Journal

A Collector’s Passion

08.14.2018

While this month’s musings are inspired by one collector and her passion for tennis antiques, our reflections delineate three of the universal driving forces that impel collectors of every genre of antiques, including our specialty which is Adirondack/rustic antiques.

On August 30, 2018 The Jeanne Cherry Collection of Tennis Antiques will be sold at Morphy Auctions in Pennsylvania.

(View lots from a desktop or laptop computer at:
http://auctions.morphyauctions.com/Category/Tennis-826.html)

On mobile devices scroll to Lot 746 from this link:
https://www.liveauctioneers.com/catalog/125381_fine-art-asian-and-antiques-day-2/)

Jeanne Cherry (1932-2017), the mother of Cherry Gallery’s co-owner Jeff Cherry, was the author of a landmark book on tennis antiques, a leading member of tennis collector societies in the U.S. and abroad, a mentor to other collectors, and an indefatigable huntress of tennis antiques.

Jeanne Cherry’s 1995 book on tennis antiques.

The depth and diversity of Jeanne’s collection reflect her interest in the entire breadth of tennis history and its related material culture.

Group of 27 tennis tintypes; Lot 877

She acquired antiques related to the game of tennis in every possible category—including books, ephemera, photography, equipment, clothing and accessories, toys and games, fine art, jewelry, decorative arts, and furniture.

 

The Renshaw cup won by the first American finalist at Wimbledon, Maurice McLoughlin, in 1913; Lot 820.

 

Jeanne Cherry Collection of Tennis Antiques

This oil on canvas of four women tennis players by Edouard Francois Zier (1856-1924) was one of Jeanne’s favorite paintings – it hung in a prominent area of her home where she passed by it many times a day; Lot 748

 

The Jeanne Cherry collection of tennis antiques.

An 1887 oil on canvas of a Victorian lady with a tennis racket; Lot 747

 

The Jeanne Cherry collection of tennis antiques

Tennis table service items including a dinner gong, toast racks, salt & pepper set, and knife rests; Lot 753

 

The following sections highlight three of the motivating factors that compelled Jeanne to amass and curate her collection of antiques and which, time and again, we have also seen propelling other people’s collecting passions.

1. Fascination with History

There is an intellectual component to being a good collector, and thereby to forming a good collection. Driven by her keen intellect and unquenchable curiosity about all things related to tennis history, Jeanne was as much a scholar of the sport as she was an enthusiast.

For instance, she loved periodically living in and often traveling to England, where the modern game of tennis had its earliest origins in the 16th century game of court tennis.

 

the Jeanne Cherry collection of tennis antiques

Estate collection of Cecil “Punch” Fairs, four-time Court Tennis Champion of the World, 1900-1910; Lot 820

 

Visiting museums, historic homes, palaces, and tennis courts in England and elsewhere helped her develop a grounded understanding of the broader social and cultural contexts that gave rise to tennis objects.

In addition to telling a cultural story, antiques tell a story of human innovation over time. Tennis racket shapes through the ages, for instance, are physical manifestations of how sporting practices evolved over decades and centuries.

The Jeanne Cherry collection of tennis antiques

Sample tennis racket head shapes; over 125 tennis rackets are grouped in Lots 776-818

Another area of tennis history that Jeanne found fascinating was how class and social norms played out, literally and figuratively, on the tennis court. She loved learning about and acquiring the “tennis costumes” that both men and women wore, and understanding how women in particular coped with clothing that in our modern judgment would have severely restricted any woman’s potential for athletic prowess.

 

the Jeanne Cherry collection of tennis antiques

Early tennis attire including dresses, camisole, belts, and a cap; Lot 842

 

the Jeanne Cherry collection of tennis antiques

Antique and vintage tennis shoes, Lot 902

 

the Jeanne Cherry collection of tennis antiques

Locking tennis skirt lifter used in the 1880’s to raise a dress hem to make it easier to play tennis; Lot 935

2. Social Aspects of Collecting

Humans are social beings, and as such we enjoy forming and joining tribes.

Jeanne’s personal appreciation of tennis antiques was magnified a hundredfold through her interaction with her tribe of other passionate collectors. Scores of people she met through collecting became good friends as she built personal relationships that extended well beyond their shared interest in tennis antiques.

Just as playing tennis or any sport is a social activity, so too is collecting sporting antiques.

We would also argue that the social impetus behind acquiring a category of antiques extends beyond enjoying meet-ups with other collectors to share finds and knowledge. Appointing a home with antiques, whether to accent existing decor or to recreate an entire historic setting such as the interior of a 19th century Adirondack Great Camp, is also at its core a social pursuit.

We decorate our homes not just to enjoy being surrounded by an aesthetic we love, but also to welcome others into that aesthetic. Having an ultimate goal of sharing one’s antiques-filled home with family and guests is a powerful social motivator for many of the collectors we have known.

the Jeanne Cherry collection of tennis antiques

A wicker tennis chair and vintage pillow that were in a welcoming corner of Jeanne’s home.

3. The Aesthetics of Antiques

The pure beauty of an individual object to an individual’s eye, even when untethered from its significance in the context of a thematic collection, is often a prerequisite for winning the favor of collectors.

the Jeanne Cherry collection of tennis antiques

Art Deco era tennis painting on silk, 85” x 52”; Lot 838

The above 1920s painting on silk, with its rich colors, crisp graphics and large size was a marvelous focal decorative element in Jeanne’s home and collection.

Likewise, this pair of garden chairs with crossed tennis rackets on the back, are aesthetically pleasing pieces of furniture that never failed to elicit appreciation from anyone who saw them, whether or not they had an interest in tennis.

the Jeanne Cherry collection of tennis antiques

Pair of wrought iron tennis chairs, circa 1920; Lot 837

Collectors of one of the most sought-after forms of traditional folk art, weathervanes, appreciate the sculptural beauty of diverse forms, from animals (such as horses), to objects (such as banners), to human figures (such as ladies of liberty). So while this tennis weathervane fits perfectly within a tennis themed antiques collection, it will also appeal to general folk art collectors in part because of its rarity, but also simply because of its beauty.

the Jeanne Cherry collection of tennis antiques

Fine molded copper woman tennis player weathervane, circa 1910; Lot 750

 

These are just a few examples of how antiques that have stunning visual impact in a room or outdoor setting have cross-over appeal to a wide range of antiques and decorating enthusiasts, all of whom, along with serious collectors, are united by the human need for aesthetic stimulation.

Process to Product and Past to Future

For us, Jeanne Cherry’s tennis antiques hold memories not just of how they were interwoven into her life and surroundings at home, but also of her process of finding them. Good things came her way, but even when the pickings were slim she reveled in the pursuit.

While walking the hot and dusty fields of the renowned Brimfield (Massachusetts) flea markets in July 2016 with Jeff, Jeanne found and purchased one of her rare tennis cameos, a favorite wearable antique that offered a glimpse into her passionate interests to anyone who noticed the subtle features of her jewelry.

the Jeanne Cherry collection of tennis antiques

White gold and diamond tennis cameo, circa 1920; Lot 767

 

One of the fascinating things about antiques is that as physical manifestations of a cultural group’s heritage they will always have value, even as popular tastes and interests come and go, shift and change.

