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Monday, October 22, 2012

Update: Teaching the MA in American Fine and Decorative Arts Program

Let me first start with an admission: the blog, like many in the teaching world, likes to take its summers off to travel a bit, do some research, and plan for the academic year.  After some time in London, Tampa, and a trip to Cape Cod, however, the blog is back and has been quietly observing the travels of the new class as the first semester of study at Sotheby's Institute of Art unfolds.  

One bit of encouraging news is that we are on track to finish the Catalog of Paintings in the Redwood Library Collection by the end of this school year.  I am particularly grateful to have a cadre of students committed to the project and willing to donate extra time to help see its completion through.  My goal is to make this collection and the research undertaken on it accessible in as many platforms as possible; I will keep posting updates as needed in this regard.  At present, we have completed all of the artist biographies and are working our way through the editing process and finishing research on the paintings.  I remain committed to the idea that graduate programs should use the efforts of teachers and students to perform services that broaden knowledge, increase exposure, and perform a public service.  

While we have traveled quite a bit throughout this semester already, yet some (perhaps most) of it has been without a camera.  This makes for a great learning experience for the students, but not necessarily the most engaging blog posts.  It's a much different model of teaching and learning than I was exposed to during undergraduate and graduate school, however, and this distinction is worth noting.  My days at Rutgers and CUNY were essentially spent in darkened rooms, illuminated only by slides, with little exposure to the physicality of objects, whether in the context of museums, auction houses, or private collections.  While there are many advantages to a slide lecture--the ability to reach across collections and make connections, for instance--we did little to confront objects in their natural habitat.  Slides, I have come to realize, have their use but also their limits.  Once the scale of objects is lost, as inevitably it is in slides, one loses the connection to the object itself and becomes, in some ways, a disinterested observer, picking through the information the object yields and yet blind to the reality of the object, unaware (even unable) to understand it as a presence, a palpable entity that moves the viewer intellectually, emotionally, and even physically.  I cannot imagine a day where I give up slide lectures, but I am also grateful to be in New York City and to travel so that my students can experience objects first-hand, to see how condition, context, and the object itself help to create and deliver meaning.  In addition to our regular coursework we travel on three regional trips a semester, and when we are not away I make it a point to get them out each Friday to view something.  

Our first big trip of the semester was Boston and Salem.  The students are incredibly fortunate to have Gerald W. R. Ward, Katharine Lane Weems Senior Curator of American Decorative Arts and Sculpture teaching the decorative arts component this fall, and he has done an exceptional job preparing them for the collections we saw throughout the trip.  In the course of 2 1/2 days I took them to Trinity Church, The Boston Public Library, The Gardner Museum,  Harrison Grey Otis House, the Peabody Essex Museum, and Vose Galleries.  The highlight of the trip for me was a tour of the MFA in Boston where Gerry Ward led them through the collections, talked about the collections, and connected the materials they saw in class to larger issues of interpretation and installation.  

We are also fortunate to be in NYC, and I think this provides students with an access to materials and objects that is unparalleled.  Highlights of our Friday field study trips this year have taken them (or will take them) to: the NYHS to see the narrative painting exhibition, the Metropolitan Museum American Wing, the Brooklyn Museum's American Wing, the Merchant's House museum, the Yale furniture Study center, Ralph Harvard (for historic interiors and a lesson on Southern architecture and furniture), Christie's (for a preview of the September sale with alum and department head Andrew Holter), Doyle's Auction house for a collection visit with alum Peter Costanza, and the City Hall Portrait Collection. We also are looking forward to a number of visits to Sotheby's and the expertise of our colleagues there.  

These trips are undoubtedly enjoyable, and I am fortunate to find myself in a position that allows me to take students around and expose them to new places, people, and objects.  That being said, I am aware of the potential that posts like this have to be viewed merely as objects for shameless self-promotion, and certainly on some level they are: I am tasked with running a program and sustaining its viability through enrollment.  Yet, I also think that models of pedagogy are an important thing to share, to explore, to develop and that a blog entry like this can further that discussion and collaboration.  I remain committed to the primacy of the object and to creating a learning environment that stresses academic rigor and practical exposure to materials, objects, and interpretations.  I think that as the marketplace for objects continues to grow that we should seek new ways, as Americanists and art historians, to train the next generations to identify, interpret, and make relevant to new audiences the material we all hold dear.

