Journal

A Wildlife Woodcut

11.17.2017

In all of the years that we’ve admired the book illustrations of outdoor and natural history artist Henry B. Kane, we had never seen a stand-alone piece of his artwork on the market until recently finding this woodcut that we’re now offering for sale.

mouse woodcut by Henry B. Kane

It is a portrait of a mouse (likely a white-footed mouse, Peromyscus leucopus), rendered in a small scale befitting its subject (frame size: 8.5” wide x 9” high; woodcut size: 4” square). The crisp black and white contrasts that comprise the image of the mouse nestled on a small branch of a red pine in its woodsy home habitat, are the distinctive attributes of woodcuts. The artist was able to achieve great clarity of detail by carving a block of wood so that when inked and pressed onto paper the portions of the woodblock that were raised in relief join with those that were gouged away to create a stunning black-and-white image.

mouse woodcut by Henry B. Kane

This woodcut is one of a limited edition, number 16 of 100, and is signed by the artist in pencil in the lower right.

mouse woodcut by Henry B. Kane

The artwork was matted and framed in Boston, not far Lincoln, Massachusetts where Kane lived for many years with his wife, two daughters, and a son.

mouse woodcut by Henry B. Kane

mouse woodcut by Henry B. Kane

While Kane’s personal and professional lives were rooted in the Boston area, his artistic abilities and book projects allowed him to travel in his mind’s eye, by immersing himself in the variety of habitats and settings that his collaborating authors explored. He was a rare individual who was equally drawn to and adept at science and art, as well as skilled in administration. What else do we know about this accomplished man?

Henry B. Kane

Henry B. Kane

Henry B. Kane in his office at MIT, circa 1965

Henry Bugbee Kane (1902-1971) was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, attended high school at Phillips Exeter Academy, and went on to college at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), graduating in 1924. He was already publishing artwork while a student at MIT, contributing cartoons to its satirical magazine Voodoo. After graduation he worked at the Boston Edison Company as an illuminating engineer planning lighting systems for buildings and outdoor areas, and then moved into the company’s advertising and promotion departments.

After several years at Boston Edison, Kane returned to MIT as an employee, first as an administrative assistant to the president and then in 1940 as Alumni Fund Director, a position he held until retiring in 1966. With only one co-worker in his department, Kane was able to take the alumni fund from its inception to becoming the fifth largest such fund in the U.S. MIT now bestows an annual “Henry B. Kane ’24 Award” to recognize exceptional volunteer alumni fundraising service. A note in Kane’s MIT profile hints at a possible factor in his success as a fundraiser: in addition to contributing countless illustrations to various MIT publications, his drawings and cartoons also appeared in the Alumni Fund appeal letters he wrote, no doubt charming the money right out of alumni’s pockets.

His professional success as a university administrator is paralleled in his simultaneous and prolific career as a book illustrator and nature photographer. His book illustrations typically included both woodcuts and line drawings that were often interspersed within the written text.

Kane was a sensitive reader of the books he illustrated, bringing to life certain passages with drawings embedded in paragraphs exactly where they enhanced and complemented rather than distracted from the narrative, as in the following excerpts from his illustrated edition of Thoreau’s The Maine Woods:

Kane illustration

Henry B. Kane illustration

Flora, fauna, and outdoor life were Kane’s passions, which enabled him to bring them to life so precisely and evocatively in his artwork. He was a keen naturalist whose art not only accurately captured the detailed, physical features of plants and animals, but also of entire habitats.

In addition to illustrating numerous books for other authors, Kane wrote and illustrated over a dozen of his own nature books for children.

book by Henry B. Kane

“The Tale of a Mouse” was his first book, which he wrote after realizing that there was a great lack of “factual stories of native wildlife told in a manner calculated to entertain while they instruct.” His first children’s natural history book was followed by a series of “The Tale of…” books about animals such as a crow, a moth, and a bullfrog, as well as “The Tale of…” habitats such as a wood, a meadow, and a pond.

Henry B. Kane

Kane holding a baby skunk, circa 1945

We haven’t uncovered enough biographical information about Kane’s life to know exactly how he became a student of nature, although his work makes it obvious that he spent much time in the outdoors. There are however, hints about part of his outdoor life in the 1947 book Cache Lake Country which is enhanced with over two hundred of Kane’s illustrations. The book’s author, John J. Rowlands, was Kane’s friend and MIT colleague (Rowlands was the Director of the MIT News Service from 1925-1957).

Cache Lake Country

In Cache Lake Country, which is one of our favorite outdoor books of all time, Henry Kane appears as a character, as well as being its real-life illustrator. Rowlands wrote the book in the first person voice of a timber cruiser who comes upon a small lake in the Ontario wilderness, a place with which he is immediately and deeply enthralled, writing: “I have seen maybe a thousand northern lakes, and they all look alike in many ways, but there was something different about that little lake that held me hard. I sat there perhaps half an hour, like a man under a spell, just looking it over.”

Henry B. Kane illustration

Eventually the narrator is invited by the lumber company to build a permanent base at this place he had named Cache Lake, from where he could keep watch over the timber country. The book chronicles how he builds a log cabin and lives in this wilderness camp throughout twelve months of a year. Although it is a fictionalized account, it is based on Rowland’s real life experiences in the Canadian north country.

Figuring prominently in the book is Rowland’s relationship with a Cree Indian named Chief Tibeash, from whom he learns the ways of the woods. Tibeash was a real person whom Rowlands hired as a guide in 1911 when he just 19 years old and working as a prospector and surveyor for a mining company in Ontario. He lived with Tibeash for a season and they stayed in touch on visits over the next five years until Tibeash died in 1917.

Equally prominent in the book is the narrator’s relationship with “Hank.” He describes meeting Hank one June day when the lumber company’s float plane

“brought in a young fellow who was making his living by drawing and photographing wild animals and birds. And a first rate artist he was. His name was Henry—we called him Hank—and the letter he brought from the company asked me to be neighborly and make him at home for as long as he wanted to stay.”

The Chief and the narrator like Hank immensely, so he eventually decides to stay on and build his own cabin on a nearby lake. Thus begins a series of seasonal adventures among the three men. The book has elements of Boy’s Life stories built around the fantasy of moving to the wilderness with one’s best friends, while all the while the book’s author and illustrator were actually grown men with work-a-day jobs in a city.

Henry B. Kane illustration

It is documented, however, that Rowland and Kane took periodic trips to northern Canada together.

Henry B. Kane illustration

Whether Kane was already an outdoorsman as well as a naturalist before meeting Rowlands is hard to say. In any case, they shared a love of the wild. It is easy to imagine the two of them taking wilderness excursions in Ontario, since there are episodes in Cache Lake Country in which the narrator and his friend “Hank” do exactly that.

The two of them also share a love of campcraft throughout the book – from making maple syrup, candles, raspberry shrub, and bean-hole beans, to crafting snowshoes and building canoes. They also watch nature unfolding around them, seeing Hepatica bloom and baby Ruffed Grouse emerge in the spring, to seeing moose rut in the fall. Rowlands reveals that the character Hank was a particularly enthusiastic nature observer, which is most likely based on his perceptions of the real Henry B. Kane:

“Hank loves to stretch out in his stave hammock between two pines close to the shore of the lake and watch the young ducks feeding along the lake shore…Hank always has his binoculars handy and he lies back as comfortable as you please and studies the birds by the hour.”