Some of Jeanne Cherry’s tennis collection will take up new residence in libraries and museums for the public to enjoy, while most will go back into private homes. Thus, as is true with all significant antiques collections that come on the market, her collecting enthusiasm will live on as the antiques she once owned and loved will pass along to others to appreciate.

Jeanne Cherry collection of tennis antiques

Jeanne Cherry

“The Fighting Muskellunge” by Arnoud Wydeveld

07.23.2018

fish painting by Arnoud Wydeveld

 

This dramatic scene of natural predation depicts a Muskellunge (Esox masquinongy) capturing an adult Green-winged Teal (Anas carolinensis). The brass plate on the frame titles the painting “The Fighting Muskellunge” but more appropriate titles may have been “The Fighting Green-Winged Teal” or “The Predatory Muskellunge.” Although anyone who has ever had a Muskellunge on a line knows that it is indeed a fighter, in this portrayal it is the duck that is fighting for its life while the Muskellunge is about to enjoy easy pickings.

 

fish painting by Arnoud Wydeveld

 

This circa 1875 oil on canvas is signed (lower right) “A. Wyderveld N.Y.” Arnoud Wydeveld (1883-1888) was a distinguished Dutch American artist who was born in Holland and immigrated to America in 1853 to join his brother who had settled in New York a few years earlier.

His original Dutch name was Arnoldus van Weydevelt, but in America he was known as Arnoud Wydeveld—although he exhibited at the National Academy in New York using several different spellings of his last name including Wydefield, Wydefeldt, and Wyderveld, which is how he signed this painting.

 

fish painting by Arnoud Wydeveld

 

In America Wydeveld became known primarily for his luminous still-life portraits of flowers and fruit. He was influenced by the 17th- and 18th-century works of Dutch Old Master genre painters such as Johannes Vermeer, but his elegant paintings also incorporate elements of more contemporary mid-19th century European styles.

 

(from questroyal.com)

 

During his lifetime, Wyderveld’s still-lifes were exhibited in prestigious galleries, such as the National Academy in New York, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and the Brooklyn Art Association.

 

fruit still-life painting by Wydeveld

 

In the 1870s, however, Wydeveld turned his attention to painting fish in their natural habitats. Whereas most of his flower and fruit still-lifes were portrayed on table-top settings, he sometimes depicted arrangements in outdoor settings, so he did have some inclination towards representing natural landscapes throughout his career.

Wydeveld also sometimes included fish and seafood as components of meals in his dining table tableaux, and also painted freshly caught fish, so he had previously portrayed fish from an edibles perspective.

 

Wydeveld fish painting

 

What inspired his transition towards painting lively fish in active scenes—artwork that fits within the sporting art rather than still-life genre—is not documented. One possibility is that he had taken up fishing himself and was thus inspired by observing the beauty of fish and their behaviors in their natural element.

 

Wydeveld fish painting

 

Wydeveld applied the skills he had honed during his years as a still-life painter to portraying fish in the wild, including an eye for detail and the ability to impart texture and a life-like presence in his painted depictions. This painting of a Muskellunge and Green-winged Teal is a masterful product of the artist’s focus on fish during the 1870s.

 

Arnoud Wydeveld fish painting

Frame size: 34.5″ h x 42.5″ w; Sight size: 27.5″ h x 35.5″ w

 

fish painting by Arnoud Wydeveld

The painting (seen from the back) has been relined and restretched for longevity.

 

Detail of the painting’s period frame.

 

Clearly the star of this painting is the Muskellunge, affectionately known throughout its range as “muskie” (it is also the state fish of Wisconsin). Wydeveld depicted this muskie lurking in the bay of a large, horizonless lake, perhaps meant to represent one of the Great Lakes that it populates.

 

Muskellunge painting by Arnoud Wydeveld

This muskie’s dark coloration and spotted pattern are typical of Muskellunge found in the Great Lakes, while in other locations their skin can be more barred or clear.

 

Wydeveld accurately captures the muskie’s streamlined body, elongated snout, and far-back fin placement—an ideal physique for an “ambush predator.”

While muskies typically range from 2.5’-4’ in length, the largest can be over 6’ long and weigh over 70 lbs. Muskies eat all species of fish present in their habitats (including smaller individuals of their own species), as well as muskrats, frogs, and yes, ducks.

 

A muskie showing a lighter coloration more typical of those living in turbid waters. (from muskiesinc.org)

 

A Muskellunge cruising for food (atoztheusa.blogspot.com/2013/03/wisconsin-state-fish.html)

 

Jeff with a muskie he caught from a canoe while on a wilderness trip in Ontario years ago.

 

Although muskies have large stomachs that enable them to eat prey up to two-thirds their own body length, the Green-winged Teal is a very small duck—12″-15” long and weighing just 5-17 ounces—so it is more a snack than a meal for a large muskie.

 

A Green-winged Teal taking wing (brianzwiebelphotography.com)

 

Wydeveld captured the cinnamon color of the bird’s head feathers, its dark green eyebands, and the spotting on its buff-colored breast.

 

As beautiful as Wydeveld’s floral and fruit still-life paintings are, we much prefer his spirited portrayals of fish in the wild. “The Fighting Muskellunge” is among the largest and most dynamic fish paintings Wydeveld created. Its presence will enliven a home with the energetic pulse and implicit story of fate and survival in the natural world.

 

fish painting by Wydeveld

 

 

A Brief Rant

06.25.2018

Antiques show sign (from singerly.com)

When shoppers make the effort to visit an antiques show, they should be able to expect that every item in each dealer’s booth is an antique—an object with history and heritage that is authentic to a past period, not recently made.

It is difficult enough for antiques show patrons to view thousands of items in all of the booths and make decisions about what they like, what will work in their home, what will enhance their collection, what fits their budget, and so on. They should not also have the pressure of needing to worry about the age or authenticity of the merchandise for sale.

The titles of some shows prepare buyers to expect that not everything for sale will be antique—for instance at a show called an “Antiques and Design Fair,” a recent moniker for shows that mix old and new (usually high-end, artisan made) goods, or at a “Flea Market,” a shopping venue well-known for anything goes.

santa monica flea market

A stall at a flea market where anything goes.

But there should be no place for selling contemporary merchandise at an event billed as an Antiques Show. Period. That is our strong opinion.

This long-standing pet peeve of ours was reinvigorated recently when we saw this brand new furniture displayed prominently in a booth at an antiques show:

It is a recently manufactured hickory game table with four hickory hoop-arm chairs from Old Hickory Furniture Company, Shelbyville, Indiana.

The handwritten tag identified the set as “Old Hickory” (true), and it was dated as “20th century” (not true—it should have said 21st century). Even if the dealer thought the set was made as far back as the 1990s it was disingenuous to tag it simply as “20th century,” leaving it up to a shopper to determine when in the 100 year period from 1900-1999 the furniture was made.

We would classify this set simply as contemporary furniture, possibly lightly used, but definitely not vintage and not antique.

