On August 19th, 2021, Pook & Pook presents The Collection of Barbara A. & Fred Johnson, of Rockford, Illinois. Owners of Barbara A. Johnson Antiques, the couple spent decades traveling throughout the U.S. and Europe in search of antiques, specializing in Swedish and Scandinavian folk art and furniture. Their personal collection features a colorful polychrome painted mixture of American furniture from Southeastern Pennsylvania and many very special pieces of 18th and 19th century Swedish furniture.
Highlighting the sale are two iconic Swedish clocks. Lot 1018 is a traditional 19th century Mora clock with a signed dial and a rococo shaped, grain-painted case. Lot 1012 is another 19th century Mora clock with signed dial. This clock case is rectilinear, its clean lines enhanced by a panel of carved detailing and pale blue paint. The works are from family workshops in the clock making center of Mora, in Dalarna, Sweden, and the cases likely by local carpenters nearer the purchaser’s home.
Like a pair of sisters in starched cornettes, two Swedish painted pine cupboards exemplify period style. Lot 1044, dated 1796, has two paneled doors above a single door with canted corners. Every panel is festooned with original paint decoration of stylized flowers, the architectural pediment with flower chains. Lot 1016 is a grain-painted cupboard constructed with two paneled doors over two lower, the panels decorated with vases of stylized flowers. The pediment bears flower chains and a floral crest dated 1831.
Two 18th/19th century Swedish sofa beds were early space savers, serving as bench seats in the daytime and pulling out into beds at night. Lot 1034 retains its original salmon surface, the initials of its owner, and the date 1876, while an earlier example, lot 1040, retains traces of an old blue surface.
Offering many desirable Swedish features are lots 1024 and 1028, a painted pine table and armchair. The small table has graceful rococo curves and retains an old powder blue finish. The armchair has out swept arms, tapered legs, and an old blue surface with red accents.
No fewer than eight 18th and 19th century Swedish and Scandinavian hanging cupboards brighten the collection with a burst of folkloric floral paint decoration. The grouping of shapes is sculptural in fashion with a mixture of gracefully curved pediments, flat and straight lines, and carved details.
Smaller objects include desirable 18th century Scandinavian mangle boards, to include a herd of Swedish horses and a Norwegian lion. There are four lots of iron-bound Swedish lock boxes, numerous wooden lanterns, painted scutching knives, and kitchen woodenware.
Americana blends beautifully with the Swedish and Scandinavian décor. Lot 1159, a painted pine turkey breast corner cupboard, late 18th century, is dry scraped to an old blue surface, and lot 1367, a 19th century Pennsylvania painted pine drysink with an old red surface.
There is also a Great Lakes regional presence in the collection. There are paintings, decoys, wood carvings, and carved and painted folk art furniture by Lou Schifferl, a noted Wisconsin artist represented by Barbara. As described by daughter Ginny Eames, suspended in air from beams in their home’s lofty ceiling flew a magical flock geese, swans, ducks, and all manner of birds, many carved by Schifferl.
The item that connects all elements of the far-ranging Johnson Collection, providing a narrative for the whole, is lot 1083, a Swedish immigrant trunk. A pine trunk, strapped in iron, retaining its original blue ground and floral paint decoration, is inscribed with the names of its owners and the date 1866. This piece, its simplicity, solidity, and folk art decoration, speaks volumes about its immigrant owners and the determination, strength, and hope that helped build our nation.
The auction begins at 9AM on Thursday, August 19th, 2021. All bidding for this auction is online on Bidsquare and Invaluable. The gallery exhibition will run from 10AM to 4PM on Monday, August 16th and Tuesday, August 17th. For more information on this collection, please go to www.pookandpook.com or call (610) 269-4040.
by: Cynthia Beech Lawrence
What drew me to this pick of the week was the amazing patriotic gessoed frame. Lot 2368 in our July 28th sale, the frame is loaded with stars, shields, crossed cannons, and topped with a spread wing eagle crest. It is a wonderfully uplifting thing to behold. Then the lithograph caught my attention. One of many adaptations of Gilbert Stuart’s 1796 portrait of George Washington, this portrait had been altered to show Washington in Masonic regalia, with his hand on a book. Which got me to thinking…
What if George Washington, Father of Our Country, passed along secret information to a select few people? A secret of a fabled treasure of immense value, a universal truth? The result might be a Dan Brown mystery, a cult classic movie, or, believe it or not…, the actual words of George Washington.