As the book jacket says: “Cache Lake Country holds the secrets of how to live well in the woods. It is a tale of contentment and simple living in a friendly wilderness…a storehouse of valuable information on woodcraft and nature.” The book is also a testament to the range of Kane’s talent, from expert execution of pen and ink drawings of plants and animals,

Henry B.. Kane illustration

Henry B. Kane illustration

to precise “how-to” line drawings,

illustration by Henry B. Kane

to evocative whole-page woodcut images.

Henry B. Kane illustration

Back to the Mouse

The white-footed mouse, which Kane so accurately captures in the woodcut that has inspired this testimonial to his talents, occupies an important niche as an herbivore in the lower echelons of food chains. The mouse is an integral component in the ecology of meadows and woods, helping to sustain ecological systems, just as creating and appreciating art sustains human spirits. We can thank Henry B. Kane for inspirationally melding these two aspects of existence.

Henry B. Kane

Appendix

Selected Books Illustrated by Henry B. Kane:

books illustrated by Henry B. Kane

Cache Lake Country: Life in the North Woods by John J. Rowlands

The Woods and the Sea by Dudley Cammett Lunt

The Maine Woods by Henry David Thoreau

Spindrift: From a House by the Sea by John J. Rowlands

Wilderness World of John Muir by John Muir

The House on Nauset Marsh by Wyman Richardson

One Day on Beetle Rock by Sally Carrighar

Icebound Summer by Sally Carrighar

Natural History of New York by Edward Freeman

How to Hunt Deer by Edward Freeman

One at a Time: His Collected Poems for the Young by David McCord

Take Sky by David McCord

For Me to Say by David McCord

All Day Long: Fifty Rhymes of the Never Was and Always Is by David McCord

Far and Few by David McCord

Flash: The Life Story of a Firefly by Louise Dyer Harris

Wings in the Meadow by Jo Brewer

 

Selected Books Written and Illustrated by Henry B. Kane:

Thoreau’s Walden: A Photographic Register

The Tale of a Wood

The Tale of a Meadow

The Tale of a Pond

The Tale of a Mouse

The Tale of the Wild Goose

The Tale of a Bullfrog

The Tale of the White-faced Hornet  

The Tale of the Crow

The Tale of the Promethea Moth

The Alphabet of Birds, Bugs & Beasts

Wings Legs or Fins

Four Seasons in the Woods

A Care for Nature: Creatures and Happenings in a Suburban Back Yard

 

Robotiquing: The Future Could be Closer than We Think

10.23.2017

 “Name an occupation, and there’s somebody considering a robot to take it over.”

(David Pogue, cbsnews.com, August 2017)

In all of our contemplations aimed at anticipating the next waves of the antiques business, the possibility of our job sector being taken over by robots or computers programmed with artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms had never occurred to us. Yet given our technologically innovative economy, predictions are that nearly 40% of jobs currently held by real people in the U.S. could be lost to robots and artificial intelligent systems by 2030 (PwC’s Global Artificial Intelligence Study, pwc.com). So perhaps we should worry about our job security.

robot cartoon

While it is easy to envision robots zipping around an Amazon warehouse plucking merchandise from shelves to fulfill orders,

warehouse robots

(from cnet.com)

it is a stretch to imagine them galloping around the fields of an antiques market such as Brimfield in Massachusetts or Round Top in Texas to find antique treasures.

robotic horse

(from dreamstime.com)

Yet robots are not only taking over manual jobs in many sectors of the economy, they are also encroaching on jobs that rely more heavily on cognitive expertise. Collecting and analyzing data in insurance and financial industries, drawing up standard contracts in the legal field, and doing routine health assessments or disease diagnoses as general practitioners and pathologists now do in the medical field, can all potentially be accomplished better and more efficiently by intelligent non-humans.

Even those higher order job skills, however, still seem more codifiable into computer algorithms than the uncertain processes of buying and selling antiques. Experts in artificial intelligence acknowledge that computers still don’t succeed very well when trying to accomplish tasks that require flexibility and non-routine procedures. Since a course in Antiquing 101 would have as its first lesson how to be versatile, intuitive, and adaptable, our profession may still have some time remaining in the human realm before computers catch up with us.

But perhaps not much time. Researchers on the cutting edge of AI are working diligently to program computers to master abstract reasoning, learning, creativity, problem-solving, and cognitive flexibility. A major goal of this work is for AI to mimic intuitive judgment so that a computer will be able to make good decisions on the basis of uncertain and incomplete information, just as humans do every day.

One challenge of this research is to understand and then codify how irrationality enters into decision making. If researchers crack the irrational, emotion-laden dimensions of how professionals make decisions in their day-to-day work, then perhaps they are getting closer than we realize to building robots that could become antiques dealers.

(from nytimes.com)

So to determine how likely it is that we’ll have antiquing robots in the not-too-distant future, let’s get analytical by breaking down the various components of the antiques dealer’s profession, and then rate each dimension from 1 (low) to 5 (high) on an automatization likelihood scale, which is a computer takeover Threat-O-Meter of sorts.

An Antiques Dealer Has to Know Stuff

Despite a trend towards melding the antiques business with the world of design in which what matters most is an object’s visual appeal rather than its age and historical authenticity, we still believe that it is essential for antiques dealers to focus on objects that are original products of a past era. Understanding an antique’s origin requires contextual knowledge of historical periods and their artistic or stylistic movements, who was making what kinds of things during that era (whether individuals, collectives or manufacturing companies), variations of forms by geographic locations (continents, countries, regions), typical materials and assembly or creation techniques used, and so forth.

(from robohub.org)

All of this factual background information is supremely suited to becoming a massive database that could anchor object identification algorithms. So this dimension of our professional skill set merits a score of 5 on the takeover likelihood scale.

Likelihood of Robot/AI Takeover:

Low                                         High

1          2          3          4          5

An Antiques Dealer Has to Find Stuff

A huge part of an antiques dealer’s job is seeking and finding antiques that are worthy of buying and selling. Computers are much better at certain kinds of searching (i.e., querying databases) than humans. But those searches will only be productive if the raw information being searched is high quality.

Most sellers, other than high-end auction houses that employ specialists in various subfields of antiques or specialist dealers who post their goods online, write sketchy or inaccurate descriptions of antiques which could pose a challenge for search algorithms that lack the wisdom to a) filter out worthless keyword hits, b) dig for unlikely labels and associations, and c) fill in the blanks of what isn’t said about an object. Then there is the challenge of following up on potential leads; will the antiques dealing “bot” chat with the auction house bot to get its questions answered?

friendly robot

(from jonvilma.com)

Beyond these challenges to an intelligent robot scanning through antiques online, many antiques—in fact, most of what we purchase—never appear online. Robots finding antiques anywhere other than through a database search is highly unlikely (unless home monitoring security cameras that are becoming increasingly popular begin to automatically upload photos or video of the insides of homes, garages, barns, and storage units as searchable, pictorial data—yikes!). Since AI systems have high potential to search databases, but low potential to search physical nooks and crannies, this dimension of antiques dealing merits a score of 3 on the takeover likelihood scale.