The set was priced $2,800 which might be slightly less than it would cost at a contemporary furniture store, but far more than its resale value as used furniture. Since shoppers attend antiques shows hoping to go home with a treasure that will likely retain its value, it is a sad outcome if they unwittingly purchase something whose resale value becomes a fraction of what they paid for it before the ink on their check is even dry.

So how do contemporary goods end up at antiques shows? Here are a few ways:

1. An unscrupulous dealer takes advantage of the cachet of an antiques venue to sell used or unused contemporary goods for more than they are worth. Once the merchandise catches the eye of an eager shopper, the dealer may or may not tell them its true age. Some sellers are not ashamed to bring new things to an antiques show, and will unabashedly tell people, if queried, that it is not old but nevertheless “has a great look.”

Although not excusable, that is slightly better than a dealer who blatantly represents new merchandise as old (luckily there are very few dealers on the show circuit who fall into this category).

We were recently called in to purchase furniture from a rustic home that was going on the market, but we left behind a number of contemporary rustic pieces that had been sold to the homeowner at an antiques show, complete with an elaborately fabricated story about the lodge where they originated in the 1920s.

We happened to have encountered that seller and his merchandise (produced by craftsmen he hires) at various shows over the years, so we were already familiar with the whole saga. The homeowner, however, was dismayed to learn that he would have to figure out a way to sell those pieces in the used furniture market, for much less than he had paid for them.

2. A dealer is truly unaware of the age of what they’re selling. Every dealer makes mistakes now and then, and it can be harder for generalist dealers to know everything about the many types of antiques they buy than it is for dealers who have deep knowledge of one or a few specialty areas. But most dealers worth their salt develop a good feel for the age of objects, regardless of their familiarity with the particular type of antique they’re examining. Plus it is not hard to find another dealer who can shed light on an object in question. Mistakenly representing the age of an object for sale at an antiques show should rarely happen

3. Apathy. It is not uncommon to hear dealers and show promoters say that “Nobody cares anymore” about the age of objects as long as they look appealing. We hear that comment both from dealers who themselves have gone over to the dark side so are making excuses for mixing contemporary goods in with their antiques, as well as from those who maintain the integrity of selling only antiques, but bemoan the lack of antiques-only integrity among their colleagues.

Although there may be a grain of truth to the statement that buyers do not care as much about the age as they do about the appearance of an object, if they factor in purchase price, availability of the same or similar merchandise on the regular retail market, and diminishment in resale value, they should be less than enthusiastic about purchasing new things at antiques shows. Glimmers of buyer apathy about an object’s vintage should not be a legitimate excuse for letting antiques dealers’ age standards slide down a slippery slope.

4. Lack of consequences. If dealers round out their booths at an antiques show with new merchandise (which after all, is easier to find than antiques), and successfully sell that merchandise for a profit while experiencing no backlash whatsoever, it is only human to keep seeking those rewards.

Despite issuing grave warnings against bringing new merchandise to antiques shows (see excerpts from two show contracts below), show promoters rarely ask dealers to remove new objects from their booths, nor do they often disinvite the offending dealers to future shows.

There are several reasons for this. One is that it is getting harder for promoters to rent all of the floor space in their shows so they can turn a profit on the event, so the last thing they can afford to do is lose dealers.

Another reason is that vetting the age of merchandise at a show is a huge undertaking, done only at high-end, long-running shows such as the Winter Antiques Show in New York each January. Promoters of smaller, mid-range shows cannot be expected to do formal vetting—it is simply impossible, not to mention highly stressful and unpleasant when it engenders confrontations.

However, by asking a few dealers to remove goods that are blatantly not antique, word gets around quickly that someone is actually monitoring dealers’ merchandise, which can result in fewer new things being brought to future shows (no dealer wants to take up limited space in a van with something that might get booted off the floor).

It may not seem fair to the few dealers who are asked to remove something new when there are other new things on the floor. But if they signed a contract that included a passage similar to those below, they have no right to complain about being asked to adhere to their contract.

Here is an excerpt from an antiques show contract we recently signed:

“All merchandise must be antique and suitable for a high quality antique show. No reproductions will be acceptable nor will objects with extensive restoration be permitted. We reserve the right to remove at our discretion any and all objects deemed unworthy of the show. Our decision in this regard shall be final and binding.”

And another one, which is even more to the point (emphases in the original):

“The Exhibitor agrees to display and offer for sale ONLY antiques. NO MODERN REPRODUCTIONS OF ANY KIND AND NO MODERN DECORATIVE OBJECTS MAY BE OFFERED FOR SALE.”

Clearly it is not okay to bring new goods to shows with contracts such as these. That is not to say that antiques dealers can’t legitimately choose to sell contemporary art or fine craft pieces in their own brick-and-mortar or online shops where they can distinguish them from antique merchandise; they just should not bring those things to Antiques Shows.

So What’s to be Done?

Beyond maintaining professional integrity with the merchandise in their own booths, dealers do not have much power or influence over the goods for sale elsewhere on the floor of an antiques show. In fact, shoppers can have more influence than dealers on this issue by taking the steps listed below, which also happen to be good ways to ensure that they spend their antiquing dollars wisely.

1. Attend only shows that are known for their roster of reputable dealers.

2. Ask questions about any merchandise that interests you. Most dealers love to share their knowledge.

3. Demonstrate to dealers that you care about antique integrity by explicitly asking the age of anything you’re interested in when an age is not noted on a label, and walking away from it if it is contemporary.

4. Give feedback to show promoters (who are usually easily found by inquiring at the show office) if you are unhappy about seeing contemporary merchandise on the floor.

We don’t want to create the impression that most dealers are passing off new merchandise as old—far from it. The vast majority of antiques dealers really do care about the age of the things they are selling, and adhere not only to their titles as antiques dealers, but also to the rules set forth in their show contracts that forbid bringing new merchandise.

So by all means, antiques enthusiasts should keep attending antiques shows, get to know the dealers they are buying from, then relax and enjoy the process of learning about and acquiring antiques.

We conclude with the simple hope that something good will come from discussing this issue openly. Now we’ll happily get back to the positive business of finding, buying, and selling great old things!

On the antiquing trail.

Rare Old Hickory Daybed

05.22.2018

Old Hickory daybed

Having handled lots of hickory furniture over the years, we’ve seen the majority of furniture forms that are documented either in books or in our collection of vintage hickory furniture company catalogs. While no antique hickory furniture could be called common, some forms appear on the market more frequently than others.

There are several reasons for the differing availability of hickory furniture forms. One is that certain types of furniture, such as hickory hoop arm or “Andrew Jackson” chairs (shown below), were made in every decade of hickory furniture production for over 50 years, and several different hickory furniture manufacturers made nearly identical versions of popular styles.

hickory hoop arm chair

Another reason is that a greater number of certain forms were produced and sold in a given year reflecting differing demand, for side chairs versus desks, for instance. Finally, some types of furniture such as dressers and other case pieces, have very little market turnover—once they are in a home they tend to stay there, even when the homes themselves (especially summer cottages in remote locations) change hands.

 

Old Hickory dresser

 

So it is always a bit of a thrill when we find a form that we have never or seldom seen on the market. That is the case with this Old Hickory daybed, which is only the second one that we’ve seen or owned in over 25 years of buying and selling hickory furniture.