Evolving from medieval stonemason guilds, and purportedly preserving the sacred geometry of Solomon’s Temple, Freemasonry attracted not only the builders of cathedrals, but also other members of the sciences and eventually members of the European elite. In 1717, the first Grand Lodge was founded in England, followed in 1730 by a lodge in Philadelphia, of which Benjamin Franklin was a founding member. Membership was secret, as were rites and rituals, because, emerging out of the radical thought movements of the Reformation and Enlightenment, Masonic principles of religious toleration and liberty were in conflict with the religious and political orders of the Old World. In America, the ideals of the enlightened philosophical and social movements sweeping Europe were held in common. Freemasonry was only a small part of this current, but an influential one. Thirteen of the thirty-nine signers of the Constitution were members of the Masons. In America, Ben Franklin could accurately say “Their grand secret is, that they have no secret at all.”
On August 4th, 1753, young George Washington became a Master Mason. In 1788, after becoming the first United States President, he was elevated to the first Worshipful Master of Alexandria Lodge No. 22. In 1790, President George Washington revealed one of Freemasonry’s most radical ideas- to the congregation of a Newport, Rhode Island synagogue: “It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it was the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily, the government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens…” Washington’s famous letter is the inheritance of those radical thought movements, a principle of which was the search for religious truth wherever it existed. A gift infinitely more valuable than a roomful of treasure.
by: Cynthia Beech Lawrence
“George Washington as a Freemason | Graphic Arts.” Princeton University, The Trustees of Princeton University, 10 Sept. 2019, graphicarts.princeton.edu/2019/09/10/washington-as-a-freemason/.
Tabbert, Mark. “Freemasonry.” George Washington’s Mount Vernon, www.mountvernon.org/library/digitalhistory/digital-encyclopedia/article/freemasonry/.
Horowitz, Mitch. “Masons and the Making of America | Op-Ed | US News.” U.S. News & World Report, U.S. News & World Report, 14 Sept. 2009, www.usnews.com/opinion/articles/2009/09/14/masons-and-the-making-of-america.
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
Pook & Pook’s June 24th and 25th sale of the Estate of Joyce Bowes Collis recorded strong results, grossing $1.26 million, 19% above estimate. A high degree of interest and strong bidding pushed 47% of lots above high estimate, with a total of 79% of lots hammered down at or above estimate, and a 99.7% sell-through rate.
Furniture was the largest category, led by a monumental Lancaster County, Pennsylvania walnut architectural schrank, ca. 1770, which commanded an equally impressive price of $34,440 (lot 471; estimate $14,000-$25,000). Two quintessential Berks County, PA painted dower chests, late 18th c., both retaining their brilliantly painted original surfaces, brought $13,530 (lot 86) and $15,990 (lot 425). A Sussex County, Delaware hard pine corner cupboard by Ralph Brothers, ca.1800, brought $18,450 (lot 491; estimate $3,000-$5,000), and a Pennsylvania painted poplar jelly cupboard, 19th c, retaining its original yellow and red sgraffito decoration, inspired spirited bidding and sold for $11,070 (lot 308; estimate $1,000-$2,000). Equally desirable was a New England painted pine apothecary cabinet, 19th c., retaining its original herbal and floral swag decoration, selling for $11,070 (lot 530; estimate $2,000-$3,000). Two George I pieces, a two-part oak secretary ca. 1730, and a diminutive oyster veneer chest of drawers ca.1720, brought $22,140 (lot 719; estimate $8,000-$10,000) and $11,685 (lot 725; estimate $500-$1,000). A delightful miniature Pennsylvania painted poplar corner cupboard, 19th c., retaining an old blue surface and salmon interior, brought an outsized price of $6,765 (lot 630, estimate $800-$1,200).
The needlework category achieved a high return ratio, the top lot a large Charles II silk and metallic thread embroidery, late 17th c., depicting royal figures in a landscape, surrounded by allegorical figures, birds, and beasts, that excited many bidders and commanded a $29,520 price (lot 701; estimate $6,000-$9,000). This result was rivalled by an elaborate English or Irish silk on linen sampler, 18th c., wrought by Jane Frame, with a detailed Georgian manor house in a park teeming with animals and figures, which brought $27,060 (lot 683; estimate $3,000-$5,000). An intriguing Charles II stumpwork casket, dated 1653, with heavy embroidery and a secret compartment, brought $15,990 (lot 699; estimate $2,000-$3,000).