Likelihood of Robot/AI Takeover:

Low                                         High

1          2          3         4          5

An Antiques Dealer Has to Evaluate Stuff

Evaluating the merits of an object is where the first two dimensions of an antiques dealer’s repertoire—knowing stuff and finding stuff—interact. It is not enough just to know facts or to find an object; it is essential to be able to retrieve and apply knowledge in reference to a particular object that is in front of you. Is it real or fake? Is it old or new? Is it intact or broken? Is it solid or wobbly? Is it in original or modified condition? Is it rare or common? Is it aesthetically pleasing or unappealing? Is it a desirable or undesirable form in the eyes of potential buyers? Is it appropriate for our specialty niche within the vast universe of antiques? More often than not a dealer has to do all of this evaluation under time pressure to make a decision to buy or not to buy something before another interested party comes along.

thinking

It is hard to envision an AI system, robotic or otherwise, evaluating antiques. Even with hand-like appendages that have enough dexterity to get a physical feel for an object, and eye-like fixtures that can home in on and even magnify an object’s features, the robot would have to be able to integrate the visual and tactile information it was accumulating with a cognitive database that includes not just facts, but also a storehouse of subtle experiential knowledge such as human dealers have accumulated over years of handling antiques.

To be successful as an antiques dealer, it is crucial to acquire antiques that meet a certain standard of quality and have an intrinsic value based on features such as craftsmanship, aesthetic appeal, rarity, or historical importance. The likelihood that this complex evaluative dimension of an antique dealer’s skill set could be programmed into computer algorithms is low, meriting a score of 2 on the takeover likelihood scale. (It scores 2 rather than 1 because cutting edge work within the field of AI is aimed at developing systems that can learn through experience.)

Likelihood of Robot/AI Takeover:

Low                                         High

1          2         3          4          5

An Antiques Dealer Has to Buy Stuff

Once an antique passes a dealer’s evaluation of its intrinsic value, the decision to buy it requires a judgment of its economic value: is there room for advancement? Answering that question requires experiential, marketplace knowledge that differs from factual knowledge about antiques. It also requires a certain emotional investment in the ultimate economic outcome of a transaction; will a robot care if it makes or loses money?

There is also often an emotional dimension to an antiques dealer’s decision to purchase an object beyond caring about the economics of the outcome—falling in love with an old thing can often eclipse rational decision making. Many times dealers justify a purchase by saying “It had to be bought,” meaning that the object has a special quality or historical importance that retail buyers may never recognize or care about, so technically it is not a good investment but it is emotionally satisfying.

Beyond loving something, there are other types of gut feelings that can lead to an aesthetic snap-judgement acquisition that is difficult to rationalize based on facts—luckily these purchases often turn out to be objects that also resonate with retail buyers. It is fair to say that such decisions are intuitive, and intuition is an ongoing bugaboo of artificial intelligence.

The actual mechanics of making a purchase on the other hand, are ripe for automatization—since even now you can make one-click purchases online, or can just wave a cell phone in front of something in a store and ta-da! you own it, then it won’t be much of a stretch for a robot to employ the same purchasing methods without any verbal interchange with a seller. In summary, since economic data could be programmed into an algorithm, AI systems might become more intuitive, and the mechanics of making purchases is getting increasingly automatized, this dimension of an antique dealer’s repertoire earns a score of 3 on the takeover likelihood scale.

Likelihood of Robot/AI Takeover:

Low                                         High

1          2          3         4          5

An Antiques Dealer (Often) Has to Restore Stuff

Anyone who has ever attempted to fix something that is old—while renovating a historic home, for instance—knows that it is essential to be good at solving novel problems that endlessly crop up. When we purchase the parts of a rustic hickory bed frame, for instance, whose multiple mattress support poles must fit into specific holes that may have shrunk or enlarged over time, we know that it will likely require hours to get the parts properly fitting back together. And that’s just one example of many tasks required to make antiques usable again, or to revive their former luster—sofa cushions need to be remade or reupholstered, a tear in a painting’s canvas has to be patched, a broken mirror in a great frame needs to be replaced, water rings in a table top need to be removed, and so on.

Given that even state-of-the-art robots that currently work on assembly lines lack fine motor skills and are unable to deal with parts they’ve not encountered before, along with the trial-and-error and case-by-case specificity necessary to restore an antique, the restoration dimension of the antiques business earns the lowest possible score of 1 on the automatization likelihood scale.

Likelihood of Robot/AI Takeover:

Low                                         High

     1         2          3          4          5

An Antiques Dealer Has to Sell Stuff

There are two aspects to selling any object—finding buyers and making the case for the worthiness of your product. As we all discover each time we open an internet browser, tech wizards are getting increasingly better, and seemingly more insidious and devious, at figuring out our consumer preferences and habits to pitch products to us. So targeting audiences and crafting advertising pitches is something that AI systems are already much better at doing than human antiques dealers, who usually have no background in marketing whatsoever.

But the second aspect of selling something, compassionately communicating the merits of what you’re offering, requires a certain degree of empathy. We have to believe in, and even love what we sell in order to be successful. In the antiques business, a commercial transaction involves some degree of an emotional connection between buyer and seller that is mediated by an object that speaks to both parties.

empathy bot

(from its-interesting.com)

While a robot or AI system does not have its own emotions, it can simulate empathy. Customer service “chatbots” are getting increasingly better at anticipating and interpreting human emotions and adapting its responses accordingly. Given the hegemony of algorithm-driven marketing techniques, along with advances in emotional simulation and conversational interaction on the frontiers of artificial intelligence, the selling dimension of dealing in antiques surprisingly earns a score of 4 on the takeover likelihood scale.

Likelihood of Robot/AI Takeover:

Low                                         High

1          2          3          4         5

An Antiques Dealer Has to Be Good at Non-Stuff

While old objects (i.e., “stuff”) are the indispensable core elements of the antiques business, there are also necessary daily tasks that have little to do with objects. Running any small business involves chores such as bill paying, bookkeeping, and banking; maintaining buildings and vehicles; and handling mail and email, to name just a few.

It is also essential to maintain networks of people who play key roles in the business, such as delivery and restoration specialists, as well as other dealers, pickers, and clients. Given the complexity and range of tasks involved in running a small business, and the necessity of social interaction to accomplish most of them, the non-stuff aspects of dealing in antiques receives a fairly low score of 2 on the automatization likelihood scale.

Likelihood of Robot/AI Takeover:

Low                                         High

1          2         3          4          5

AI: From Job Security Threat to Job Opportunity Enhancer

The average score for the likelihood of robotic takeover of the seven dimensions of an antique’s dealer’s job that we’ve described is 2.8 on a scale of 5, so if our ratings are accurate it seems unlikely that human dealers will be usurped by intelligent robots within our lifetime. Phew.