New Research on Onondaga Metal Shops

Of all the Arts and Crafts movement enterprises, Onondaga Metal Shops remains among the least well understood. Onondaga Metal Shops was a short-lived company organized in 1905 by Edward C. Howe and located at “to manufacture art metal goods consisting of hand hammered copper and brass lamps, trays, smoking sets, advertising signs and the like.”  Howe, the son of a Syracuse jeweler, had worked with his father up until late 1905 when he formed Onondaga Metal Shops.  Located at 581 South Clinton Street, the firm advertised for metal workers, specifically seeking Germans, as late March 1906, but despite the appearance of growth, the company was likely never a viable operation.  Unfortunately for the business, as the Syracuse Journal reported in July 1906, “It was said that Edward was inclined to follow the fast side of life socially, and it had come to the ears of the family that he had been paying attention to a certain woman whose name was unknown to them.”  He left Syracuse on July 16, abandoning his wife and leaving her essentially destitute, and walked away from a company with many bills and little in the way of assets.  On July 29, 1906, the Syracuse Journal reported that a petition of involuntary bankruptcy was filed in the United States court against Howe and noted that Thomas A. Mars–superintendent of the shop–was appointed receiver of the business.   At that time, it was estimated that the company’s debts were about $12,000, or roughly twice the estimate of the value of the company’s stock and accounts.   
The Onondaga Metal Shops never lasted long enough to produce any catalogs, nor do they appear to have advertised their wares.  While in Bankruptcy, the company was purchased in September 1906 by Henry Benedict and moved from Syracuse to East Syracuse where it became associated with the M. S. Benedict Manufacturing Company, a firm primarily known for their silver plated wares.  Known as “Benedict Art Studios,” this reworked version of the Onondaga Metal Shops began advertising shortly thereafter, but continued to stress the connection between to Benedict Manufacturing Company.  At first, Benedict Art Studios appears to have been housed in a separate factory, but by April 1907 the company announced plans to enlarge their building in East Syracuse–essentially doubling their floor space–in order to allow for increased production of their flatware and other products.  As the journal Fabrics, Fancy Goods, and Notions informed their readers: “With the completion of the addition the company will be in a position to very materially increase their output and with the recent acquisition of the Onondaga Metal Shops, now known as the Benedict Art Studio, for the making of art goods in hand-wrought copper, brass and iron, they will be in a position to serve the fancy goods trade in first-class shape and in greater quantity than ever before.”  It is likely that at this time the concern’s entire facilities were merged and though the name “Benedict Art Studios” continued to be used for the next several years, there was no longer a separate facility for production. For instance, in 1911 when the Sanborn Fire Insurance Company mapped East Syracuse, they made a thorough survey of the factory but no mention of a separate facility for the production of Arts and Crafts metal.

The M. S. Benedict Company’s facilities occupied virtually all of the land on a triangular plot which was bounded by Highland Avenue, West Manlius Street, and West Yates Street.  The factory was located about one block away from the railroad line which ran through the center of town.  The company’s space was comprised of a number of buildings which included storage areas, facilities for “Casting and Metal Mixing,” office space, and a separate building labeled “Empire Dep’t.”  It would appear that rather than being operated as an independent aspect of the larger company that the designation “Benedict Art Studios” was more akin to a line of wares produced by Benedict Mfg. Co.  The relative paucity of known examples of the work seems to indicate a very limited operation.  Extant advertisements and notices only use the designation through 1911, though the production of hammered copper wares continued under Benedict Manufacturing Co., until at least 1912.
        Aesthetically, the Onondaga Metal Shop’s work followed is indebted to forms produced by Stickley and examples of British metal work including examples of pieces from Art Fittings Limited.  For at least two examples of work—a humidor and a wall plaque—the designs were directly copied from Stickley’s examples.  As a result of the direct use of designs and the close proximity of the shop to Stickley’s operation, it seems likely that a worker with knowledge of these objects must have been a link between the two factories, though in the absence of an employee roster at this period this remains a matter of conjecture.

Bibliography and sources:

The best available research on the firm has been undertaken by David D. Rudd of Dalton’s Antiques who authored the article “Wrought in Syracuse: Onondaga Metal Shops and Benedict Art Studios,” available online at  
“Metal Shops Bought by Benedict Company,” The Post Standard [Syracuse], September 25, 1906.  
The firm’s first advertisements for workers appear in various issues of The Syracuse Journal in December 1905.  These advertisements also confirm the firm’s address.
“Howe Skips Leaving His Wife Behind,” Syracuse Journal, July 28, 1906.  The following day, a rival  paper described the woman as “an attractive young North side widow.”  See “Howe is Bankrupt,” Syracuse Herald, July 29, 1906. 
“Howe is Bankrupt,” Syracuse Herald, July 29, 1906.  Later reports listed the receiver as Charles G. Baldwin.  See “Metal Shops Bought by Benedict Company,” The Post Standard [Syracuse], September 25, 1906.  Howe also applied for bankruptcy in 1909 in order to prevent him from paying back about $10,000 owed to his father.  See “In Voluntary Bankruptcy,” Syracuse Herald, March 19, 1909.
Fabrics, Fancy Goods, and Notions 40 (November 1906): 35.
“Increasing Their Facilities,” Fabrics, Fancy Goods, and Notions 40 (November 1906): 48 notes “The Benedict Mfg. Co., of East Syracuse N. Y., have taken over the entire plant of the Onondaga Metal Shops, and have moved the machinery to East Syracuse, building a special factory to accommodate the same, which will be known as Benedict Art Studio.  It seems likely that this was a separate facility on the company’s grounds since no additional addresses or listings have been located. 
“To Enlarge Plant,” Fabrics, Fancy Goods, and Notions 41 (April 1907): 32-3.
“At Pittsburgh,” Crockery and Glass Journal 74 (September 21, 1911): 20 noted: “a new electric portable display... which is attracting considerable attention.  It is made by the Benedict Art Studio Co., of East Syracuse, N. Y.”  By May 1912, hammered copper wares do not appear to have used the “Benedict Art Studios” name any longer, see “Exhibition of Fancy Goods at the Palmer House, Chicago,” Fabrics, Fancy Goods, and Notions 46 (May 1912): 51 for hammered copper wares being displayed under the Benedict Manufacturing Co. name.  