It was a strong sale for two local artists. The auction featured 31 works by David Ellinger, including a Pennsylvania Dutch folk art watercolor of a basket of fruit at $5,155 (lot 582; estimate $400-$600); and 31 works by Jeanne Davies, to include a painting of exotic birds selling for $6,150 (lot 222; estimate $400-$600). The top art category lot was an English portrait of a young girl with a bird, late 18th c., which sold for $15,990 (lot 752; estimate $1,000-$2,000).
Additional highlights included the top lot of the sale, an important Montgomery County, Pennsylvania sgraffito redware charger, dated 1790, attributed to George Huebner, which achieved its high estimate of $36,900 (lot 273), and the first lot of the sale, an exceptional mocha pitcher, with earthworm, twig, and tulip decoration, which sold for $13,530 (lot 1; estimate $4,000-$7,000). The final lot, Chinese export Wooley Sheep famille rose porcelain, 18th c., closed the sale with a strong $11,070 (lot 774; estimate $3,000-$4,000).
Pook & Pook will sell the remainder of the material from the Collis Estate on July 28th and 29th in an online Decorative Arts Auction. To find out more go to www.pookandpook.com.
Throughout her life, Joyce Bowes Collis always had an eye for beauty. Growing up as a young girl in Baltimore, Joyce was passionate about art and history and would spend her time sketching, designing clothing, reading history, and writing stories. After graduating from Western Maryland College (now McDaniel College) in Westminster, Maryland with a degree in English and History, she moved to New York City to attend the New York School of Interior Design. There, as a young student, after a series of exams to assess her skills in design, she became the second student in the school’s history to have achieved the status of having a “perfect eye.”
Upon graduation, Joyce worked for several years as an interior designer and in advertising until she attended her first estate auction in the mid-’60s. She purchased a jelly cupboard and sold it shortly after. It was then that she had an “aha!” moment, realizing she could make a career out of both her love for history and her passion for art.
As evidenced by her substantial collection, which will be sold on June 24th & 25th at Pook & Pook’s gallery in Downingtown, Pennsylvania, Joyce had a great passion for collecting and a great interest in the history of the objects she admired. This matched her passion for visiting historic places across the country and in Europe, especially England and France. Over time, Joyce became a passionate collector of Americana, with a particular emphasis on the late 18th and early 19th century periods. She specifically sought out furniture that was blue or yellow – colors that were also represented in her extensive collection of soft paste. A fixture at many shows as an exhibitor throughout the 1960s and into the early 2000’s, Joyce was later a regular attendee at the major East Coast shows as she continued to expand her collection. She loved folk art, both antique and contemporary, and collected/represented many artists through the years, including David Ellinger. Her interests also strayed overseas, including the hundreds of pieces of European material, mostly from the UK, that were seamlessly folded into her vast collection of Americana.
During her lifetime, Joyce restored three beautiful historic homes, but her favorite was an 18th century mill house in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. It reflected the county’s finest architecture in a magical setting, positioned high above the river with a covered bridge and Amish farmers in sight. Part of her passion was discovering new pieces to install in her gracious home. Had it not been so crowded with the furniture and art she adored, the house could have served as a museum on its own.
The items in this collection were near and dear to Joyce’s heart and are a result of her “perfect eye.” Session one, on June 24th, starts at 9AM with a large collection of mocha followed by several hundred lots of Mid-Atlantic Americana material including painted furniture, yellowware, folk art, redware, portraits, glass, needleworks, hooked rugs, wallpaper hat boxes, weathervanes, carvings, pearlware, canary Staffordshire, Leeds, Gaudy Welsh, quilts, woodenware, children’s furniture, toys, and more. Session two, on June 25th, begins at 9AM with a collection of spatter and continues with even more material from in and around Pennsylvania, as well as a sizeable selection of New England antiques and decorative accessories. The sale concludes with a selection of Black Forest carvings, several Dutch carved cakeboards, and over a hundred lots of material from across the pond, including dozens of elaborate English samplers, furniture, paintings, Chinese export, and other decorative accessories.
Interested bidders are encouraged to visit Pook & Pook’s website at www.pookandpook.com for additional information about the upcoming auction. For questions regarding condition or additional photograph requests, customers can email email@example.com. For question about online, in-house, phone or absentee bidder registration, or to purchase a printed catalog for the sale ($40), customers can email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (610) 269-4040. Gallery exhibition hours are posted online and begin Saturday, June 19th, 2021 at 9AM. To reserve a seat at the live sale, please call (610) 269-4040.