But what might be the role of AI in the near future of our profession? We’re intrigued that one of the huge challenges to AI advancement is the need to catalog “commonsense knowledge.” Not only do humans know a massive number of facts that can be expressed through language, they also possess a huge range ofnon-conscious and sub-symbolic intuitions” (see Malcolm Gladwell’s 2005 book Blink). These intuitions are difficult to articulate, yet play a crucial supporting role for rational thought. How can those foundational building blocks of expertise in any field be programmed into computer algorithms?

The answer is to start figuring out and capturing what experts know—on both explicit and implicit levels. So a new job opportunity for seasoned antiques dealers could be to work with computer scientists who are interested in cataloging what we know and how we make decisions. It could be argued that if we knew what we were doing well enough to tell a computer what we do, then we would actually know what we’re doing, and sometimes we’re not so sure of that. But we’d be game to give it a go.

Contributing to AI databases could be the most viable way for the old guard in the antiques business to transfer their wisdom given that very few young people are coming into the antiques profession as apprentices, which for centuries has been the most effective way to pass along difficult-to-articulate knowledge and practices.

While waiting for a scientist from MIT to come knocking at our door with money in hand to hire us as consultants, we will look to the burgeoning developments in artificial intelligence fields for other professional benefits. Rather than worrying about robots as our replacements, we will regard intelligent computer systems as our pals.

robot and human hands

(from shadowrobot.com)

The following vision statement about artificial intelligence from a recent article in The Atlantic (“Our Bots, Ourselves” by Matthew Hutson, March 2017) is hopeful:

 (AI) will also work with us, taking over mundane personal tasks and enhancing our cognitive capabilities. As AI continues to improve, digital assistants—often in the form of disembodied voices—will become our helpers and collaborators, managing our schedules, guiding us through decisions, and making us better at our jobs.

So perhaps we can look forward in the near future to carrying a digital assistant with us (no, not just our current smartphones) on antiques buying trips to weigh in with facts and even some wisdom about potential purchases. Or perhaps our professional assistant bot might be more useful back in the office managing our paperwork so that we can be out on the road. Either way, we look forward to meeting our new, smarter-than-humans antiques dealing brethren.

(from dnainfo.com)

 

 

 

Pyrography Center Table

09.26.2017

pyrography center table

This graceful center table (30″ wide, 21.75″ deep, 30″ high) is a stellar example of a decorative technique called pyrography, literally meaning fire writing, but better known as wood burning (a.k.a. “burnt wood etching” and “pokerwork”). The table dates from circa 1910, so was created during the late 19th-early 20th century time period when pyrography reached peak popularity with artists and crafters.

pyrography on birch bark

Before describing this table in more detail, it is worth recounting a bit of the fascinating background of pyrography which includes pieces of history from the domains of art, science, society, and commerce.

A Brief History of Pyrography

Burning designs into wood, leather, and bone for artistic expression dates back to at least the 1st century AD. In early times designs were etched with hot implements that needed to be constantly reheated as the artwork progressed.

That inconvenient and tiresome technique changed radically in 1889 when an artist named François Manuel-Perier introduced a “pyrography machine” at the International Exposition in Paris. He had adapted a medical instrument that a French physician had invented in 1875 for cauterizing wounds. The tool had an insulated handle with a sharp tip made of platinum, a metal which was uniquely able to absorb a certain gaseous mixture that could keep the tip hot. 

Within a year, a compact version of Manuel-Perier’s thermo-pyrography tool, made by Abbott Brothers Manufacturing, was being sold in England within a kit called “The Vulcan Wood Etching Machine.”

The basic necessities included in the kit were pencils with varying size platinum tips, an alcohol spirit lamp, a jar of liquid benzene, and two lengths of rubber tubing – one connected to a bellows and the other connected to the hollow platinum pencil tip.

The artist would initially heat the sharp platinum tip of the pencil in the flame of the spirit lamp, then extinguish the lamp. While using the pencil tip to burn a design into wood with one hand, the artist would then constantly pump the bellows with their other hand which transmitted benzene vapor through the tube to the platinum point which then absorbed the gas to keep the tip glowing hot.

Conveniently, in 1891, a year after Abbott Brothers introduced its pyrography kits, a book titled A Handbook on Pyrography written by a Mrs. Maud Maude was published in England, declaring that “the art has lately attracted considerable attention and is now a most fashionable art with enthusiastic feminine amateurs.”

The book, along with a series of articles Mrs. Maude penned for the U.S. magazine The Delineator in 1892, gave explicit instructions for producing pyrographic art using the Vulcan kit, thereby helping the art form became a fad as a home craft, particularly among women. It turns out that Mrs. Maud Maude was a pseudonym for Ann Maud Abbott Freeman, a sister of the Abbott Brothers who manufactured the Vulcan pyrography kit. Savvy marketing, indeed.

Additional publications encouraging the craft of pyrography as a “delightful and profitable pastime” for women followed, including the 1894  Fancy Work for Pleasure and Profit by Addie E. Heron which detailed how women could make decorative objects for their own homes or to sell, and the 1903 book 300 Things a Bright Girl Can Do by Lilla Elizabeth Kelley which had a chapter devoted to pyrography filled with detailed instructions as well as encouragements such as, “If the point does not work well at once do not feel vexed.” Thus began the popular trend of adorning household objects such as small boxes, mirrors, frames, and wall plaques with pyrographic art.

 

Riding the wave of pyrography as a popular home craft, the Flemish Art Company was established in Brooklyn, NY around 1900 to began producing pyrographic objects commercially.

Flemish Art Company

(from pyromuse.org)

The company manufactured its own wooden objects – wastebaskets, hand mirrors, tabourettes, handkerchief boxes, wall plaques and the like – largely from basswood that they sourced “in the cold climates of  Michigan, Minnesota, and Canada” which the company believed produced superior, whiter wood. Their artistic employees, many of whom were women, then hand-decorated the objects with pyrographic designs. The company’s artists also engraved metal plates that were heated and pressed onto wood to decorate some of their commercial products.

Flemish Art Company

A Flemish Art Company production room (from pyromuse.org)

 

A Flemish Art Company artist at work (from pyromuse.org)

This frame (which we owned and sold several years ago), depicting a sporting woman with a tennis racket and bag of golf clubs, was likely handmade by a Flemish Art Company artist.

pyrography frame

(cherrygallery.com archives)

The Flemish Art Company also sold pyrography kits that included paints, stains, waxes and varnishes, instruction booklets, and other handy tools for do-it-yourself pyrographers.

(from pyromuse.org)

One particularly interesting accessory was the “Flemish Art non-explosive absorbent – a cotton-like substance called asbestos” which crafters were encouraged to “place in the benzene bottle to absorb the volatile fluid make it safe and non-explosive should the bottle break.”  

Although pyrography instruction books included some ominous warnings such as: “You should always have a fire extinguisher at the ready and preferably another person nearby who could help in case of an accident,” and “If a red flame issues from your vent hole, your benzene is too strong,” no one at the time understood the carcinogenic hazards of working with these materials.