Monday, June 18, 2012

New Publications, A New Hire, and Some Student Thesis Topics

I'm pleased to announce that my article entitled "Gustav Stickley's Metal Shop: Reform, Design, and the Business of Craft," appears in the latest issue of Oxford University Press's Journal of Design History.  You can access the issue here.  For those more interested in flat art, I have also have an article on Copley's Watson and the Shark which appears in the latest issue of American Art.

It also gives me great pleasure to announce that Gerald W. R. Ward, the Katharine Lane Weems Senior Curator of American Decorative Arts and Sculpture at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston will be teaching the decorative arts component in the American Fine and Decorative Arts Program curriculum at Sotheby's Institute of Art, New York this fall.  Ward's work as a curator, scholar, and editor will form an invaluable asset to our students and the program.  

Lastly, our students have begun the thesis writing process and I thought I would share some of the outstanding topics they are working on:

Bianca Molta, "Not Just Figureheads: The Influence of Women on the Arts Made Aboard 19th Century New England Whaling Ships"

Anna Henger, "American Odyssey: Frederic Edwin Church and Sanford Robinson Gifford in Greece"

Melody Cleven, "Rockwell Kent’s ‘realization of the brotherly union of men:’ Interpretative Illustrations for Moby Dick"

Corinne Plumhoff, "Modern

Other topics include the drawings of James Edward Deeds (outsider art), the career of Tommy Parzinger, the drawings of Dale Chihuly and their relationship to Abstract Expressionsim, Calder's Circus, the reception of the Power's Greek Slave, and Islamic design influence on the Arts and Crafts.  


Strong Spring for American Arts and Crafts

Recent sales show surprising strength in a number of sectors of the market for American Arts and Crafts and suggest that the fall out of the most recent financial crisis may well be past.  Not surprisingly, the high end market has continued to remain strong (the 1% have continued to set record prices in virtually all markets).  The general strength of the middle market (a better barometer for the health of the market in general) seems to be increasing as well.

The sale this weekend at Rago Arts and Center demonstrated strength across all sectors of the Arts and Crafts (and some modernism) with over 88 percent of all lots selling.  The weakest sector at the moment (whether through lack of desire in general, or pricing pressure) appears to be mid century ceramics.  The work of Gertrud and Otto Natzler, for instance, sold poorly with 5 of the 6 lots offered not selling.  There seems to be a general downward pressure of the market for the Natzlers with a number of recent lots not selling or hitting pre-sale estimates.  

When exceptional pieces do turn up, however, the prices have remained strong.   

Arts and Crafts ceramics did very well at the sale, with a number of pieces far exceeding their pre-sale estimates.  Of particular note was the sale's first lot: an early and rare center bowl by Paul Revere Pottery's Saturday Evening Girls which sold for $75,000 (set. 17,500-22,500). 

Decorated by Frances Rocchi in 1909, the large size and crisp decoration of the piece obviously convinced collectors to bid.  Created using the traditional technique known as cuerda secca, the glazes on the piece are kept separate by a line of black wax resist that is painted on or filled into an incised space.  During the firing process, the wax burns off leaving the pigment behind and creating the distinct fields of color evident in the example above.

A few lots later (17 to be precise), the exuberance of this sale seemed like a distant memory as a vase executed by Frederick Hurten Rhead and Agnes Rhead at University City sold for $120,000 (well beyond its 10-15K estimate).  

Rhead's work has sold strongly in the past (notably at Rago's where a vase dating ca. 1914-17 sold to the Two Red Roses Foundation for $430,000 + commission in March 2007) but his smaller pieces like this have tended to be priced much more modestly, as the estimate indicated.  University City was a short lived venture–lasting from 1909-11–that brought together some of the most important figures in ceramics including Rhead, Taxile Doat, and Adelaide Alsop Robineau.  The english born ceramist is among the most influential designers of the first half of the 20th century (working at a number of companies including Vance-Avon, Weller, Jervis, Arequipa, and eventually Homer Laughlin) but is remarkably unknown outside of design circles.  The achievement for which he is best remembered is Fiesta Ware.  

Other highlights of the sale included a Jazz Bowl by Viktor Schreckengost that, despite some minor work, hammered in at a respectable 80K; an important set of doors made by Philadelphia craftsman Samuel Yellin; and an exceptional vase by the Martin Brothers firm of England.

This spring also saw a remarkable collection of Gustav Stickley's early furniture (brought to market for the first time) that John L. Jerome purchased for his home "La Hacienda" in 1902.  The sale at Treadway gallery in May was one of the few places to see Stickley furniture in the bright green color which was often favored by clients.  Although we tend to think of Arts and Crafts as brown and blocky, Stickley and others often dyed their work with vivid colors.  Unfortunately, these anodyne dyes have proved to be extremely fragile when exposed to UV light and as a result, the traces that remain are often seen only in the insides of drawers and cabinets.  The collection was remarkable not only for the early examples it contained, but for the condition the pieces remained in.  Not surprisingly, even examples of forms that were fairly common achieved exceptional prices.

During my May trip to Chicago with my MA students we had a chance to preview the sale and examine the pieces first hand.  Among the most impressive objects we saw was a Chalet desk, a fairly pedestrian thing for the most part which typically sells in the 2,000 to 3,000 dollar range.  The example in this sale however was bright green, largely as a result of remaining in a second floor room for the past 110 years and had its original leather surface and basket, which is fairly rare.  