Pook & Pook would like to thank Carlie Lyons for the information and photographs provided in this press release.
Over two hundred years ago, in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, an artisan known as The Compass Artist produced colorful, intricately decorated furniture and objects in a distinctive style. Research has revealed the pieces were owned by German Protestants of a variety of faiths, in an area on the present-day border of Lancaster and Lebanon counties encompassing the Cocalico Valley. While it is unknown if the Compass Artist was an individual or a group, the body of work produced is very cohesive. Two excellent examples will be featured at Pook & Pook on June 24th, in the Estate of Joyce Bowes Collis. Lot 123 is a poplar dome lid box, decorated with red and white pinwheel flowers on a blue-green ground, and lot 382 is a doll cradle with floral decoration on a salmon ground. The Compass Artist laid out designs using a carpenter’s scribe compass, inscribing patterns into the wood to be later painted. These geometric indentations can be seen and felt on the surfaces of both dome lid box and doll cradle. The perfect alignment of pattern on the box from lid to front was obtained by inscribing the top before bending and attaching to a completed, inscribed and dovetailed base, then sawing the whole thing in half. Finally, the paint would be applied following the outlines, and painted in freehand between the designs. No two patterns by the Compass Artist are identical.
Early collectors of Pennsylvania folk art and painted furniture included Henry Francis du Pont (1880-1969), whose collection forms the basis for the Winterthur Museum, the premier museum of American decorative arts. Winterthur Curators Wendy A. Cooper and Lisa M. Minardi have contributed much to the sum total of what is known about the Compass Artist, and have published their research in “Paint, Pattern & People; Furniture of Southeastern Pennsylvania 1725-1850,” Winterthur Museum, 2011.
According to Cooper and Minardi, at least sixty objects made by the Compass Artist have been documented, thirty-five of which are dome lid boxes. Collectors pursue these items avidly, and look to Pook & Pook to bring them to market. Pook & Pook has auctioned an average of two works by the Compass Artist each year for the past fourteen years, nearly half the known total. Pook & Pook’s history of success with Compass Artist objects goes back even further: in April 2007, Pook & Pook sold an outstanding example of a dome lid compass box from the Shelley Pioneer American Collection for $374,400. This box was nearly identical to another sold from the collection of Richard and Joy Kanter at Sotheby’s in January 2002, originally from the Lorimer Collection and, of course, Ronald Pook Antiques.
This Thursday and Friday, Pook & Pook will continue to lead the market in Compass Artist works, part of the extensive American Folk Art collection of Joyce Bowes Collis.
by: Cynthia Beech Lawrence
…Blue, blue, electric blue
That’s the color of my room
Where I will live
The auction hall at Pook & Pook this week is full of 18th and 19th century painted furniture. There are pieces in ochre, salmon, green, and red, but the ones I love are the cool blues. The words of David Bowie running through my head, I take a deep breath, relax, and take in the sight. The painted furniture, textiles, glass and mocha are an ocean of blue: robin’s egg, cobalt, aqua, teal, navy, turquoise, midnight and sky, to name a few.
This is remarkable, since it was neither easy nor inexpensive to paint things blue in the 18th and early 19th centuries. Paint and brushes had to be made from scratch, bristles gotten from an unwilling badger. Pigments, derived from organic sources, were ground using a hand-held stone muller against a marble slab. The finer the grind, the more saturated the paint color would be. Indigo, azurite, and expensive lapis lazuli were ground to obtain blue. Pigments were then mixed with a binder to form the paint. Linseed oil was the most common medium, followed by distemper, a binder of hide glue and water. During the Revolutionary War when linseed oil was scarce, many opted for a paint made from milk, lime, and pigment, in which casein was the binder. Milk paint was significantly cheaper than oil, and easier to make than distemper. Finally, if a paint was to be opaque, rather than a transparent varnish, a little lead would be added. For centuries, these were the methods and ingredients for the making of paint.
In 1706, the first modern synthetic pigment was created, Prussian blue. It was discovered accidentally by German alchemist Johan Dippel, who had been trying to transmute base metal into gold, and a painter named Diesbach. Easily made by combining oxblood, potash, and iron sulfate to create iron ferrocyanide, it became widely available by 1724. Depending how much pigment was used, the color ranged from nearly black to a bright blue with a greenish tint. Mixed with lead white, pale blues could be created. The pigment became very popular. George Washington painted the West Parlor of Mount Vernon Prussian blue.