Pyrography and the Rustic Aesthetic

The era of mass popularity of pyrography as a crafting activity, roughly 1890 through the 1920s, coincided with the rusticator era when city folk sought not only experiences in the wilderness, but also decorative reminders of nature and adventures in the outdoors. Not surprisingly, then, pyrographic designs have appeared on antique rustic accessories that we’ve handled over the years.

Sometimes the pyrographic designs have been simple floral or geometric etchings, such as on the edges of this frame and canoe:

pyrography frame

(from cherrygallery.com archives)

The etchings surrounding a circa 1900 painting of an Indian princess (who looks very much like a Caucasian Victorian lady) on this wall plaque are more pictorial and elaborate:

pyrography plaque

(from cherrygallery.com archives)

 

Canoe paddles, both model and full-sizes, were often decorated with Native American themes.

This set of four canoe paddles included a Gibson girl etching along with the Native American portraits, which seems incongruous but was entirely typical of designs favored during the turn-of-the-20th-century era.

pyrography canoe paddles

 

This set of model paddles incorporated colors in stylized Native American motifs, as well as portraits.

pyrography canoe paddles pyrography canoe paddles pyrography canoe paddles

These souvenir model canoe paddles illustrate a specific lake landscape in New Hampshire:

pyrography canoe paddles pyrography canoe paddles pyrography canoe paddles

 

This pyrography landscape scene was a large wall panel surrounded with a twig frame:

pyrography landscape

 

This fish is another large piece of pyrography wall art from our past inventory. Most of the wood burning work is in the geometric mosaic background texture, with some lighter pyrography details delineating the features of the fish itself:

pyrography fish

 

The vast majority of pyrographic art we’ve owned have been wood, but one of the most unique pieces we’ve had was a birch bark wastebasket decorated with different pictorial pyrography etchings on all four sides:

pyrography on birch bark

Although the pyrography designs on these smaller accessories were likely executed by women, pyrography on larger furniture pieces were more likely done by men. There is direct evidence of this on a full-size blanket chest we once owned which was inscribed and signed beneath the lid by its maker, Thomas F. Hurton:

pyrography blanket box

pyrography blanket box

 

Pyrography-Decorated Furniture: The Center Table

pyrography table at Cherry Gallery

This center table that we are now offering for sale is the largest piece of pyrographic work we have owned to date. It is made of tulip or yellow poplar. The clean joinery, turned stretchers, and shaping of the curved legs and apron all indicate that the maker was an experienced cabinet maker.

 

 

pyrography table

The table is signed (via wood burning) by its maker, H. A. Frey, in an unusual location – on the bottoms of each of its four feet.

pyrography center table

 

The table is fully decorated with pyrography designs. Most of the surface is wood-burned with shading strokes that create a stippled background texture.

 

 

Standing out from the black-stained background are vivid red wild roses complete with dark green leaves and rosehips. Natural motifs such as flowers, vines, and fruits are emblematic designs of the Art Noveau era during which this table, and most antique pyrography, was created. A simple gold scallop delineating the center portion of the table adds a subdued color element that complements the striking red-on-black design.

 

 

In addition to the four wild roses on the outer edges of the table top, each of the table legs have the etched and painted rose designs on both sides of the legs so they are visible from all viewing angles.

 

This table’s combination of a refined furniture design with nature-themed, pyrographic embellishments echos the eclectic rustic decor that was characteristic of classic Adirondack Great Camp interiors around the turn of the 20th century. The table also creates a striking black contrast against white walls in more modern interiors that are infused with rustic elements.

 

pyrography center table

 

(Historic illustrations and much of the background information on pyrography in this article were sourced from pyromuse.org.)

Glamping: 21st Century Rusticating

08.21.2017

As summer nears its Labor Day finale, I am already wistful for opportunities to spend warm days and starry nights in peaceful, outdoor surroundings. Recently watching a movie filmed on the steppes of Mongolia (The Eagle Huntress – the best, albeit the only, G-rated movie I’ve seen in a long time) got me thinking about one way to live with just a fabric’s (or sheep’s hide) width of separation from nature: in a semi-permanent shelter such as a traditional Mongolian ger (more familiarly known as a yurt).

(from jcreore.wordpress.com)

Having stayed as a guest in several back-to-the-lander friends’ yurts over the years, as well as having spent part of a college semester living in an oceanside tipi (free housing!), I can attest to how sleeping in a white-walled, round shelter somehow feels spiritually uplifting. Or perhaps it is the lack of clutter, the simplicity of lifestyle, the gorgeous setting, or the combination of all these things that feeds the soul more robustly than dwelling within the squared walls of a solid house.

Reinvigorating the spirit with a return to simplicity was the same motivation that impelled 19th and early 20th century rusticators to flock away from cities into the wilds.

(from newyorkhistoryblog.com)

 

(Camping on Lake George, NY in 1919 – from newyorkupstate.com)

Yet the rusticators of yore also wanted their creature comforts at the end of a day exploring the wilderness, which gave rise to the elegant Great Camp style that we still appreciate in lodges, inns, and private homes today.

Dining room in an Adirondack Great Camp on Upper Saranac Lake, circa 1903 (archives of The Adirondack Museum)

The recent rise in popularity of “glamping” (glamorous camping), in which resort-style amenities are paired with overnights in simple structures such as yurts and tents, reveals that not much has changed in the desires of the rusticator demographic. Glamping proprietors proudly advertise tents provisioned with queen beds, sheets, blankets, pillows, towels, mini-fridges, coolers, fans, heaters, electric lights, bath amenities, and lounge chairs. Flush toilets, hot showers, and sometimes gourmet meals are available just a short walk beyond the tent flaps.

(from sandypinescamping.com)

 

(from lakedale.com)

At a certain point one has to wonder, why not just stay at a luxury inn that is situated in a gorgeous, isolated setting?

(fogoislandinn.ca)

I suppose novelty is one motivation for choosing glamping over a traditional luxury inn – experiencing how it feels to sleep in a traditional Adirondack guide tent, for instance.

(from poshprimitive.com)

Another motivation could be the opportunity to sleep in relative luxury in a remote area where inns aren’t feasible to construct and maintain. The traditional means of accessing backcountry locations that require more than a day’s walk from civilization by carrying in a small tent on your back, crawling into it at the end of a long day and crawling out of it at as soon as possible in the morning, is not for everyone, and is certainly less glamorous than sleeping in a tent outfitted with beds and fresh linens.

Starting to set up our decidedly non-luxurious backpacking tent on a June camping excursion into the mountains of Maine.

I’ve learned, however, that accessing the hinterlands is not glamping’s only appeal, as illustrated by an Australian rental on the rooftop of the Melbourne Central Train Station advertised as providing “an outdoor urban glamping experience” in luxury-style tents “fitted with thick quilts, carpet, heating and other interior design quirks.”

(from thenewdaily.com.au)

Clearly, the burgeoning glamping industry offers a diversity of options to suit many individual tastes.

(from camporenda.com)

My personal preference is for a platform tent nestled beneath tall pines or positioned beside a lake or rushing stream, far from wafting diesel fumes and urban traffic noise, thank-you-very-much.

Platform tent camping on Lake George, NY in 1924 (from newyorkupstate.com)

Glamping tents are more spacious versions of the canvas tents used by 19th century outdoorsmen, from loggers to trappers to rusticators.