It's useful to keep in mind that the depth of color evident on the front is somewhat muted, since the desk was placed against a wall and the front would have been exposed to UV light which damages the dye for more than a century.  A vies of the back of the desk gives a much better sense of how much color Stickley's furniture added to the interior.

Another remarkable piece that retained an original leather top was a 1901 library table that was finally hammered in at $325,000 (well beyond its 40-60K estimate).  Among the rarest of forms, the 1901 furniture is notable for reversed tapering legs, thick slabs of oak, and exquisitely handled mortise and tenon joinery.  Apparently too expensive and time-consuming to make, these design features were abandoned within a year as Stickley moved towards less labor intensive construction, a trend that would continue to accelerate throughout his career.

Somewhat surprisingly, the Arts and Crafts market continues to thrive despite a lack of attention paid to it throughout the year by the larger auction houses.  Sotheby's Important 20th Century sale was basically devoid of Arts and Crafts (just 5 lots out of 126).  In recent sales, Sotheby's has been moving towards the mid century and contemporary market with these sales, but even this strategy is not without a certain amount of risk.  As the recent sale showed, the market for George Nakashima's work remains somewhat finicky and even important pieces if not priced to sell, will fail to attract the interest of buyers. 

Monday, March 26, 2012

Martin Johnson Heade and Edward Hicks: A New Discovery

Among the many gaps in the chronology of Martin Johnson Heade’s life and career, his training and early work are particularly poorly documented.  A constant theme, however, in the scholarship on Heade has been his association with Edward Hicks, the Quaker preacher and painter, whose role has been suggested, yet never clearly defined.  Theodore Stebbins, for instance, in his The Life and Work of Martin Johnson Heade: A Critical Analysis and Catalogue RaisonnĂ© (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2000), 2-3 noted that although 19th century sources were insistent upon the association, there was no external evidence to corroborate these assertions.  The question remains: what, if anything, did Heade learn from Hicks and how did this shape his work.

Scholars since Robert McIntyre have generally accepted this story, owing in part to Heade’s relationship with Thomas Hicks, evident in the portrait of Heade that Thomas Hicks painted in the 1840s.  While their acquaintance is made clear, the issue of Edward Hicks’s influence on the young Heade remains opaque.  Heade’s earliest documented paintings are portraits, a genre that Hicks largely avoided.  While some have tried to link Heade’s early style to Hicks’ teaching—emphasizing its flattened, primitive qualities of paint handling—there are no obvious signs that one can point to.  Whether Heade’s early work is the result of his training, or instead a common feature of amateur artists as they progress (here I think of Copley’s earliest work, or even that of Stuart and West) is a question that remains unanswered and rarely asked. 

A recently discovered source, however, strengthens Heade’s association with Hicks and sheds new light on the artist’s career in the early 1840s.  As reported by The Hunterdon Gazette on April 6, 1842, Heade’s early career involved sign painting as well as portraiture:

The Lambertville Cadets were presented, on Saturday afternoon, March 26th, with a beautiful Flag, by the Ladies of their village. On one side of the Flag is painted the Arms of New Jersey, on the other side the National Arms. The execution of these devices is such as to answer the expectations raised by the known skill and taste of the artist, Mr. Martin J. Heed.

This flag has been prepared expressly for this occasion, and while it reflects great credit upon the artist, it will at the same time be still greater credit to you who bear it, on account of the source from whence it came.

The flag has not been located, but its commission forms the strongest corroboration of the link between Hicks (painting carriages and signs) and Heade since it is the only known mention of the latter’s work outside of easel painting.  It demonstrates as well that while Heade was struggling to gain a name for himself as a portrait painter—he exhibited as early as 1841 at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts—he was also taking commissions typical of rural and itinerant portraitists of the time.  Perhaps in time, when more of these types of commissions come to light, a broader understanding of Heade’s early career will emerge.

Jonathan Clancy

Friday, March 9, 2012

Anna Henger Considers an Early History Painting by Gustavus Hesselius

Gustavus Hesselius’ Last Supper

In 1721 the Swedish born painter Gustavus Hesselius (1682-1755)[1] was commissioned by St. Barnabas Church in Prince George’s County, Maryland to paint the first recorded religious painting in the colonies. This painting is not only the earliest known religious painting created in the colonies, it represents the earliest known public commission given to a colonial painter.
 In 1721 Hesselius was commissioned by St. Barnabas Church to paint an altar piece of the Last Supper. The painting was completed in a year and Hesselius was paid seventeen pounds upon delivery. The painting was believed destroyed when St. Barnabas burned to the ground in 1773 but was rediscovered in 1917 by Mr. C. H. Hart.[2] In 1921 The Last Supper was featured in an exhibition on early American paintings held at the Museum of the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences. According to American Art News the Last Supper was the most interesting painting in the entire exhibit.[3]
Gustavus Hesselius was born in Sweden to a religious and intellectually minded family. In 1711 he traveled with his brother Andreas, who was a Lutheran pastor, to a Swedish colony in Wilmington, Delaware. Over the next forty years Hesselius traveled between Maryland and Philadelphia. He advertised in the “Philadelphia Packet” on December 11, 1740 as a painter of coats of arms on coaches, signs, landscapes, as a gilder, and a picture cleaner and mender.[4] There are some indications Benjamin West may have taken paintings lessons from Hesselius.[5] A painting of a monkey probably completed before Hesselius came to the colonies demonstrates his capabilities as a painter.[6] Hesselius’ paintings have been called “simple” and “realistic” and his figures have a slightly wooden quality, probably because of his unfamiliarity with human anatomy.