Old hand-ground pigments and hand-mixed paints create interesting surfaces. The uneven distribution of pigment in the paint, and the uneven opacity and texture create a sense of depth and character. As seen in the mosaic above, no two pieces of furniture in this room are the same shade, but they are all lovely. I can imagine sitting in a room of them, surrounded by these blue sentinels of history, waiting for the gift of sound and vision.
By: Cynthia Beech Lawrence
Post-auction press release, Americana & International Auction at Pook & Pook, May 21, 2021
by: Cynthia Beech Lawrence
The May 21st Americana and International auction continued a season of very strong results for Pook & Pook Inc. It was a beautiful spring day and the first event at which face masks were not requisite for all. Seeing old familiar faces brought visible smiles. The air of festivity fueled some spirited bidding.
First on the block was a collection of 15 antique historical firefighting items and Americana from the vaults of a New Jersey museum. The top lot of the sale was lot 1, an important cigar store Indian by Thomas Brooks of New York. Standing at 88”, this beautifully carved and polychromed sculpture towered over the sales room. Purported to have been made in 1882, it was in a wonderful state of preservation and retained its original plinth. After a lively bidding war, the statue commanded $63,000. Other spectacular prices for the New Jersey collection included two Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, painted fireman’s parade hats. Lot 2, from the Taylor Hose Company, decorated with a vignette of General and President Zachary Taylor, brought $22,680. Lot 9, from the United States Hose Company, with a vignette of a seated Liberty and inscribed United We Stand, Divided We Fall, sold for $25,200. The action was really heating up. Lot 15 was called for assistance. An early fire pump wagon, circa 1747, purportedly made in England for a Philadelphia volunteer fire company, rolled in with a cool $8,820.
Folk art continued to perform very strongly, with many pieces greatly exceeding their estimated value. The second star of the day was lot 235, an exquisite miniature watercolor portrait by Mrs. Moses B. Russell. After intensive bidding, the boy with riveting blue eyes was hammered down for $40,320. Lot 412, a Wilhelm Schimmel rooster, rare for its large size, sold for $16,380, followed by lot 413, a vibrant red Schimmel squirrel bringing $12,600. Interest took flight for two Maine carved and painted 19th century birds, as lot 504, a wonderful kingfisher realized $10,710, and lot 505, a flicker, brought $8,190. Two very special fraktur bookplate lots sold well above estimate with lot 133, a Johann Adam Eyer, Berks County ink and watercolor book plate, with its original story book, selling for $4,788, and lot 134, a Christian Alsdorf ink and watercolor book plate with its original German scrip song book bringing $10,080.
Painted furniture was in high demand. Lot 362, a Pennsylvania painted pine drysink with an old pale green surface over the original red, and an irresistible original blue interior, crossed the auction block at $6,930. Lot 416, a diminutive 19th c Pennsylvania painted pine bucket bench with an old red surface inspired spirited bidding, selling for $5,292.
Pook & Pook continued to feature exceptional tall case clocks. Lot 434, a Chester County Chippendale cherry tall case clock, circa 1770, signed B. Benjamin Chandlee, Nottingham, and descended in the Chandlee family, brought $23,940.
American artists were widely represented, with works from Charles Hoffman, Ben Austrian, Russell and Xanthus Smith, George Inness, William Merritt Chase, and the Philadelphia Ten. Of particular note was lot 550, a Wilhelm Gottfried Bauer oil on canvas family portrait hammered down for $8,820, and a rare collection of Civil War drawings. Confederate soldier John Jacob Omerhausser, an Austrian immigrant candy maker, was a prisoner of war at Point Lookout, Maryland who whiled away the time by drawing everything around him. Oberhausser detailed many aspects of daily life for the prisoners as well as interactions with the Black soldiers assigned to guard them. Sold in pairs, and originally bartered for food and art supplies, they were in high demand, with lots 185 and 190 each bringing $5,796.
Pook & Pook’s sterling reputation remained untarnished. Amongst eight lots of Georg Jensen, a blossom pattern covered vegetable dish, lot 517, proved particularly desirable, selling for $6,300. Lot 525, an exceptional pair of miniature 18th century Dutch silver sconces lit up the room, reaching a closing bid of $10,710.