(from collections of the Maine Historical Society)

State-of-the art glamping tents are not unlike ones I resided in at summer camps, both as a camper and a counselor, but the modern tents are brighter, and presumably less leaky and mildewed, than the canvas tents I grew up with.

(from firelightcamps.com)

The décor of glamping tents also sets them apart from the orange-crate, cot, and clothesline bedecked interiors of summer camp platform tents. Interior design options for upscale tenting range from a bohemian style based on traditional Mongolian yurt interiors, filled with colorful rugs and textiles,

(from greenevelien.com)

to Euro-sleek, safari-style tent interiors that can include collapsable campaign furniture,

(from wedshed.com.au)

to an American rustic style in which bark-on hickory furniture mirrors the look of tree saplings thriving just beyond the tent walls.

(from housebeautiful.com)

I find the synergistic combination of a lovely outdoor setting with a simple, tastefully-appointed, white fabric structure that is open to the sights, sounds, and scents of the outdoors so compelling that I have started to nurture a scheme to create my own glamping destination – at home. Putting an elegant, safari-style tent on our property would allow not only glamping, but also “staycations” (another portmanteau term) right here in Vacationland (it even says so on our license plates).

There are lots of good options for purchasing high quality tents that include features such as tight-fitting, rain-shedding roofs, that are a vast improvement over the baggy canvas tents that I slept in at summer camps.

(from gr8lakescamper.blogspot.com)

We’ve had lots of practice putting up large tents from years doing outdoor antiques shows, so erecting and taking down a tent seasonally should be no problem.

I even have the “bathroom” figured out. My favorite privy design is one encountered on campsites in Algonquin Park, Ontario – simple boxes with a hinged lid set over a hole in the ground and surrounded by lush screening vegetation, which avoids the shadowy, cobwebby, smelly interior of a walled outhouse (just keep a big umbrella in the tent for visits to the privy on rainy nights).

Although the pleasures of at-home glamping can be enjoyed by placing a luxury tent just outside one’s door,

(from housebeautiful.com)

we are fortunate to have a location on our land that feels a bit more like wilderness – a salt marsh that is a brief walk through the woods from our house.

A wooded hummock overlooking the marsh is the perfect spot for an airy canvas platform tent.

Waking up to a misty sunrise over the marsh will provide a dose of nature’s tonic to begin the day.

Walking back towards civilization along a woodsy path will be a soothing way to ease into the routines of daily life and work.

I’m convinced that backyard glamping will be a way to renew the spirit by sleeping closer to nature – in relative comfort – just as rusticators did over 100 years ago. I have a whole winter ahead to refine the plan. Stay tuned!

Rare Rustic Hickory Armoire

06.23.2017

Rustic Hickory Furniture Company armoire wardrobe cabinet

Discovering new forms within a familiar genre of antiques is always a thrill for dealers on the hunt for quality pieces. This rustic armoire qualifies as one of those rare finds that expands the horizons of known hickory furniture types, so the discovery is satisfying from both scholarly and aesthetic perspectives.

Antique hickory case pieces appear on the market less frequently than hickory tables and seating because far fewer of them were produced by the six or so original Indiana hickory furniture companies during their manufacturing heyday from the early to mid-1900s.

Rustic Hickory Furniture Company armoire wardrobe cabinet

We know that this armoire was made by Rustic Hickory Furniture Company of LaPorte, Indiana because it retains that company’s attractive magenta and green paper label intact on the back.

Rustic Hickory Furniture Company paper label

Rustic Hickory produced furniture from 1902-1934. The armoire does not appear in their catalogs and we have never seen one on the market, so we suspect it was available only as a special order or perhaps was made in a limited production run. The 1920s Rustic Hickory catalogs did feature bedroom suites (beds, dressers, and costumers) described as “Up-to-date bedroom equipment for the summer home, in typical Rustic Hickory Construction.” Although complementary in style, the armoire was not part of the company’s catalog line of bedroom furniture.

Rustic Hickory Furniture Company catalog

Two pages of bedroom furniture from the 1926 Rustic Hickory Furniture Company catalog.

We are able to date the armoire to circa 1925 because it came directly from an Arts-and-Crafts bungalow-style lakeside summer home that was built in the southern sector of the Adirondack Park around that date. Upon completion of the home, the owners furnished it throughout with quality Rustic Hickory and Old Hickory furniture. The armoire had been in the house since it was built.

Although the house was relatively large with spacious bedrooms on a full-story second floor, closet space was limited. Armoires have provided a storage solution in rooms without closets since medieval times when they held everything from armor (hence the derivation of the French word armoire) to tapestries, rugs, linens, and clothing. Up until the early 1900s, most homes were built with few or no closets, so movable, free-standing wardrobe cabinets were common.

Armoire styles have changed throughout the centuries as storage needs and decorative trends evolved. This unique, rustic-style armoire has four doors, and hickory pole trim along the abutting edges of each door, between the sets of doors, and around the front, sides, and top edges of the whole case.

Rustic Hickory Furniture Company armoire

Rustic Hickory Furniture Company armoire wardrobe cabinet

Rustic Hickory Furniture Company armoire wardrobe cabinet
There are different storage features inside the left and right pairs of doors.

Rustic Hickory Furniture Company armoire wardrobe cabinet
The doors on the left open to an empty space for hanging clothes from a hickory pole closet rod.

Rustic Hickory Furniture Company armoire wardrobe cabinet

The doors on the right open to two shelves and four drawers for folded garments. The shelves and drawer fronts are made of pine.

Rustic Hickory Furniture Company armoire wardrobe cabinet

The interior dimensions of each half of the armoire are 23” wide x 21” deep x 52” wide (the overall exterior dimensions are 51.5” wide x 24.75” deep x 61” high), so it is roomy enough to hold an array of clothing.

Rustic Hickory Furniture Company armoire wardrobe cabinet
Beyond its functionality, this armoire’s grand scale, warm finish, and bark-on hickory poles make it a handsome anchor piece for a rustic room’s decor. It also evokes nostalgia for the simple lifestyle that early 20th-century rusticators enjoyed at their vacation home retreats.

A Captured Moment of Tennis History

04.20.2017

This month our musings on antique sporting goods continue, but as the season gradually progresses towards summer our focus shifts from ice skates (our February posting) to tennis antiques.

 

full plate tennis tintype

 

We recently acquired and sold this rare tennis tintype. Tintypes were a photography innovation introduced in 1856 and used into the 1880s, in which images were printed on thin metal plates. The size of tintypes range from large full plates (6.5” x 8.5”), which are the most desirable to collectors, to small 1/16th plates (1.375” x 1.625”). This tennis photograph is a full plate tintype.

 

tennis tintype

 

Tennis antiques do not fit exactly within the genre of rustic antiques so it may seem surprising to see this tintype featured here, yet there are some interesting areas of overlap. One connection between tennis and rustic antiques is that tennis was a popular sport enjoyed by genteel rusticators in places such as summer colonies near the turn of the 20th century.