 

Old Hickory daybed

Old Hickory Daybed dimensions: 74″ wide, 27″ deep, 33″ high back, 17″ high seat

 

This daybed appears in the 1942 catalog titled “Old Hickory Furniture by Old Hickory of Martinsville.”

 

Old Hickory 1942 catalog

 

It was listed as No. 949W “Day Bed With Back” and the description includes the note: “Back is adjusted with ropes.” That pretty well sums up this intriguing piece of furniture. This one is in good vintage condition, retaining its original open-weave rattan cane seat and back.

 

Old Hickory daybed weaving

 

The back can be set at two angles by placing the rope loops around either of two side pegs.

Old Hickory daybed

 

 

Old Hickory daybed

The ropes are set around first peg to hold the back upright.

 

Old Hickory daybed.

The ropes are set around the second peg to make the back more angled.

 

Taking the ropes off the pegs lowers the hinged back all of the way down so that the daybed can be used as a bench or cot.

 

Old Hickory daybed

Daybed with the back down, seen from the front.

 

Old Hickory daybed

Daybed with the back down, seen from the back.

 

Old Hickory daybed

The daybed’s previous owner had a faux leather pad made for the bench.

 

With the back down, the 74” wide bench fits perfectly at the foot of a 76” wide king-size bed. It would even be possible to remove the back entirely by unscrewing the hinges, depending on desired usage and placement. In fact, Old Hickory also sold this daybed without a back, listed in the catalog as “No. 949 Day Bed Without Back.”

 

 

Versatility was clearly the intent of the Old Hickory designers who created this daybed. Whether piled with throw pillows, outfitted with a seat pad, or used backless as a bench, it is handsome and functional—and also collectible for anyone seeking to acquire uncommon Old Hickory furniture forms.

 

Old Hickory daybed

Rustic Plant Supports

04.19.2018

Rustic garden ornaments naturally complement any home garden, whether or not the home itself has a rustic style or setting.

(from carolyneroehm.com)

While anticipating gardening season several springs ago, we posted a Journal article titled Rustic Garden Structures that featured mostly sizable, intricate outdoor rustic structures manufactured by furniture companies such as Old Hickory and Lincraft from the early 1900’s through the 1940’s.

Although that article did describe a pair of large, never-used 1920’s Old Hickory obelisks that we once owned, wooden rustic garden structures typically do not survive long enough to convey into the antiques trade.

(from archive.wiltonbulletin.com)

So to add time-honored rustic designs to your garden, a good option is to make your own simple rustic garden structures using natural, sustainably-harvested twigs, trunks, and branches. It is best to choose rot-resistant varieties such as cedar and black locust so that your handiwork will last longer than one season in the outdoors.

(from hydraz.club)

The following do-it-yourself instructions and design inspirations gleaned from the web focus on three kinds of simple rustic plant supports:  trellises, tuteurs, and wattle surrounds. These types of structures have imbued gardens around the world with a traditional rustic aesthetic since at least medieval times, and perhaps as far back as when humans first began cultivating crops.

 

A Rustic Trellis

(from sunset.com)

Flat trellises can support climbing plants, or be used simply as ornamental backdrops for garden beds or to add architectural interest to the side wall of a house or garden shed.

 

How to Make a Simple Trellis from Prunings
(adapted from sunset.com/garden/backyard-projects/make-rustic-trellis)

Tools and Materials:

12 straight branches, limbs or canes, each approximately 1″ in diameter:
– Three pieces, each 3 feet long (A)
– One piece, 6 feet long (B)
– Two pieces, each 5 feet long (C)
– Two pieces, each 25 inches long (D)
– Two pieces, each 221/2 inches long (E)
– Two pieces, each 391/2 inches long (F)

One box of one-and-three-quarter inch nails

Hammer

Spool of floral wire

Directions:

The finished structure is 7′ 4.5″  tall x 3′ wide.

1. Trim any side branches from the prunings.
2. Lay the crosspieces (A) horizontally on a flat surface, with two of them 18 inches apart, and the third 16 inches above the center one.
3. Lay the centerpiece (B) vertically across the crosspieces. The bottom end of the centerpiece should overlap the lowest crosspiece by 4 1/2 inches. Nail centerpiece to crosspieces at center joints.
4. Lay side pieces (C) vertically over crosspieces as shown, setting them about 3 1/2 inches in from the ends of the crosspieces. Nail to crosspieces at the joints.
5. Place D and E pieces diagonally between crosspieces, slightly overlapping the horizontal crosspieces as shown. Nail them to the horizontals at the joints.
6. Place top pieces (F) so they cross behind the centerpiece (B) and on top of the side pieces (C).
For additional stability, turn structure over and nail joints from the back side, then wrap wire several times around the main intersections.

 

Here is some additional inspiration for designing your own rustic trellises:

 

(from charlottemoss.com)

 

(from gardenfuzzgarden.com)

 

(from birdsandblooms.com)

 

A Rustic Tuteur

(from karmaperdiem.com)

Tuteur means “trainer” in French, thus tuteurs are traditionally used for training climbing plants. Similar free-standing garden structures are also called obelisks and teepees, depending on whether they are rectangular, pyramidial, or circular.


How to Make a Simple Branch and Twig Tuteur
(adapted from karmaperdiem.wordpress.com)

1. Obtain 3 cedar poles and cut them to a height of 6-7’

2. Tie the poles together at the top

3. Use the cut-offs from the cedar poles as horizontal supports for the structure. Secure them to the tall frame with wood screws.

4. Wrap shoots pruned from grape or honeysuckle vines or other thin twigs around the branch frame.

 

Here is some additional inspiration for designing your own rustic tuteurs:

 

(from sharesunday.com)

 

 

(from lovelygreens.com)

 

 

 

A Wattle Surround

Wattle is a panel, fence, or enclosure that is woven from pliable branches such as willow. Wattling has long been used as a fencing technique to contain livestock and protect pasture.

 

(from the 15th century French manuscript Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry)

 

But wattle also makes attractive, easy-to-construct smaller enclosures for individual garden plants and beds, as shown here.

 

How to Make a Wattle Plant Enclosure
(adapted from instructables.com and insteading.com/blog/wattle-fence/)

1. You will need both upright stakes for the “sales” and shoots or saplings for the “weavers.”

(from instructables.com)

For weavers it is easiest to work with freshly cut long, straight, slender (about ½” diameter) saplings such as willow, hazel, sweet chestnut, plum, or forsythia (or a mixture these—yellow willow and red dogwood twigs make nice color gradations in the final product). Dry willow can become pliable again by soaking it overnight in a stream, barrel, or bathtub.

(from instructables.com)

Hardwood or a rot-resistant wood such as cedar are good choices for the sales. The length of the sales will define the height of the wattle enclosure.

2. Pound the sales into the ground into a circle of whatever diameter you want your raised bed to be.

(from instructables.com)

3. Begin weaving the sapling rods around the sales like basketry, tucking ends into the weave as you add pieces to continue around the enclosure. Alternate the weaving so that each row is woven on the opposite side of the stake from the sapling below it. Firmly press down each sapling so it sits tightly against the previous row.

