Historians believe the Mayflower arrived in 1620 with a number of chickens and probably some pigs, followed by cattle on the Anne in 1624. Almost every farm animal in North America today was brought by Europeans from their homelands: cattle, pigs, sheep, goats, chickens, mules, and horses. European dogs and cats also made the trip. Dogs were valued for herding, hunting, and companionship. Cats were important vermin control. The agrarian lifestyle of Colonial America revolved around animals and crops, and much of the folk art that emerged was made by farm families of their own animals. Deer and squirrel objects remind us that, for a while, they too enjoyed popularity as domestic pets. As Americans began migrating to urban areas in the early years of the Industrial Revolution, they kept their animals around them in the form of objects. Today, just as long ago, animal objects appeal to us on an emotional level that is beyond beauty or curiosity.
Among the 1,482 lots in our July 28th and 29th auction is a whole parade of these animals. The lots range from those created by professional artists and craftsmen to the self-taught. Whether primitive or polished, every animal object possesses a sense of character and vitality. The folk art animals are a particularly comforting, familiar presence, beatific in their innocence. Some objects serve a functional purpose, such as tiny sterling match safes, canware covered dishes, doorstops, weathervanes, and decoys. Other objects are utilitarian, such as paint-decorated pottery and furniture. There are needlework crafts and Hattie Brunner pincushions. The art category features farmyard paintings by Jeanne Davies and Audubon prints. Toys abound: teddy bears, stick leg sheep, and rabbits, to name a few. The largest category is domestic ornament, encompassing everything from Lalique birds to a Paul Tyson bird tree, a litter of sewer tile puppies, a parliament of owls, a convocation of eagles, a pride of lions, and a bevy of farm animals, to include horses, chickens, and a plethora of pigs.
When asked what so compels people to collect animal objects, auctioneer and resident philosopher Jamie Shearer responds with the maxim, “People just love animals.” Be forewarned, resistance to bidding in this auction is futile; collecting Animalia is in our DNA.
by: Cynthia Beech Lawrence