 

squirrel island tennis match

A circa 1905 women’s tennis match on Squirrel Island, a summer colony off the coast of Boothbay Harbor, Maine, where tennis was a popular island activity. (from the Stanley Museum)

 

Another connection is that early sporting accoutrements make intriguing accessories within present-day rustic décor, especially in vacation homes where enjoying leisure sporting activities has been a long tradition.

 

rusticators with tennis rackets Lake George

Rusticators with rackets on the porch of a Lake George, NY home, circa 1890 (from Tennis Antiques & Collectibles)

 

So the occurrence of an antique tennis tintype in our recent inventory is not completely anomalous. Also, like most antiques dealers we occasionally step outside of our main specialty area to buy and sell other types of antiques. Jeff has learned about tennis antiques over the years thanks in large part to the expertise and enthusiasm of his mother Jeanne Cherry, author of the 1995 book Tennis Antiques & Collectibles (the source for much of the historical information included here).

 

While the flourishing of tennis in the United States coincides with the height of the rusticator era, from the mid-1870s through the first decades of the 1900s, it is a game with a much longer history—the precursors of the modern game of tennis date back to the 12th century. By 1750 a game called court tennis had evolved in Europe, and although players (members of royalty and other elite classes) used a racket similar to the shape of the rackets used today, they played in a walled court using rules that were very different from those of modern tennis.

 

early tennis

Major Walter Clopton Wingfield of Wales who, beginning in 1873, was among the first to play and popularize lawn tennis as a social activity among Great Britain’s Victorian gentry (from Tennis Antiques & Collectibles)

 

It was not until the 1800’s that tennis started to be played outdoors on lawns, giving rise to the game of lawn tennis which is the game we refer to simply as “tennis” today, whether it is played on grass, clay, or hard courts. The year 1877 marked the start of tournament tennis at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club in Wimbledon, and by the 1880s lawn tennis had “supplanted croquet as a social garden party activity in which men and women could participate together” (Cherry, 1995).

 

tennis tintype

 

Indeed, the seven women and four men shown in this tintype were most likely participating in just such a garden party. Based on some limited information we received with the tintype, we think the photograph was taken in the outskirts of New York City, which is plausible because one of the earliest lawn tennis courts in the U.S. was established in Staten Island, NY, thereby introducing people in that region to the game. In 1874 a young socialite named Mary Ewing Outerbridge had just returned from Bermuda where she had played tennis and acquired a boxed set of tennis equipment. When she returned home she convinced her local club, the Staten Island Cricket and Baseball Club, to mark lines and set up nets to create lawn tennis courts so that she could introduce tennis to her friends.

 

webstatenislandclub

An 1885 photo of tennis courts and players at the Staten Island Cricket and Tennis Club (aliceausten.org). By 1895 there were over 100 tennis clubs in in the United States.

 

The men and women in our tintype are holding lopsided tennis rackets, which is the earliest form of lawn tennis rackets.

 

lopsided tennis racket
Lopsided rackets had a relatively brief period of production and use, lasting from 1874 to the mid-1880s when flat-top rackets were introduced and quickly became more popular. So knowing the dates of lopsided racket use along with the dates of tintype photography makes it easy to date this full plate tintype to circa 1880.

 

Tennis racket head shapes, 1874 to present (from Tennis Antiques & Collectibles, 1995)

Tennis rackets from 1874 to the 1930s showing the evolution of head shapes (from Tennis Antiques & Collectibles)

 

Lopsided rackets have an asymmetrical head and are based on the shape of the court tennis rackets used in the 1750s which also had lopsided heads, thick gut stringing, and long handles. That shape was particularly suited to scooping balls out of the corners of walled courts, as well as for putting spin on the ball.

 

A d from American Lawn Tennis, 1917 contrasting 1882 rackets with 1917 rackets (from Tennis Antiques & Collectibles, 1995)

A 1917 ad appearing in American Lawn Tennis contrasting 1882 rackets shapes with more modern 1917 oval-head rackets (from Tennis Antiques & Collectibles)

 

In addition to their tennis rackets, the other main feature of interest in the tintype is the clothing that the men and women are wearing. The men wear what they would also have worn for participating in sports such as cricket: white shirts, white or cream flannel trousers or knickers, and jaunty caps.

 

1880 men's tennis attire

 

The women, however, did not have such sporting attire. Instead they wore outfits for playing tennis that were very similar to the proper Victorian clothing they wore to garden parties: long dresses or skirts, corsets, petticoats, belts, bustles, and elaborate hats.

 

tennis tintype

 

lady's tennis attire

An 1881 Harper’s Bazar ad for a lawn tennis costume pattern (from Tennis Antiques & Collectibles)

 

Even as tennis became as much an athletic as a social event for women, the attire was slow to change. As late as 1905 May Sutton, a southern Californian who won that year’s Ladies Singles Championship at Wimbledon “created a small scandal by wearing her skirts a little above the ankle and rolling her sleeves up to the elbow” (Cherry, 1995).

 

maysutton

May Sutton Bundy (1887-1975) (cemeteryguide.com)

 

Tennis attire and tennis equipment (including rackets, presses, balls, ball containers, and tennis court marking and maintenance equipment) are just two categories of tennis antiques and collectibles. Other areas of collecting include decorative arts with tennis themes (jewelry, silver, and ceramics), fine art, books, prints and other ephemera, and photography. What we appreciate about tennis-related photography in particular is that its images immediately convey the context of early tennis culture, while individual objects convey smaller pieces of the larger tennis story.

 

One of our most rewarding roles as antiques dealers is enabling people to live with historical objects that speak to them in some way. Incorporating antiques into home decor is one way to assure that their aesthetic appeal is present in everyday environments. Many sporting antiques, including tennis equipment, are eminently suited to decorative display, and with a bit of creativity can blend well with rustic décor.

 

tennis decor

(tenniscanada.com)

 

Birding with Bookends

03.20.2017

Bradley & Hubbard bird bookends

Like many people, we adore wild birds. Jeff in particular is an avid bird watcher and observer of the ecology and natural history of bird life. So it is fun to occasionally mesh this leisure interest with a business pursuit, as in the case of offering these antique bird bookends for sale. The two pursuits are not so dissimilar as they might seem, as both require a keen eye for detail and the ability to pick out beauty and salient features from a crowded field.

This pair of handsome, circa 1920 cast iron bookends features accurate portrayals of two eastern songbirds: a Blue Jay and an Eastern Towhee. Each bird is accurately rendered and painted to represent how the birds appear in their full-feathered glory.

bradley and Hubbard bird bookends

Blue Jay

(from larkwire.com)

Bradley and Hubbard bird bookend

Eastern Towhee

(from surfbirds.com)

Each bookend is 5″ wide x 3″ deep x 5.75″ high, and has a brass nameplate stating the bird’s name.

Bradley and Hubbard bird bookends

Bradley and Hubbard bird bookends

Note that the Eastern Towhee bookend is labeled with the name “Chewink.” This is the former common name for this species, representing the onomatopoeic version of its call. This bird has gone through several name changes in the past decades, from Chewink, to Rufus-sided Towhee, to its current common name, Eastern Towhee.