            Despite Gustave’s undeveloped style he was an ambitious painter. In the Last Supper he created an original composition inspired by an obscure old master painting. The painting is inspired by a fresco by Andrea del Sarto in the refectory of the Vallambrosan convent of San Salvi in Florence.[7] Hesselius amended Andrea del Sarto’s composition by placing John in front of the table, perhaps to give an illusion of further depth to the painting. He copied the paneling in del Sarto’s version but removed the arch and second story above the figures of Jesus and his apostles, most probably because he knew he did not have the knowledge of perspective to depict the complex architectural features in del Sarto’s version. Nor was this his only painting with a religious theme. In 1748 he exhibited in one of his home’s windows a painting of the crucifixion by his hand.[8] Given the painting’s unusual subject, and composition for its time and place of creation the Last Supper deserves a more thorough analysis by art historians and scholars of early American history.

[1] Roland E. Fleischer and Richard K. Doud. "Hesselius." In Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online, (accessed December 18, 2011).
[2] The Art News, Vol. 21, No. 24 (Mar. 24, 1923), pp. 1-12
Article Stable URL:, 5.
[3]American Art News , Vol. 15, No. 17 (Feb. 3, 1917), pp. 1-8
Article Stable URL:, 3.
[5] Rodgers, David. "West, Benjamin." In The Oxford Companion to Western Art, edited by Hugh Brigstocke. Oxford Art Online, (accessed December 18, 2011).
[6] The Favourite Monkey of Carl Linnaeus (1707-78) o/c, Gustavus Hesselius,
[7] “Early American Paintings Exhibition” at the Museum of the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences
[8] Charles Henry Hart, “Gustavus Hesselius. The Earliest Painter and Organ-Builder in America.” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography. 29, no. 2 (1905) pp. 129-133 accessed, December 17, 2011, 131.

Corinne Plumhoff reminds you why you need to remember Luman Reed

In his 1834 compendium, A History of the Rise and Porgress of the Arts of Design in the United States, art historian William Dunlap addressed the topic of contemporary art collecting in the nation.  Dunlap praised the efforts of those who patronized living American artists rather than buying old masters from Europe.  Having begun collecting art in 1832, Luman Reed’s dedicated efforts over the course of two years from 1832 to 1834 warranted mention by Dunlap in his writings. Dunlap notes, “the collection of Luman Reed, Esq. of Greenwhich-street, already is rich in works of modern art; and his munificent spirit is enriching it daily from the pencils of Cole, Morse, and other prominent artists”.  Dunlap goes further to state that those, like Reed who support local artists were “more entitled to praise than any purchaser of the works of by-gone days”.

Asher B. Durand, Luman Reed, 1835.  Metropolitan Museum of Art.

A self-made businessman, Luman Reed’s ascent to an established and note-worthy art collector presents an intriguing and unique story. This unlikely patron and his humble beginnings stood in contrast to collectors such as Robert Gilmor, Jr. and Daniel Wadsworh whose privileged upbringings certainly provided a different perspective and motivation. The rise of Jacksonian democracy brought forth an emerging, upwardly mobile, middle class.  New wealth materialized in the first half of the 19th century, establishing a citizenry that differed from the old elite of the Federalist period.

Luman Reed introduced a fresh perspective to the American art scene in the years 1832-1834. He routinely expressed genuine interest in contemporary artists such as Thomas Cole, William Sidney Mount, and Asher Durand, offering both financial and moral support. Oftentimes, new collectors, like Reed, proved more willing to listen and receive guidance from the artist, rather than the older elite’s practice of dictating artistic demands. Consequently, Thomas Cole’s budding friendship with Reed proved advantageous in 1833, when Reed agreed to commission Cole’s highly conceptualized series The Course of Empire.  Cole, who desired to pursue historical landscapes, sought funding from many established collectors. Cole believed these paintings would appeal to his federalist patrons but his attempts for support proved fruitless.  Reed’s patronage derived from a sense of patriotism and a true belief that American artists deserved support. These guiding principles laid the foundation of a thoughtful collector who allowed the artist to pursue subjects and styles of their own choice.

The Course of Empire consisted of a five-part series depicting first a nation’s rise to glory and then consequent demise and extinction.  Cole’s subject matter provided a social commentary on the spread of democracy and growth of a nation. Many social and political issues emerged in the mid-nineteenth century in regards to westward expansion, citizenship, and the spread of wealth.  Reed represented a new prosperity that many of the old guard questioned and feared, including Cole.  Thus, Reed’s support truly demonstrates a forward thinking individual, exceptional for his time. Reed’s willingness to appreciate an artist’s perspective as well as maintain an open-mind regarding thematic representation attests to his distinctive character.

This specific example of patronage provides just one instance of the benevolence of Luman Reed.  In a letter written to William Sidney Mount upon the acquisition of the artist’s work Bargaining for a Horse, Reed writes, “this is a new era in the fine arts in this Country, we have native talent and it is coming out as rapidly as necessary. Your picture of the ‘Bargain’ is the wonder and delight of every one that sees it”.  At his death in 1836, Reed’s collection consisted of at least sixty-five works of art. The size of his collection and his steadfast patronage of American artists highlights this truly unique collector ‘s impact on American art and its future patrons.


