about ten phone lines were in use. Many items came from the estate of a founder of the Museum of Modern Art, some had come in during the gallery’s free appraisal days and others had come from numerous local and not-so-local estates. Many items were offered without reserves. The sale grossed $1,547,900.
A pair of rare Audubon prints from the original 1827-38 London edition of Birds of America topped the sale. Both were the large, double elephant folio size prints, engraved by William Lizars. Plate I, the rare “Wild Turkey, Male” sold for $44,460, although it was trimmed into the tail. Its mate, Plate VI, “Great American Hen and Young,” sold for $36,270. Multiple phone and internet bidders competed for both. Veilleux hoped that the pair would stay together but that was not meant to be.
Most of the Asian material was sold on the first day, including a group of 23 watercolors on rice paper by Wang Chi-Yuan (1893-1975), a Chinese artist who, fleeing war-torn China, settled in New York in 1941. He founded the School of Chinese Brushwork, teaching the art to numerous students, combining Western motifs with his Eastern style. The works offered in this sale descended through the family of one such student. Prices ranged from $12,870 for a 12-foot scroll with eight studies of fruits and vegetables, signed and with seals and a separate calligraphy panel, to $293 for a scroll with only archaic calligraphy. John Bottero, Thomaston Place vice president, explained, “The prices varied according to subject matter. Floral subjects did well, and so did one of the landscapes. Some were passed. I think we may have been too aggressive with some of our estimates, but the internet has examples of his works that have sold for more than $50,000.”
The second day of the sale included folk art, paintings and furniture. There was a wonderful swan decoy attributed to John Cannon Waterfield, along with some ducks made by Gus Wilson. Decoys by Waterfield are not common, although he was a member of a family of hunters and market gunners in the vicinity of False Cape, Va. The swan had a long neck that appeared to be made from a root or branch. It realized $4,680, the top price for the decoy portion of the sale. Wilson was a lighthouse keeper in Maine. His black duck decoys always seem to bring good prices, and the preening one in this sale ended up at $2,282. His rocking head black duck reached $1,872. The construction of rocking head decoys allowed the decoy to appear to be bobbing for food.
The folk art included a number of weathervanes, several of which were bought by well-known dealer Harold Cole. A full-bodied bull sold for $3,218, a jockey on a horse finished at $3,803, and a J. Howard & Co Index horse made $3,861. A large, folky oil on canvas, bird’s-eye view of a Pennsylvania farm, circa 1880, earned $11,115. It included a red barn, a stone house with six chimneys, cows, pigs, a pond, people and more.
There were two paintings by William Trost Richards (American, 1833-1905), and the results surprised most. He is well known for his marine views, and an oil on board titled “The Old Fort” (which was Fort Wetherill in Jamestown, R.I.) was expected to be the higher priced of the two paintings. It sold for $20,475, while another oil on board, depicting a stormy sky, choppy sea and coastal schooners, finished at $32,175. Works by Richards hang in the National Gallery, Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts and numerous other museums. An oil on canvas of a young boot black and a dog by John George Brown (American, 1831-1913) sold for $22,230. Brown was a member of the National Academy, well known for genre paintings of adolescents in New York street scenes, such as this one.
Some of the American furniture lots did well, while one was certainly one of the day’s bargains. That lot comprised two #5 Shaker rockers. Both had been retaped, one had the original finish and both were in very good condition. An internet bidder got the two for $293. A Delaware Valley lowboy and a large architectural apothecary cabinet each reached $7,020. The cherry Queen Anne lowboy had boldly shaped cabriole legs, each ending in an articulated Spanish foot, and original brasses. The apothecary chest was more than 10 feet wide and almost 8 feet tall. It came from a pharmacy in Camden, Maine, and it had 18 small drawers, 24 larger ones and several open shelves.
Not often do you hear a bidder say, “I’d have bid more but I was worried about being able to get it home.” They were not talking about a large, heavy something but a small Nineteenth Century model of a three-masted sailing ship, the Charles Lewis under a glass dome, 17 inches long. The problem was that it was made of glass, paper and cardboard with silk sails, glass rigging and crew, with an American flag, all on an exceptionally nice inlaid marquetry base. Justin Cobb, marine arts specialist, was the underbidder and said he thought it had probably been made in France or England. When asked why he stopped bidding, he replied, “Getting it home safely would be a nightmare. It would really have to be very carefully packed, and I don’t know if it can be done.” It brought only $878 and the retail buyer expressed the same concerns that Cobb had.
The final day of the sale included art pottery and Twentieth Century decorative arts. The art pottery did quite well, with a Newcomb College 9¼-inch vase, decorated in the Moon and St Tammany Pines motif, ending up at $4,680. Other Newcomb College pieces sold for more than $2,000. A Grueby vase by Ruth Erickson with curdled blue glaze and tooled and applied leaf panels went for $3,218. All in all, more than 60 lots of art pottery were sold.
Topping the Twentieth Century decorative arts were four pieces from the Widdicomb series by George Nakashima. An 87-inch sofa brought $26,325, a walnut seven-drawer tall chest earned $9,653 and a walnut hanging wall shelf with two sliding doors ended up at $11,700. Each piece well exceeded the estimates.
After the sale Veilleux said, “Some of the things really surprised me. People really wanted the Twentieth Century stuff on Sunday, and the art pottery prices were very strong, especially the Newcomb College pieces. We’re pleased with the overall results of the sale. There were plenty of bargains to be had, and I think most folks went home happy.”
Prices reported include the buyer’s premium. For information, www.thomastonauction.com or 207-354-8141.
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