(from instructables.com)

4. Fill the finished wattle enclosure with soil and compost, and it is ready to plant with seeds, seedlings, or transplants.

(from gardenista.com)

 

Here is some additional inspiration for designing your own wattle enclosures:

 

(from babylonstoren.com)

 

(from thegardenglove.com)

 

(from jardinsalanglaise.com)

 

Rustic Resourcefulness

As with indoor rustic furniture, locally-sourced natural materials inspire the designs for rustic garden structures, even those as simple as plant supports. The impetus for making them may come from practical needs, but for generations they have also satisfied the aesthetic urge to accent our gardens with rustic adornments.

 

Gardens at Mohonk Mountain House, New Paltz, New York in the 19th century and today. (from prweb.com and theodysseyonline.com)

George Browne’s “A Bluebill Drake”

02.19.2018

When I look at a duck painting by George, I am immediately transferred there with the duck; I am on its level, whether it be a power stroke, setting wings, or a flight pattern.
To me that is the greatness of George.
(Sporting art dealer Robert Fraser, Ordeman & Schreiber, 20041)

 

The best sporting art—appreciative representations of game, fish, waterfowl, and upland birds, along with their landscape settings and sometimes sportsmen in the act of pursuing them—is interpretive rather than academic. Sporting artists strive to do more than accurately represent the physical features of an animal; they also seek to capture the ambiance of a moment in time, such as a misty trout stream at dawn, the startled flush of a covey in grasslands, or—as in this oil on canvas panel painting of a Greater Scaup by George Browne that we are now offering for sale (update: sold 2/19/18)—a duck alighting on an open patch of water.

Painting titled verso “A Bluebill Drake,” signed lower left George Browne. Untouched condition with light soiling and minor abrasions, in its original molded gilt frame. Canvas size is 16″ x 20″ and frame size is 20.75″ x 24.5″.

In the opinion of sporting art connoisseurs, George Browne (1918-1958) was not only a master at painting animals and their habitats, but also of that hard-to-capture essence of place, time, and the spirit of wildlife. Browne was as talented as, yet less well-known than, his sporting art predecessors and contemporaries—luminaries such as Frank Benson (1862-1951), Carl Rungius (1869-1959), Frances Lee Jacques (1887-1969), and Aiden Ripley (1896-1969). Although Browne was quite prolific as an artist, he produced a more limited body of work than these other sporting artists, and had less time to be promoted and appreciated, given the brevity of his professional career due to his untimely death in a shooting accident at the age of 40.

George Browne with his dog “Kelly” (from Ordeman & Schreiber, 2004)

Browne’s painting of a Greater Scaup, known colloquially as a “bluebill” or “broadbill,” exemplifies his expert ability to capture a bird’s shape, feather patterns, and posture.

Wildlife artists such as Browne must have superb observational acuity, a skill they have in common with both naturalists and sportsmen.

A Greater Scaup coming in for a landing (photo from gardenwalkgardentalk.com)

 

This label on the back of Browne’s painting reads “A Bluebill Drake” Canvas size: 16″ x 20″ “The bluebill or broad bill is the larger of the two scaups and generally inclined to salt water bays and estuaries of both coasts of this continent in winter.”

George Browne’s observational skills were honed during his many hours in the outdoors watching wildlife as well as hunting. His field notes, a sample of which follows (Ordeman & Schreiber, 2004), are not unlike those that a naturalist would write while observing birds, although Browne’s observations of the subtle plays of light are distinctly those of someone with an artistic eye and purpose:

Bird: Canada Geese 13
Background: Timbered Ridges
Lighting: Sun just set, Early twilight
Distance: 35 yrds over River
General Impressions: Birds noticeably flying fast. General color tone cold. Black areas noticeable lack of detail. Head and body unaffected by motion of wings, but base of neck and chest rise and fall alternately with wing beats. Chests cool whitish gray, check marks buckskin color. More light areas visible on geese in profile than when coming and going. Flock seemed dense, birds between 6 and 8 ft. apart on average.

Browne often captured the finer details of feather colors and patterns of the birds he had shot by creating small oil sketches that he then kept in his studio for reference. His wife Tibby once wrote:

Fishing and shooting were his relaxation, inspiration and spiritual refreshment…George prided himself in deriving the multi-faceted satisfaction from the hunt: the bird in the hand, the sketch of the same, the meal of the same, and finally the use of the feathers of the same for fly tying. (Ordeman & Schreiber, 2004)

Browne’s total immersion in his subject matter comes forth in the insightful representation of a Greater Scaup in this painting.

 

Signature in lower left of “A Bluebill Drake”

Fortunately, Browne was as fastidious in keeping records about his art production as he was about the accuracy of his paintings, which allows us to trace the creation of this painting to 1945, and its original sale to 1950. Before exploring this painting’s history, however, let’s first put it into the context of Browne’s life and career.


George Browne’s Early Development as an Artist

The life story of George Browne must begin with his father, Belmore Browne (1880-1954), an accomplished artist, author, explorer, mountaineer, hunter, all-around outdoorsman, and widely respected man of integrity. Belmore was arguably the most important influence on George, who followed remarkably closely in his father’s footsteps.

Belmore Browne in his studio (from Ordeman & Schreiber, 2004)

Belmore Browne grew up in privilege, but by the time he was a young man his father’s lumber business in Tacoma, Washington was failing. In the early 1920s Belmore’s love for the western frontier led him, together with his wife Agnes and their two small children (George and his sister Evelyn), to move to a one-room cabin at the conjunction of two rivers near the then remote village of Banff, Alberta.

Settling into the Rocky Mountain countryside resulted for the Browne children in what their mother called an “idyllic existence.” Over the next decade the family took summer trips on horseback with pack mules into the Alberta wilderness to explore, camp, hunt, and fish. In 1922, when Evelyn was 6 and George was just 4, Agnes wrote about her children:

I’m very proud of them, I must say. They’ve seen magnificent country and have learned to love it and appreciate it. Because they walked, they’ve learned the deer, bear, goat and sheep tracks and many of the wild flowers. They’ve learned the discipline of keeping up and bearing fatigue, hunger and even cold from the rain. They’ve learned to be good sports, to cast a fly, and no one can ever take from George an interest in fishing that has been awakened on this trip. He has been a constant source of amazement to Belmore and me. This ability to travel—the way the trip has developed him and roused him, and with it all his sweetness to all of us. (Ordeman & Schreiber, 2004)

During these camping excursions Belmore would often sketch, which is when George first became interested in drawing.

George Browne watching his father sketch (from Ordeman & Schreiber, 2004)

George reflected on his father’s ongoing influence on his development as an artist and a person in a letter to his mother in the 1940s: “He represents (the wilderness life) and has presented it to me in his paintings and in his tolerance and patience with my feeble efforts to follow in his footstep as an artist and out door man.”

Indeed, George was much more drawn to learning through an active outdoor life than he was to passive school learning. He struggled with dyslexia, and simply did not like school. A headmistress in Banff said “his mind goes on private exploring expeditions” during school hours. A teacher in Santa Barbara, CA where the family later lived during winters said “George resisted formal education with greater ferocity than any student I have had.”