The surprise item of the day was lot 551, a set of four Meissen painted porcelain portrait plates which sold for $32,760, over fifteen times the low estimate.
Overall, the sale exceeded high estimate, with competitive bidding from the audience, phone, and online buyers. There was strong interest throughout the sale and across categories. The sell-through rate was 97%, with 36% of lots selling above high estimate! To learn more about consigning with Pook & Pook, please email photographs to email@example.com or call (610) 269-4040 to speak with an appraiser. Pook & Pook’s next auction is The Estate of Joyce Bowes Collis coming up on June 24th & 25th.
I have an announcement to make. I have managed to find the time to make a pick of the week two weeks in a row! Please be prepared for heavy snowfall this week! The auction for June 24th and 25th from the estate of Joyce Bowes Collis is packed full of picks of the week candidates. I am going through the catalog and stop on one lot after another thinking that’s going to be the piece to highlight. I turn the page and find something else. So, my picks start at dozens, get whittled down to a handful, and I then flip a coin on the final two. This week it landed on tails. It just so happens that was a fitting outcome as my choice is known for its famous tail. Lot #390 has a tail and it’s a curly-que. This carved and painted pig with an unusual canvas-covered hollow body is a whimsical pull toy. I am wondering if the purpose was for the storage of smaller toys. I could fit a lot of little toys inside. Adding to its character are great leather ears and a spotted coat. It measures 14” long and has a very nice presence. Who wants to bring home the bacon and buy this great piece of folk art.
by: Jamie Shearer
Finding something I love in any given auction is usually a very easy task. The hard part is narrowing it down to just one item to write about. There are so many categories that make my heart skip. The upcoming auction from the collection of Joyce Bowes Collis is no exception. I first met Joyce around 1996. Visiting her home on the banks of the Conestoga River with the Hunsecker’s Mill covered bridge in the background was just a relaxing sight. An interesting note about the longest covered bridge in Lancaster County is that it cost $1,988 in 1843 when it was originally constructed. Hurricane Agnes carried the bridge downstream to its destruction in 1972 and it was reconstructed the following year for $321,302. Sorry for getting sidetracked. I would visit Joyce often, sometimes it was once a year, while other years I may have visited ten times. I was always trying to get her to part with some of the amazing collections she diligently put together. I will tell you that those were usually very tough negotiations, she never forgot the who, what, where, and when of everything that she tucked away in the house. More times than not I was able to get something consigned for an upcoming sale. As whatever item was carried to the truck she would always proclaim “Let me know what Pookie thinks about it”, referring to Ron in an endearing nickname. When the catalog gets mailed you will see some really neat things. Joyce loved anything with a painted surface, she loved all of those useful Pennsylvania Germanic items with a sprinkle of the English countryside decorating her walls and cupboards. She had a great eye for meshing all of those things together creating this iconic collection. Since the sale is a few weeks away, June 24th and 25th, 2021, I will get a chance to put a spotlight on a few of her cherished antiques. However, with 775 lots there is so much that you will get to discover for yourself. My pick for this week is the very first antique you would see upon entering the home from the back porch. The door opened and you were immediately struck by lot #490, a New England Chippendale painted birch chest of drawers. Not just any old paint, but a very warm and for my eye the perfect shade of blue. I never failed to mention to Joyce that I had a perfect spot for it and my birthday or Christmas was right around the corner. So, to whoever buys it I will let you know that my birthday just passed the week before the auction and Christmas is closer than you think… and yes, I still have the perfect spot for it!
by: Jamie Shearer
Not every minor artist toils in obscurity. Relegated down the ranks of 19th century American painters by history, William Russell Smith was an eminent artist in his day. He is important because his paintings preserve images of a young nation, his diaries record a host of painters and historical figures, and his life story captures much of the 19th century American experience.
Born in the damp smoke of Glasgow’s Industrial Revolution, Russell suffered a bout of scarlet fever that was to leave him deaf in one ear and plagued by migraine headaches. His father, born in a castle to its hereditary caretakers, and his medical student mother, from a family of academics, were social reformers who left the climate of increasing unrest and violent repression for a brighter future in America. Prescient in more ways than one, they emigrated in 1819, just before the Radical War.
Three weeks of walking beside a Conestoga wagon pulled by six horses brought the family to their destination in western Pennsylvania. Their farm on the Conemaugh River was in wilderness. For seven year-old Russell, the experience was an education in the beauty and power of Nature, labor and the bare necessities of life, and in the frailty of life. A worker’s death from a rattlesnake bite left him with a lifelong aversion to snakes. His later journals mention killing many of them in his sketching rambles.