The plants pictured along with the birds on the bookends are also northeastern species, accurately rendered and appropriate for the habitats of these two birds. The Blue Jay is shown on a branch of flowering dogwood.

Bradley and Hubbard bird bookends

 

The Eastern Towhee is on an American hazelnut branch.

 and the EasternTowhee is on a

The quality of the bookends is evident not only in the fine casting and detailed paint decoration, but also in the iron’s solidity and heft. Yet at the same time the shape of the bookends is delicate and balanced, having a simple scalloped edge along the top that is echoed on the base.

It will come as no surprise to those familiar with antique metalwork that these bookends were made by Bradley & Hubbard (B & H) Manufacturing Company. B & H cast iron accessories, from bookends to call bells to doorstops to doorknockers, are desirable to collectors of cast iron because of their quality and aesthetic appeal.

These bookends are each stamped with the logo that B & H used on the smaller accessories it produced:

Bradley and Hubbard bird bookends

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Nostalgia for the Quiet Season

02.24.2017

Antique sporting goods – snowshoes, skis, skates, sleds, canoe paddles, tennis rackets, lacrosse sticks and the like – are reliably attractive accessories for rustic rooms. Within each category, examples range from “cheap and cheerful” to museum quality. For those who pursue sporting collectibles beyond their decorative value, there is always a lot to learn.

antique figure skates

I recently came across this photo of a pair of antique ice skates that I deaccessioned from my collection several years ago (well, okay, that’s a pretty fancy word for selling a relatively inexpensive object from a relatively modest collection, but there you have it). These circa 1900 skates are missing the leather straps that would have secured the blades to sturdy boots, becoming the precursors of modern boot skates.

antique ice skates

(from classicauctions.net)

I am drawn to antique skates because of their pleasing sculptural forms, such as the swan-head, short-curl and high-curl skates pictured below.

swan headed skates

(from iceskatesmuseum.com)

(from etsy.com)

(from etsy.com)

(from maineantiquedigest.com)

(from maineantiquedigest.com)

I also love the contextual images they evoke of people skating in the 19th and early 20th centuries, including the physical settings, social groupings, and what people wore and carried, such as muffs and lanterns.

"Winter - A Skating Scene" by Winslow Homer, 1868

“Winter – A Skating Scene” by Winslow Homer, 1868

The history and forms of antique ice skates, as well as their value as collectibles, are well documented in books (Antique Ice Skates for the Collector by Russell Herner, 2001), articles (“Antique Ice Skates in America” by Ann Bates, Maine Antique Digest, Feb. 1, 2010), and websites (e.g., antiqueiceskateclub.com).

skatesbook

Beyond their styles or values, the deepest appeal of antique ice skates for me is the emotion they evoke. Skating as a child in northern Maine was all about getting outside and having fun during an inhospitable season. Anyone who has ever skated on a lake or river knows the sense of freedom and even escapism it allows – there are probably few among us who have not related at times to Joni Mitchell’s lyric “Oh I wish I had a river I could skate away on…”

An 1895 photo of skating on a river that flows through my hometown (from mainememory.net)

An 1895 photo of people skating on a river that flows through my hometown (from mainememory.net)

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Blowing Rock Rustic Accessories

01.20.2017

blowing rock rustic wares charles dobbins north carolina

Although we just acquired these two rustic accessories, a mantle clock and a magazine holder, their styles are familiar to us. In the past dozen years, we have owned four lamps and a hat rack by the same hand.

All were made near the mountain resort town of Blowing Rock, North Carolina in the 1920s-1930s by a man whom collectors and museum curators for years referred to simply as “the Blowing Rock artist,” based on the location name he inscribed on some of his pieces. Both the range of unique rustic wares he produced and the story of how his identity was ultimately uncovered are intriguing enough to delve into before describing these two most recent additions to our inventory.

Works from the Blowing Rock Artist’s Oeuvre

Blowing Rock, NC artist Charles Dobbins rustic crafts

This tall rustic sculpture was the first Blowing Rock piece we owned. It is a tree-like sculpture that incorporates a lamp, a clock, a magazine holder and a pencil holder (visible in the photo approximately mid-way up the base trunk). The sinuous, vine-like accents are the roots of rhododendron and laurel shrubs which grow abundantly in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge mountains near Blowing Rock. “Blowing Rock NC” was punched into the top of the pencil holder.

Blowing Rock, NC artist Charles Dobbins rustic crafts

A year later we acquired this very similar sculpture that was not marked, but is clearly by the same maker. In addition to a clock, lamp, magazine holder and pencil holder, this piece also includes a cylindrical vase forming the right arm.

Blowing Rock, NC artist Charles Dobbins rustic crafts

This artist seems to have been quite fond of pencil holders, which were also incorporated into this pair of table lamps.

Blowing Rock, NC artist Charles Dobbins rustic crafts

The top of the pencil holder on one of the lamps shown in this close-up was stamped “Blowing Rock NC.”

Blowing Rock, NC artist Charles Dobbins rustic crafts

Finally, this hat rack not only includes a plate punched with the Blowing Rock place name,

Blowing Rock, NC artist Charles Dobbins rustic crafts

it has a second plate that says “ALT 4300 FT.”

Blowing Rock, NC artist Charles Dobbins rustic crafts

Presumably the altitude refers to the elevation of the town of Blowing Rock, or to its renowned Blowing Rock cliff, although today the town’s elevation is listed at 3,600′ above sea level and the cliff at 4,000′.

Blowing Rock, NC artist Charles Dobbins rustic crafts

The Blowing Rock cliff (photo: tripadvisor.com)

The cliff is famous for affecting the strong wind currents that come from the gorge below it so that snow blows vertically upward rather than falling downward. It is also famous as an overlook onto stunning Appalachian Mountain views.

The cool mountain air and magnificent mountain vistas in the Blowing Rock region began attracting well-to-do tourists during the “rusticator era” of the 1880s. The upscale tourist economy became Blowing Rock’s main source of revenue and employment in the late 19th century, as it still is today. Thus the Blowing Rock artist was well situated to make a living selling his rustic creations to tourists during the first decades of the 1900s.

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A Rustic Masterpiece

12.13.2016

rustic masterpiece cabinet
Although we have seen some spectacular antique rustic case pieces over the years, including those in the permanent collection of the Adirondack Museum, we can assuredly say that this cabinet stands in a class of its own. It is one of the most creatively conceived and constructed pieces of furniture that we’ve had the pleasure of handling during our career as antiques dealers.

Its stature is impressive yet not overwhelming, standing at 7’4″ high. The style is quintessentially rustic in that it echoes a form found in nature, namely an unearthed tree. The base represents a massive trunk fringed with jagged roots,

 

rustic masterpiece cabinet

 

and the beveled mirror surround represents intertwined branches.

rustic masterpiece cabinet

 

Amazingly, its tree-like character was achieved without the use of natural branches, twigs, burls or roots. Its arboreal likeness was created entirely with carved and shaped wood components that are covered with thousands of pieces of applied natural bark.

 

rustic masterpiece cabinet

 

The pine disks that top the branch-like portions of the base are painted with simulated tree rings, furthering the tree illusion.

 

rustic masterpiece cabinet

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