At age 15 when George was in 8th grade, his request to quit school and devote his time to drawing and painting was granted by his parents. He thus became his father’s apprentice as well as receiving formal instruction for the next five years at the California School of Fine Arts.

Belmore and George Browne (from Ordeman & Schreiber, 2004)

George’s artistic training was interrupted in the early 1940s when he was drafted to serve in the U.S. Army Air Corps during WWII. He was assigned to a U.S.-based unit that tested survival equipment being developed for aircrews whose planes might be shot down. In his capacity as an equipment tester he survived for three weeks without food or water adrift in a small inflated life raft in the Gulf of Mexico. He was also the first person to survive a parachute jump from over 40,000 feet, an assignment for which he eagerly volunteered.

But painting remained his central passion throughout his years in the service, as he expressed in one letter home:

I can no longer continue life without a paint brush in my hand, and when I get paid…I will go into town and purchase a small oil paint kit. Then when Sunday rolls around, I will rise at dark and go out and get some duck skies for future reference and to keep in practice. I will also get some sketches of water with both lakes and streams with reflections of trees, grass and mud banks. The dead grass and autumn trees will provide me with valuable sketches for bird pictures, and after the war I will be as good and probably better a painter than if I just let it go.  (Ordeman & Schreiber, 2004)

In a subsequent letter he wrote:

I am learning a lot from my Sunday painting, and it means a lot to me…Painting is my biggest form of recreation and takes all my days off. For the first time I am beginning to know a little about water and reflections. I have been painting a lot along the river and the lake, and this practice is just as valuable to me as painting in the Rocky Mountains, but not so much fun.  (Ordeman & Schreiber, 2004)

While in the army George also went hunting on his free days. In a letter he recounted one adventure in which his gun went over the side of his boat one pre-dawn morning while he was setting up decoys for waterfowling. He dove in the water while it was still pitch dark and followed a decoy line downward for seven dives before realizing the gun had sunk into the mud. So he dove again to search more deeply on the bottom, where on this eighth dive he found and recovered the gun from a foot of mud. This episode reveals his perseverance, stamina, daring, and strength of mind and body—characteristics that people noted about George throughout his life.

When George came back home following his discharge at the end of the war, he and his father did much bird hunting while George concentrated on painting waterfowl and other gamebirds. His mother commented in 1947:

George was developing fast—the grouse picture, a beauty—the groups of pintails on the marshes in the early morning. The bluebills around his decoys. And he often worked into the late hours by electric light.  (Ordeman & Schreiber, 2004)

Study of Ruffed Grouse by George Browne (from artnet.com)

 

(from mutualart.com)

 

(from bartfield.com)

Browne painted our “A Bluebill Drake” in 1945, so it was completed during the period from the early to the late-1940s when George was focusing on perfecting his painting of waterfowl. The late 1940s is also when his career started to take off as his work began to be more widely shown and promoted.


George Browne’s Early Professional Career and Gallery Representation

Prior to going into the military George had sold a dozen or so paintings for $10-$50 each, and while in the army a New York art dealer sold three of his paintings for $25-$45. In 1947 a more prestigious gallery in Manhattan that had been handling Belmore Browne’s paintings, the Grand Central Art Galleries, agreed to exhibit George’s work. They sold ten of his paintings from 1947-1949 in prices ranging from a few hundred dollars up to $750, a marked increase over his former earnings.

George became increasingly focused on the amount of money he was able to earn as a painter after marrying Isabel “Tibby” MacGregor in 1948, and eventually having two children to support as well. As his parents had done before him, he and Tibby moved to a small cabin in the Canadian Rockies of Alberta where George focused fulltime on producing art.

Although George admitted that he became a painter of wildlife in part to spend a lot of time outdoors, he became a disciplined artist in his studio as well. He was devoted to the life of painting, working between 12-14 hours a day which according to Tibby allowed “scant time for sleeping and eating and still it gave him a solid sense of fulfillment.”

His concern about providing for his family by selling paintings came through in the detailed records he kept of every painting he completed, how large it was, how long it took him to paint it, and how much the painting sold for—he even calculated a “Square Inch of Canvas to Sale Price Ratio” and broke down his yearly income as gross income per picture, profit per days worked, and income per day, week, and month.

We were able to locate our 16” x 20” bluebill painting on several pages of his log books (reproduced in Ordeman & Schreiber, 2004). In one book it appears as the 103rd painting he had sold since 1934.

Another log page shows the “Blue Bill Drake” as the 11th and final painting he produced in 1945, the prior ten of which he had sold for a total of $220.

He did not sell “A Bluebill Drake” however, until 1950 when Grand Central Art Galleries (abbreviated as “G.C.G.” in Browne’s logs) mounted a one-man show of Browne’s paintings at their Manhattan gallery.

George Browne during his show at Grand Central Art Galleries in 1950 (from Ordeman & Schreiber, 2004)

“A Bluebill Drake” was included in the Grand Central Art Galleries 1950 show, and the gallery’s label is still intact on the back of the painting.

When this painting sold at the show, George went back to his 1945 record book and added the information “Exhibition G.C.G 1950,” and in the Remarks column he noted that the painting sold to “Cousin Elizabeth” for $175, which is the price that is on the label still present on the back of the painting.


Browne’s Upward Career Trajectory, Move East, and Tragic Death

George Browne’s solo exhibition at Grand Central Art Galleries in 1950 provided a substantial boost to his career, helping him sell 22 paintings that year. But an even more significant opportunity came in 1952 when George made a connection with Ralph Terrill, the director of the a New York gallery specializing in sporting art, the Crossroads of Sport Gallery. From 1952-1958 Crossroads sold half of the paintings Browne produced.

Based on Terrill’s advice that “People seem to like to buy something which reminds them of their favorite shooting terrain,” Browne accepted invitations from Terrill’s clients to hunt with them and then paint their favored eastern terrain around the Chesapeake Bay, Georgia, and the Carolinas, as well as the birds they hunted there.

Pheasant painting by George Browne (from bartfield.com)

 

Mallard painting by George Browne (from mutualart.com)

Crossroads gallery sold George Browne’s paintings through their annual catalogs from 1952 until his death in 1958. Sporting art collectors across America could thus purchase Browne’s work along with that of Pleissner, Rungius, and Jacques whose paintings appeared in the same Crossroads catalogs.

As Browne was gaining success selling paintings of upland game birds and waterfowl to eastern sportsmen, his patrons convinced him to move closer to New York which was the center of the sporting art business. So George and Tibby Browne eventually sold their house in Alberta and in 1956 they moved into a home they had built in Norfolk, Connecticut.

Remarking on George’s artistic development, especially during his time in Connecticut, one critic wrote the following in the magazine Sporting Classics:

Almost daily his work grew stronger, richer, more poetic. Not only did he have the gift for breathing life into his birds and mammals, he knew how to arrange them in a composition for maximum dramatic effect. Few artists have been better at crafting the illusion of space, of three dimensionality; perhaps it was because of Browne’s own lack of depth perception,* a function of his monocular vision, forced him to pay extra attention to perspective. (*He had sustained an eye injury when he was 10 from the ricochet of a shotgun pellet.)