His family moved to Pittsburgh two years later so the children could attend school and his father, a whitesmith, established a cutlery business. Russell was often ill and wound up doing a lot of homeschooling. Early on, he knew that he wanted to be a painter. When his brothers launched an amateur theatrical group in art-starved Pittsburgh, Russell painted the scenery (and played the female roles). He also began to study painting with artist James R. Lambdin in exchange for aiding him in opening Pittsburgh’s first museum. Russell’s apprenticeship sounds not unlike training in a modern-day auction house; “he had little time to paint or give instruction and I gradually drifted into helping in the stuffing of birds and beasts, arranging minerals, antiquities and Indian costumes…and hanging the pictures, etc.”
Russell was rescued from the cultural backwater of Pittsburgh by Francis Wemyss, who brought him to the Walnut Street Theater in Philadelphia in 1835. Over the next several years, Russell Smith rose to prominence as a painter of theater curtains and backdrops. His circle of friends expanded to include theater luminaries and patrons, and his close friends included John Sartain and Rembrandt Peale. He painted and exhibited at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. In 1838 he married artist Mary Priscilla Wilson and started a family, prompting him to look for a place outside of the city where he could focus on landscape painting. To buy land, he sold his United Bank shares. Fifteen days later, the bank crashed. Russell’s money was safe, but his customers took a hit, and commissions slowed. To finance his landscape painting, he switched gears and travelled with state-sponsored geological expeditions in Virginia and Pennsylvania, creating illustrations for scientific books and lectures.
In 1845 Russell Smith took his first summer painting trip to the White Mountains of New Hampshire. He roamed all over the region, finding enough of interest to return for five more years. Just over the state line in Vermont, the Onion (Winooski) River began its ninety-five mile journey from its source to Lake Champlain. It is probable that during this period Smith set up his easel on the riverbank, near the mountain called Camel’s Hump, and sketched the study “On the Onion River”, for lot 22 in the May 21, 2021 Americana & International Auction at Pook & Pook.
At this point, Russell Smith emerged as a fully-formed landscape artist. His years of self-study, large-scale theatrical painting, and scientific drawing culminated in an individual style formed ahead of, and later influenced by, the Hudson River School painters. He was not in lock step with the movement. Like them, he appreciated the grandeur of landscape, and progressed from a precise recording of a scene to one concerned with light and mood. Unlike them, he did not paint with the same amount of detail and finish. He always painted as he saw, with atmosphere hanging between the foreground and distance. After inhaling a lifetime of art during two years in Europe, and a study of Claude Lorrain, his technique was set. As described by his son Xanthus: “My father’s characteristics as a painter are warm harmonious and often brilliant coloring, breadth of effect, composition tending to the Classical, and a certain looseness of handling founded on extended and careful study of that which he endeavored to express upon his canvasses.” His working method was to first make a pencil sketch, then an eight-by-ten inch oil study, and finally a finished picture. Highly organized, he catalogued sketches, studies, and notes. Years later, he could lay his hands on any sketch and work it up into a painting.
In 1851 Smith sold his home and took the whole family to Europe. He recorded impressions in copious notes throughout, beginning with the sea journey and the precise color of water. Landing in Wales, the wild and desolate scenery appealed to his romantic sensibilities. The months of May and June were spent in an “earthly bliss” of long family walks, picnics, and painting, and we can pinpoint the excursion that produced the later-finished oil painting lot 51 “Village of Llanberis, Wales, 1860”: “… we set off one fine morning, early in May… to go by Caernarvon through Llanberis pass and round to Capel Curig, a good day’s walk for the little folks, but was a charming day, temperate and bright… We made a halt again at the old Dolbadarn tower, climbed up its quaint stone stairway, where a fine view of all the interesting features of the grand scene, can be had, and the pencil was again busy with the lake and the portion of the view looking back towards Llanberis, a meagre looking stone village and quaint old church… In this day’s journey I saw some of the best scenery of Wales and got a much higher idea of its picturesqueness, beauty, and grandeur than I had entertained before. What I had learned of it previously was through the drawings and engravings of the English painters… and from their striving after effect in color and light and shade with an almost total neglect of structure, I was agreeably surprised and charmed with wonderful variety of form…”
April, 1852 found Smith at lot 19 “Near Toulon, 1852”: “Sunset off Toulon. A bright clear sky as with us golden on the horizon running up through yellowish grey into warm blue at the top having orange and salmon clouds with warm shadows—all exactly as at home with a fine bright sunset. The sea looking towards the west is no longer a blue but a warm grey color. The surfaces of the waves which are perpendicular to the eye only are blue as they take on the blue of the upper eastern sky. But most of the other surface take more or less of the golden horizon or the salmon coloured clouds above. The Mediterranean (with a clear sky) is a deep inky blue but soft or mild and the properly inclined surfaces take on not only the soft warm color of the sky but also the mild orange color of the coast. There is nothing harsh or out of keeping in the whole scene.”