Craven, Wayne. “Luman Reed: His Collection and Gallery,” American Art Journal, vol. 2, no. 2 (Spring 1980).

Dunlap, William. A History of the Rise and Porgress of the Arts of Design in the United States, vol 2. New York: Dover, 1969. (first published in 1834). Quoted in Wayne Craven, “Luman Reed, Patron: His Collection and Gallery.” The American Art Journal, vol. II, no. 2 (Spring, 1980).

Foshay, Ella A. Mr. Luman Reed’s Picture Gallery: A Pioneer Collection of American Art.  New York: Harry N. Abrams Inc., 1990.

Frakenstein,Wayne. Painter of Rural America: William Sidney Mount, 1807-1868. Washington, DC: International Exhibitions Foundation, 1968. Quoted in Wayne Craven, “Luman Reed, Patron: His Collection and Gallery.” The American Art Journal, vol. II, no. 2 (Spring, 1980).

Pohl, Frances K. Framing America: A Social History of American Art. 2nd Ed.  New York: Thames and Hudson, Inc., 2008.

Arts and Crafts Sales: David Rago

Predictors of market trends have been alternatively lamenting and predicting (for quite some time now) the demise of the Arts and Crafts market.  Recent results from David Rago's sale suggest a market that is shifting, but far from on its last legs.  

The sale was helped by a number of strong and rare pieces, some of which reached new highs for the marketplace, and subject to similar shifts and trends evident in other markets as well.  In general, as this market has taken off from the late 1970s through the early 2000s, it had already showed signs of pricing out younger, newer collectors and entrenching itself amongst and wealthier group of buyers.  For a while, this worked fine, since three larger foundations (Crab Tree Farms, ADA1900, and Two Red Roses), and a number of important private collectors kept the market on a general upward trend.  That, combined with a steady supply of high end examples pushed the market ever higher.  Yet, even by late 1990s, things had begun to shift.  While sales of Stickley remained strong, the prices for Rookwood pottery began leveling off, and in the case of some glaze lines even declining.  

The market seems to be undergoing similar shifts now, which combined with a general uneasiness about the direction of the economy, seems to have undermined the lower and middle ends of this field.  In general, the high end seems a bit more insulated from these fluctuations, although recent sales suggest that aggressive reserves and pricing work to discourage bidding and frequently end up with lots that have not sold.   

First the high points of the sale:

Undoubtedly the star of the show was lot 97  WILLIAM PRICE / ROSE VALLEY COMMUNITY, described as an "Important large trestle table, Rose Valley, PA, ca. 1901" and estimated at $30-40,000.  When the bidding stopped, the hammer fell and the fees were paid, the table brought in $237,000, almost six times its high estimate.  

Rose Valley's relatively small output and the provenance and condition of the piece appear to have contributed substantially to the bidding war.  In some ways the piece is as important as it is enigmatic, resembling the English Gothic inspired designs of the 1880s and 90s more than contemporary furniture of 1901.  As such, it does crystalize the philosophy of Rose Valley who were looking backward and emulating the past for their inspiration, rather than translating it into a more modern idiom.

The George Ohr offerings proved a bit mixed at this sale, suggesting that collectors are willing to pay for exceptional pieces, such as the large and impressive pitcher that sold for $50,000, but less interested in his more traditionally designed wares and smaller pieces.  The same seemed true for the metal work of Samuel Yellin, and other makers as well.  Oddities and rarities on the whole did well, and no lot better illustrated this tendency than an lot 134, an exquisite chest by F.A. Rawlence estimated at 6-9K, that eventually sold for $50K. 

Pieces more commonly available were less likely to break estimates, and a look at Teco vase no. 85 is instructive in this regard.  In December 2005, Sotheby's sold an example for over $22,000, but prices have declined steadily since then.  In 2007, two sold at Rago's for $8K and $10K respectively.  Don Treadway carried one that went for 8.5K in 2011, and the example sold this weekend hammered at 5500.  In fairness, the latest piece had a 2 inch restoration to the rim and other issues, but the price paid was less than a similar example sold in 2004.

Lot 80, Teco vase model 85.

These same patterns generally held throughout the sale and a general trend of arts and crafts pottery suggests softness in the once staple items that appear for sale.  What is does it mean to buyers?  The answer is pretty simple: if you like Grueby, Teco, Van Briggle, and Rookwood and you felt as though the market for these items was beyond your means, there has been enough of a correction that these pieces are becoming much more affordable.  For instance, a tiger Eye Rookwood Vase once owned by the Cincinnati Museum sold for under 3000 (including premium).  Van Briggle vases with some age and history have come back to saner prices. 

It seems to me that the correction of prices might be a good thing in the end for the market, as it has the potential to stimulate interest in collectors who had been previously priced out of it.  Will a younger generation of collectors step up, stop buying their furnishings at Pier 1, and find the clean lines and hand-crafted qualities of the Arts and Crafts somewhat appealing?  One might hope so.  There was a time when people purchased things for their use and beauty, not just their investment value.    