Likewise, his sister Evelyn once wrote about George’s deep knowledge of habitats and the individual qualities of each species he painted:

George knew what he was painting with scientific accuracy, and he had the transcendent ability to render what he saw, in paintings of unparalleled and arresting beauty.

It is all the more tragic then, that this artist of great accomplishment and even greater promise, was accidentally killed in 1958 by an acquaintance who was inexperienced with guns.

They were in the Adirondacks attending a March outing of sportsmen who served on the Camp Fire Club of America’s Conservation Committee. They were target practicing by shooting balloons blowing across a frozen lake when one of the men mishandled a gun’s hang-fire; the delayed discharge of the bullet then struck Browne in the neck. Thus George Browne, who by the age of 40 had survived parachute jumps, weeks alone in a life raft, an expedition up Mount McKinley, Rocky Mountain wilderness excursions, and countless hunting adventures, died within an hour being shot.

His family and friends lost a gem of a man that day, and the world lost a talented artist. Through his work George had attained what he once predicted and aspired to, as written in a letter to his parents:

“I believe I will gain an individuality and originality found in the work of men who are inspired by their subject rather than by themselves.”

George Browne painting on Mount McKinley in 1947 (from Ordeman & Schreiber, 2004)

Fortunately, photos of Browne, his personal records and letters, and descriptions of him as a gifted man of integrity written largely by the women who loved him—his mother, sister, and wife—remain for posterity, as do the images of landscapes and wildlife he so deftly captured on canvas.

 

1 Background information, images, and page references throughout this article are drawn from the book Artists of the North American Wilderness: George and Belmore Browne (2004) by J. T. Ordeman and M. M. Schreiber. Toronto: Warwick Publishing.

Nature is a Happy Pill

01.16.2018

Let’s face it – stress and unhealthy habits are ubiquitous in modern society. Equally ubiquitous (in affluent cultures) are self-help books, diet plans, personal trainers, and by-the-hour therapists to help people achieve and maintain their best selves. But what if one of the most potent fixes for our woes is as basic as spending more time outdoors, in nature?

That is the idea that Florence Williams explores in The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative (2017, NY: W.W. Norton). As a journalist (and contributing editor to Outside magazine), Williams delves into the topic by taking a participatory journalism approach in which her experiences are part of the story. She becomes an insider in the scientific research she seeks to summarize about nature’s effects on the human mind, body, and spirit, both by becoming a research subject herself and by probing the thinking of leading scientists in the field.

She explains the impetus for writing the book succinctly: “Scientists are quantifying nature’s effects not only on mood and well-being, but also on our ability to think, to remember things, to plan, to create, to daydream and to focus—as well as on our social skills.” This work has such important implications for all of us that Williams makes an impressive effort to summarize the many avenues of this research being done around the world.

Forest bathing in Japan (hikingresearch.wordpress.com)

Williams reports on her experiences traveling to research sites in seven countries where scientists and practitioners are doing cutting-edge work on nature’s effects on people’s well-being. She participates in “forest bathing” in Japan and Korea; attends a hiking retreat with neuroscientists in Utah; wears a portable EEG device on her head to explore the physiological effects of noise pollution in the U.S.; participates in a nature virtual reality lab experiment in Canada; walks along “health nature trails” in Finland; participates in outdoor adventure therapy and meditative walking in urban parks in Scotland; observes horticultural therapy in a garden in Sweden; becomes a research subject for a Canadian scientist studying the mental health effects of sustained (30 minutes a day for 30 days) outdoor walking; goes on a camping trip with psychology graduate students in Utah and on a rafting trip in Idaho with female veterans suffering from PTSD to explore the effects of longer-term immersion in nature within social groups; visits a summer camp in North Carolina for kids with ADD and learning disabilities; and explores green spaces in densely populated Singapore. She is ambitious and energetic, and those qualities permeate the book.

Hammock in an urban therapeutic garden in Sweden (landscapeinstitute.org)

Although the scientists Williams visits are focusing on different aspects of nature’s effects on humans, and are using a wide range of clever measurement tools to do so, an underlying theoretical tenet of all the research is evolution. Since we, Homo sapiens, evolved in nature, we still have deep, automatic, physiological reactions to environmental stimuli. The idea is to recognize, understand, and then use those reactions for beneficial outcomes in our modern lives.

Some Fascinating Research Findings

Japanese and Korean scientists have documented positive changes in physiological responses such as pulse rate, variable heart rate, and salivary cortisol after people have taken sensory walks in forested National Parks. In one study in Korea, spending two days in nature lowered the cortisol levels of 11-12 year old “technology addicts,” and those effects lasted two weeks after the kids had nature immersion experiences.

Another avenue of this “forest bathing” (i.e., walking in the woods) research found that “nice tree smells”—specifically the aromatic substances that cedar and pine trees emit—boost natural killer (NK) white blood cells that strengthen our immune systems. Even a month after people walked in piney woods a few hours a day for three days, their NK cells were 15% higher than those of people who walked the same amount of time on urban streets.

(hikingresearch.wordpress.com)

In addition to affecting us through our sense of smell, nature also triggers profound effects through our visual system. One of the reasons that spending time in peaceful natural settings can improve our ability to think effectively and creatively is that we don’t have to use up as much precious cognitive fuel (specifically oxygenated glucose) filtering out distractions. Our inherent “soft fascination” with natural scenes gives our brains a rest so we have the potential to become better at higher order thinking.

Even brief views of nature, such as seeing green trees out a window, can have positive effects on our bodies and minds. One hypothesis is that visually processing nature scenes triggers natural opiates in the brain and “happy molecules” flow. Indeed, studies have shown that nature views outside hospital windows reduce patient stress and lead to better clinical outcomes. In schools, office buildings, and housing projects touches of nature visible from windows have been shown to support increased worker productivity, less job stress, higher academic grades and test scores, and less aggressive behaviors. Scientists propose that this is due in part to congruence in how nature scenes (“natural fractal patterns”) are fluently processed by our neurons, setting off a cascade of positive physiological effects.

In short, Frederick Law Olmstead (the father of landscape architecture and designer of urban parks such as New York’s Central Park) seems to have had it right back in 1865 when he wrote that viewing nature “employs the mind without fatigue and yet exercises it; tranquilizes it and yet enlivens it; and thus, through the influence of the mind over the body, gives the effect of refreshing rest and reinvigoration to the whole system.”

(centralparknyc.org)

Our sense of hearing also has deep evolutionary roots, so ambient nature sounds trigger very different automatic responses in our bodies than industrial noise. Our sympathetic nervous system (the coordinator of our “fight or flight” responses) reacts dramatically to threatening sounds by elevating heart rates, blood pressure, and respiration. Those are stress responses, and when we’re constantly subjected to annoying noises, everything from airplanes and jack hammers to cell phone ringers and lawn mowers, those frequent stress responses can accumulate to the level of chronic stress within our bodies.