Returning to Philadelphia in 1853, Smith set about constructing his ideal country house. To the astonishment of all, he built a castle keep. It was either a tribute to the ruined keep at the old family home Rosslyn Castle, or the towers at the Old Port of Marseilles. (The stretch of road it is on is Roslyn Road, if that can be taken as a further clue.) From his romantic, ivy-clad tower, Lord Russell “could see from the top the entire horizon- a sweep of some two hundred miles in clear weather.” Smith denied castle-building, maintaining that he needed to build up, instead of out, as the surrounding land was too dear. He later purchased all of it. For the next twenty years, Russell Smith went from strength to strength, painting landscapes and returning to his theatrical beginnings. He had returned from Europe with over one hundred studies that he set to work finishing as paintings. Patrons beat a path to his castle door to buy his latest. The Philadelphia Academy of Music opened in 1857 and kept Smith busy painting drop and set curtains. He even had to build an addition to accommodate the curtains, which were thirty feet in height, and as much as fifty feet in length.
His children Xanthus and Mary became successful artists in their own right. Both attended the Philadelphia Academy of the Fine Arts. Xanthus became particularly famous, utilizing his wartime service in the Navy to specialize in historically accurate paintings of Civil War marine battle scenes. Lots 38 and 39 are both by Xanthus, bringing the total number of paintings in the May 21st sale by the Smith Family of Painters to five.
Russell Smith embodied the 19th century American success story, a tale worthy of the very stages he decorated. His life nearly spanned the century, from 1812 to 1896. His painting style remained original, regardless of the tides of change in the art world, and valued by his Philadelphia patrons. An immigrant, reliant upon the virtues of a superior work ethic, ability, and modesty, achieved happiness, respect, and riches, built his own fairytale castle, and lived happily ever after.
Pook & Pook is delighted to have a curtain call for the patriarch of this very talented Philadelphia family.
By: Cynthia Beech Lawrence
Lots 22 and 19 in the May 21, 2021 Americana & International Auction.
Examples by Xanthus Russell Smith in the May 21, 2021 Americana & International Auction.
Lewis, Virginia E., “Russell Smith, Romantic Realist,” 1956, University of Pittsburgh Press.
Torchia, Robert, “The Smith Family Painters: A Series of Exhibitions,” 1998, Philip and Muriel Berman Museum of Art, Ursinus College.
Rowland, David, “Thalian Hall Lecture on Russell Smith,” August 6, 2013, Thalian Hall Center.
A pick of the week two weeks in a row? It very well might start snowing here in May. Pook and Pook Auction has a problem in that we are filled to the brim with great Americana. The shelves are full, the carts are full and there is not an open square inch of floor space to be found. This might be a problem for some but for me, I am like a kid in a candy store. If I had all the time in the world my pick of the week could easily be a pick of the day. I have so much to choose from. The May 21st Americana and International sale offered up over 565 lots for me to pick from. As many of you know I am drawn to the Pennsylvania Germanic arts. I love the late 18th, early 19th century painted surfaces, the folk-art forms, and utilitarian objects that were so prevalent in the central Pennsylvania towns and backroads. A second subject I am passionate about is animals, sharing my outdoor adventures with my dog Stella, we are quick to escape to the woods for respite. Wandering through the forests we routinely stop to enjoy the scenery and the mountain animal life that can be overlooked by others. So, combining those two joys as I am paging through the catalog, I know I have certainly found a favorite. This week I am going with lot 401, a 19th century painted chalkware stag. This guy is adorned with a bold yellow base, a striped body with red highlights. So, he checks off both boxes. An animal from the forest of Pennsylvania’s woods and a great Pennsylvania Dutch piece of chalkware with great form and great color. What inspires your collecting?
By: Jamie Shearer