Americana Week: Auctions and Shows

I somehow omitted publishing this draft, so here it is a bit later, but all the same:  

Each year, for one week or so, New York becomes the nexus of Americana; sales by Christie’s, Sotheby’s, and Leigh Keno, combined with the opening of the Winter Antique Show, provide strong reasons to brave the cold and look through the sales. Although it’s an annual event, it is unlikely that we’ll see a week like this for a while, with so much material for sale, and of such quality.  In this year's Americana week, a walk through the galleries would have provided and opportunity to see:

The American Furniture Sales were generally good, with both major auction houses selling the bulk of their lots.  The sale at Sotheby's was wide ranging, and featured strong examples of furniture, some individual Audubon prints, and some exceptional metalwork.  The star of the show was a presentation bowl and ladle, attributed to Jos. Heinrichs that exceeded the 150-250K estimate to bring in 314K (as an aside, I've tried to link directly to the lots especially in the Sotheby's sale since I find the ecatalog platform they use to be frustrating, unnecessarily difficult, and time consuming.  That being said, you might still need to scroll down to view the lot.)  Christie's had some especially strong pieces, too including a chair from the Philadelphia Museum of Art, an early Boston arm chair that well exceeded its estimate, and a New York pier table with great gilding and carving.  

Sotheby's students are busy, having finished up working the Winter Antique Show, arguably the finest collection of dealers and antiques in the United States.  Working with dealers and as support staff, the students learn the industry from the ground up.  

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Redwood Catalog Entry: Stephanie Bancroft's entry on a view of Beavertail Lighthouse

Beavertail Tower Lighthouse, Jamestown, Rhode Island
possibly 1856-1900 
Oil on Canvas, 13 x 18 inches
Gift of Roger King

Located on the southern tip of Jamestown, Rhode Island, Beavertail Lighthouse played a pivotal role in the success of Newport’s shipping industry. From its initial erection in 1749 to the present day, Beavertail has provided sailors safe passage though often treacherous waters to Newport Harbor. As Newport declined in importance as a center of commercial shipping and reinvented itself as a fashionable seaside resort for the wealthy and upwardly mobile in the 19th century, Beavertail prevailed as a popular landmark for tourists. Additionally, Beavertail served as a test center for the ongoing development of foghorn technology, and boasted a state-of-the-art Fresnel lens and lighting apparatuses.

The third lighthouse to be built within the English colonies, money was raised for Beavertail’s construction by the creation of the first tariff on imports and exports coming through Newport in 1731. The stone structure depicted in the painting is in fact the third version of Beavertail lighthouse, erected in 1856 as a replacement for the wooden structure originally built in 1753. This earlier lighthouse was famously burned by the British upon their retreat from Newport in 1779, but subsequently was rebuilt in 1783. 

The painting depicts the lighthouse and accompanying buildings as they appeared between approximately 1856 and 1900. The current lighthouse and keeper’s house (the larger white structure to the left of the tower) were both completed in 1856. Light keeper Silas Gardner Shaw had both a whitewashed sty and hen house built during his first tenure in the post (1858-1862). These are likely depicted as the small structures adjacent to the assistant keeper’s house to the right of the tower. The upper half of the tower was painted white for greater visibility in 1900. It is important to note, however, that fact that the painting depicts Beavertail lighthouse between 1856 and 1900 does not exclude the possibility that it was painted after 1900, possibly from another source. 

Beavertail Lighthouse was depicted as it would have been seen from a vessel approaching Narragansett Bay. The difficulty of executing an image from this perspective suggests that this composition may be an artistic convention. The image of a lighthouse standing as a single focus amidst an unruly sea and thunderheads ominously gathering in the distance effectively conveys the idea of the lighthouse as a beacon safeguarding those at sea. In comparison, a more natural land-based composition, while more realistic, would diminish the iconographic power of the subject.  

Charming as the subject matter may be, this work cannot be accurately described as either a fine example of dramatic painting or realism. The stylized treatment of the crashing waves in the foreground, the flat and formulaic treatment of a threatening sky, and the overly simplistic treatment of architectural forms suggests that the painter lacked formal training. Additionally, in comparison to the size and depth of the churning sea and sky, the middle ground is flattened and compressed, suggesting at best a rudimentary understanding or use of proportion and perspective. The artist seemed to have relied instead on a more vernacular treatment of various subject matter within the composition, further promoting the possibility that this may have been painted by an itinerant or amateur artist.

Newport became famous as a seaside resort initially for wealthy antebellum southerners seeking respite from the sweltering southern coastal cities, and increasingly for members of New York and Boston’s elite. The city grew steadily from the 1830’s onward through the end of the 19th century as a playground for the wealthy, luring artists who sought to reap financial benefit by painting maritime and coastal scenes, which would then serve as stylish souvenirs and mementos.

Beavertail lighthouse thus took on a secondary function as a pleasurable scenic venue for visitors to take in the views of Narragansett Bay and the Atlantic beyond. Although maritime paintings of ships and battle scenes dominated the 19th century market, harbor views and coastal scenes were a similarly popular, though less aggressive aspect of the genre. Generally speaking, lighthouses are rarely found as the primary focus of fine art maritime painting. However, given Beavertail’s iconic status within the larger Newport landscape and history, the lighthouse may have been a popular subject for amateur artists in the area.


Newport and Narragansett Bay: a guide to the principal places of interest in Newport and to the summer resorts of Narragansett Bay, with other information of value to visitors. Providence: Tillinghast & Mason, 1870.

Bayles, Richard M. History of Newport County, Rhode Island: From the year 1638 to the year 1887, including the settlement of its towns, and their subsequent progress. New York: L.E. Preston & Co., 1888.

Cahoone, Sarah S. Sketches of Newport and its vicinity: with notices respecting the history, settlement and geography of Rhode Island. New York: J.S. Taylor, 1842.