Given that there are fewer than a dozen sites in the continental U.S. where you can’t hear human-made noise for a span of at least 15 minutes (according to research conducted by an acoustic ecologist), this lack of respite from industrial noise can become a major health issue. For instance, every 10-decibel increase in nighttime noise is linked to a 14 % rise in hypertension. In primary schools located near major airports, every 5-decibel increase in aircraft background noise is linked to a drop in reading scores equivalent to a two-month delay in progress.

(fastcompany.com)

There are individual differences in people’s noise sensitivity, and Williams found that she is among the most sensitive. She wore EEG headgear to measure her brain wavelengths in different settings to see which places put her brainwaves in the desirable, meditative-like state of “calm alert.” In places where human-made sound is constantly in the background, our brains have to work hard to ignore the irrelevant soundscapes, stealing physiological resources and constantly creating undesirable small side effects. So it is hard for someone with noise sensitivity (like Williams) to unwind in an urban park. After numerous forays outside, Williams finally attained Zen-like brain wavelength tranquility one early morning while kayaking alone on a lake in Maine. The take-home message is that when you’re feeling stressed, go to a quiet place to reset your mind and body to a calmer mode.

(adventuremaine.us)

In addition to documenting nature’s profound influence on our physiology, Williams also reports on how it can affect our emotional well-being. A researcher in Finland recommends that to elevate mood and stave off depression, people should spend a minimum of five hours per month in nature, and that 10 hours per month yields even more positive results on emotional stability.

(visitfinland.com)

While the work in Finland applies primarily to educated middle class people who are mildly stressed by everyday life, Williams also visited scientists in Scotland who looked at data on nature’s effects on the urban poor. One statistical finding was that death rates were lower for everyone in greener neighborhoods after adjusting for income, and that poor people in non-green neighborhoods fared worse than richer people who also live in non-green neighborhoods. While urban parks helped the poorest people the most, access to them is an obstacle. Williams describes some programs in Glasgow that provide brief forays into urban parks for “bushcraft” adventure and “ecotherapy” activities, but those are small efforts to address the large problem of inequitable access to restorative green resources.

Kelvingrove Park Glasgow (thousandwonders.net)

Toward the end of the book, Williams considers the effects of more sustained immersion in nature within social groups. She joins a river trip in Idaho with female veterans who were experiencing PTSD, some of whom also had severe physical injuries. They traveled downriver 81 miles in six days. While it was just a small group and the results were anecdotal, some of the participants found the experience to be life-changing, giving them confidence to continue to pursue outdoor activities such as cycling, camping, and rock climbing to boost their physical and mental health.

(oars.com)

The take-home message Williams gleans from all of the research she reviews is that “Basically, we need hits from a full spectrum of doses of nature.” Think of the recommended exposure to nature like the food pyramid wherein small, daily glimpses of even a single tree outside a window provide the biggest dosage at the base of the pyramid, to occasional walks in a park and slightly longer excursions for 5-10 hours a month forming the middle of the pyramid, and finally with multi-day getaways into the wild on a yearly or biyearly basis at the tip of the pyramid.

 The Author’s Style

One thing that is especially valuable about the book is that it provides subtle insights into the often messy process of doing science, especially of imagining, planning, doing, and refining research projects. For instance, Williams reports the discussions among a group of neuroscientists whom she joined on a hiking retreat in southern Utah as they generated ideas for new studies, and then followed up with one of them to learn about the promising preliminary results of a project whose design he had hatched at the retreat.

(discovermoab.com)

She also reports on some of the many challenges involved in devising effective scientific experiments. For instance, while trying out a laboratory test of a virtual reality video in which she was supposed to experience a relaxing tropical island including a dip underwater and viewing a rainbow and a waterfall, she got motion sick. The researcher admitted that the system needed some tweaking. In another university basement laboratory she questioned some of the judgments a prototype phone app was making about the therapeutic potential of different nature scenes, the researcher commented “I’m not saying it’s perfect.” Another scientist admitted that the technology he used for a study of people walking on a treadmill while watching nature videos was so loud and cumbersome that the whole study was “a bit of a bust.” Thus is the trial and error process of doing science.

In addition to relaying first-hand reports of science-in-the-making, Williams also personalizes the book throughout with details of her own background and current life—growing up in an urban apartment building, but taking frequent nature excursions with her father; her father’s later stroke and rehabilitation in a hospital room where a view of trees enhanced his recovery; her move from an outdoor-oriented lifestyle in Boulder, Colorado to a noisy neighborhood near an airport in Washington DC; and how she is acting on the research she summarizes in the book in ways as simple as how and where she takes walks in the city.

Throughout the book Williams accents straight-forward reporting with comments made in a casually trendy linguistic style. For instance, she describes the long, untamed hair of a physicist she interviews by concluding, “Come to think of it, my high school physics teacher had exactly this hairstyle. Must be a thing.” She punctuates the factual statement that in 1858 Frederick Law Olmstead ordered 300,000 trees for planting in Central Park’s 800 acres with the comment that his extravagance was “effectively freaking out his budgetary overlords.” Commenting on the challenges one scientist was having with delivering nature scenes via high-tech videos she says “Perhaps it’s time to admit it people: nature just does the elements better.” After reporting research results showing that walking outdoors can quiet the brain circuitry governing self-wallowing that leads to depression, anxiety, withdrawal, and ill-humor, Williams concludes “The world is bigger than you, nature says. Get over yourself.”

(discovermoab.com)

Williams’ voice and style make the book enjoyable to read, but not necessarily easy to absorb its contents—it takes concentrated effort to process the well-researched details of current science that she presents on every page, as well as the background facts that contextualize why the research is important. While this book would be a welcome respite from dry textbooks if it was assigned in a college course, it might not be as appealing a choice for leisure reading in an easy chair by the fire.

Yet the book exposes readers to many facts and ideas that, while not really surprising, are good to know that scientists are documenting. As Williams notes, if we value things like access to parks to promote the well-being of urban dwellers across the socioeconomic spectrum, measurements and data about nature’s benefits are crucial ammunition against the daily assaults that are turning living, leafy green spaces into inanimate, concrete gray ones by the minute. There is hope, as Williams says, that with the right “governing vision” in place such losses can be reversed as they have been in Singapore where the population grew by 2 million between 1986 and 2007, yet green space increased during the same period from 36% to 47% coverage.

Singapore (businessinsider.com)

Taking the Message Home

One of the joys of dealing in rustic antiques is that you, our customers with whom the rustic aesthetic resonates, are people who feel a kinship with the outdoors and want reminders of it in your indoor lives.

You would likely also be an especially receptive audience to the data this book presents on the benefits of nature immersion. While it is good to know the scientific evidence that is amassing across studies with lots of participants, luckily we can also be our own research subjects and perhaps see the results just as clearly—just try it (for free!) and compare how you feel with and without regular doses of nature.

Just maybe the world would abound with healthier, less stressed, and more creative people if we all heeded the advice that Williams quotes from American poet Walt Whitman (1819-1892):

“To you, clerk, literary man, sedentary person, man of fortune, idler, the same advice—Up! The world (perhaps you now look upon it with pallid and disgusted eyes) is full of zest and beauty for you if you approach it in the right spirit! Out in the morning!”

 

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 (now sold).

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?

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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.)