Chase, Fred D. Newport, Block Island and Narragansett Pier: a brief history and tourists' guide to points of interest, containing also maps of Newport and Block Island. [S.I. : s.n., ca. 1900.

Crane, Elaine Forman. A dependent people: Newport, Rhode Island, in the Revolutionary era. New York: Fordham University Press, 1985.

Gerdts, William H. Art Across America: two centuries of regional painting, 1710-1920, vol. 1: The East and Mid-Atlantic. New York: Abbeville Press, 1990.

James, Sydney V. Colonial Rhode Island: a history. New York: Scribner, 1975.

Sterngass, Jonathan. First resorts: pursuing pleasure at Saratoga Springs, Newport, and Coney Island. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001.

Withey. Lynne. Urban Growth in Colonial Rhode Island: Newport and Providence in the eighteenth century. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1984.

James L. Yarnall, Newport through its architecture: a history of styles from postmedieval to postmodern. Newport, RI: Salve Regina University Press in association with University Press of New England, Hanover and London, 2005.

Beavertail Lighthouse Museum Association:

Jamestown, Rhode Island Information:

United States Coast Guard Index of Lighthouses:

Redwood Catalog: Samantha Rothenberg's entry on William Willard's Abraham Lincoln

William Willard, Abraham Lincoln, ca. 1865
Oil on Canvas, 30” x 25”
Note on stretcher:  “Wm. Willard Catalogue—[2?] 83”

A prolific painter from Sturbridge, Massachusetts, William Willard (1819-1904) created this portrait of Abraham Lincoln in 1865, the year of his death.  As an adult, Willard moved to Boston where he pursued a variety of careers before he decided to become an artist, including farmer, jeweler, actor and hatter.  Additionally, he was one of the founders of the Massachusetts Academy of Fine Arts, where he worked as an instructor for five years.  In the early 1850s, Willard became avidly interested in collecting photographs.  To that end, a contemporary publication noted in 1903 that if one were to visit the basement of the artist’s studio, he or she would find ambrotypes and daguerreotypes of a large assortment of notable people of the previous forty-five years. 
Based on the availability of Lincoln images and Willard’s enthusiasm for collecting photographs, which he often used as models for his work, it is unlikely that Lincoln actually sat for this portrait. Rather, this particular image was most likely copied from a contemporary photograph of Lincoln taken either by Matthew Brady or his studio manager, Anthony Berger.  Demand for Lincoln paraphernalia reached its all-time high after the president’s death, particularly with regard to paintings and household objects bearing the late president’s image. It should be noted that this was not Willard’s sole portrait of the president; there are records of at least three other Lincoln portraits painted by Willard, two of which are on display at the Worcester Art Museum in Worcester, MA.  The third known painting hangs at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., depicting the same well-known Anthony Berger profile photograph found on the United States penny. 

Willard’s technique of painting portraits from photographs was a new method at the time, and critics such as N.P. Willis asserted that the daguerreotype and similar photographic technologies would destroy the aesthetic value of portraiture, claiming that “with his dozen or more long sittings, [the artist] has time enough to make a careful study of how the character is worked out in the physiognomy, and to paint accordingly.”   Despite such negative criticism, artists like Willard did not hesitate to make use of the new technology, especially when the portrait depicted a subject as famous and desirable as Lincoln.

This portrait was completed two years after Lincoln inflamed the Civil War’s national tensions by announcing in his Final Emancipation Proclamation speech that “all persons held as slaves within any state, or designated part of a state, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward and forever free.” Although the Emancipation Proclamation did not formally end all slavery, it ignited great amounts of hostility and fundamentally altered the character of the war between the Union and the Confederacy.  Even in death, public opinion about Lincoln was immensely polarized, divided between perceptions of him as a heroic martyr and an infamous villain. n Willard’s gracious—one might even say flattering— depiction of the president provides insight about the painter’s own politics, or, at the very least, those of his Boston-area patrons. Lincoln appears notably less gaunt and younger than he does in the photographic images that inspired this portrait. He bears a calm and pensive air, a marked difference from the worry-creased eyes and tense jaw found in the daguerreotypes. There is also an ennobling light highlighting the President’s forehead, a symbol used by painters to endow the subject with an air of illustriousness.

Willard’s portrait of Lincoln is historically significant because it depicts his subject in the year of his assassination, when the public sentiment was still divided regarding his complex legacy. Willard has captured a transitional moment in the story of the United States, before Lincoln’s reputation as one of the country’s greatest leaders was solidified into our national narrative.

Selected Bibliography:

Worcester (Mass.) Board of Trade, Worcester Chamber of Commerce, The Worcester Magazine: Devoted to Good Citizenship and Municipal Development (Worcester: Chamber of Commerce, 1903), 193-194.

Berger, Anthony. Abraham Lincoln, 1864. (accessed October 29, 2011). and 
Brady, Matthew B., Abraham Lincoln, 1864. (accessed October 29, 2011). For an extensive collection of  Lincoln photographs, also see The Library of Congress: American Memory,
Abraham Lincoln, Great Speeches: Unabridged (Mineola: Dover Publications, 1991), 98.

Beaumont Newhall, The Daguerrotype in America (Mineola: Courier Dover Publications, 1976), 78.

George Sullivan, Picturing Lincoln (New York: Clarion Books, 2000), 46.