Hearts in the Rustic Realm


The month of February invariably provides lots of exposure to heart symbols and all of their sentimental meaning. And that’s not such a bad thing; the positive associations we make with even the most simple heart doodle add a bit of warmth to our lives during this late winter season. 

So it is as good a time as any to pile on a little more heart imagery by taking a retrospective look at hearts as a decorative motif in antiques that we’ve bought and sold over the years.

Let’s start with a brief exploration of how the heart symbol emerged and endures.

The Heart Shape’s Origins 

For centuries, scholars of science and philosophy believed that the heart was the actual physical center of both emotion and reason. This belief emerged in part when early autopsies revealed that a majority of the body’s internal pathways of nerves and veins led to the heart, so it was an understandably logical conclusion drawn as early as the 2nd century BC.

Regarding the heart as the control center for human feelings such as love was still the predominant scientific and popular perspective in the Middle Ages. So when anatomical drawings of that time period started portraying the human heart as three chambers with a dent in the middle, the pointed heart icon was born and imbued with emotional symbolism.

Despite now knowing that feelings of love actually originate in the complex neural circuitry and chemical transmitters of the brain, not in the blood-pumping heart muscle at the core of our being, the ideographic heart shape that we see most abundantly on Valentine’s Day has stood the test of time across centuries and cultures as a symbol of the positive emotions of love, joy and compassion.

Hearts in Antiques: Rustic, Native American and Folk Art 

Given the ubiquity of the heart graphic in the universe of symbols and design that saturate our visual lives, it is not surprising that they are well represented in antique objects as well.

The antiques that we specialize in — rustic furnishings as well as Native American and folk art — were generally made by individual craftspeople who were highly skilled artisans, whether they practiced their craft as a profession or as a creative outlet.

When we’ve encountered heart designs within these genres, we’ve usually assumed that the maker was intentionally evoking positive associations with the emotions of love and affection, whether making a personal gift or an object to sell.

But surely sometimes craftspeople incorporated hearts just as a pleasing geometric or organic shape that could be formed from the raw materials they were fashioning into a useful or decorative object.

So let’s explore a range of heart motifs in antiques with 10 examples from our past inventory.

1. Folk Art Hooked Rug

This wool hooked rug made in the 1940s is all about geometry and color, featuring circles, diamonds and ovals along with hearts.

Given the red and pink color choice for the hearts, we surmise that the maker of this rug was using hearts in the traditional way to express love for the person to whom she gave it.

2. Tramp Art Frame

The red hearts decorating this tramp art frame relate to the playing card “hearts” suit, given that the other decorative cutouts are clubs, diamonds and spades. Although some historians trace playing card symbols to representing four major aspects of human nature, with hearts representing love, others credit the suits as representing the four seasons, four classes of society, and so on. 

Whether or not the frame maker intended the hearts to evoke love or simply just the fun of card games, the red hearts will still speak to most viewers as a symbol of something positive.

3. Model Paddle Brackets

These lovely paint-decorated model canoe paddles have unique heart-shaped wall display brackets. Both the paddles and the brackets are undoubtedly decorated with images that have meaning in the maker’s own life.

The heart shape of the brackets helps convey that the maker loved everything represented on the objects, among which were a dog and a special place in nature. 

4. Twig Stand

This stand is the most exuberant example of a heart motif among the antiques that we’ve owned. The heart is wider than both the top and the base of the stand, unabashedly calling attention to itself.

The willow twigs from which the heart was made are particularly conducive to bending into such a distinctive shape. Whether the craftsperson made this as a gift or to sell is anyone’s guess.

5. Mosaic Twig Table: Hearts and Star

This two tables featured as #5 and #6 in our list are among the finest examples of rustic mosaic twigwork that we’ve handled, and they both happen to feature heart designs.

A very skilled craftsperson made the table above. It required both mastery of design and execution to form twigs into hearts, a star and chevrons, as well as to create a coherent, symmetrical whole.

The hearts are particularly impressive because organic circular shapes are harder to make with these types of twigs than linear designs.

6. Mosaic Twig Table: Hearts and Diamonds

This mosaic twig table top has a graphically sophisticated square-within-a-circle design accented with diamonds, ovals and hearts.

The creator of this piece of extraordinary mosaic twigwork was proud enough to include his* (*presumably) initials both within the top twigwork and as a signature underneath the table top. This hints at the table being made for someone the woodworker knew, most likely a family member.

It is dated 1860 which is impressively early for rustic design.

7. Old Hickory Sideboard

Old Hickory introduced a distressed pine series in the 1930s that also incorporated decorative elements such as ropes and metal rings. Some of the pieces from that series (such as wall shelves) also had circular cutout designs, but this is the only piece we’ve had that features a prominent heart-shaped cutout. 

Given that this was a manufactured design, it is unlikely that the team of woodworkers who made it put a lot of emotional intent behind their work, but its owners in the decades since it was made might nevertheless have found it to be a personally “heart-warming” design.

8. Birch Bark Mocuck: Heart-shaped Leaves

Birch Bark Mocuck

The heart designs on this Native American etched birch bark mocuck are derived from nature, specifically representing the heart-shaped leaves of northern wood sorrel, a common plant of the forested home territories of Woodlands tribes.

The front and sides of the lidded container show the shamrock-like leaves in full, but the top reduces the image to a single heart-shaped leaflet, perhaps to connect the plant image from nature to a symbol of human emotion.

9. Birch Bark Mocuck: Fiddlehead Hearts

Fiddlehead hearts

The double-curve or fern fiddlehead design, such as is etched on the birch bark container pictured here, was an important and prominent element in early Northeastern Woodland tribes’ artwork.

By pairing two fiddleheads coming together at a pointed apex, the maker of this mocuck seemed to be intentionally evoking the traditional heart symbol, as well as the cultural significance of an abstracted representation of one of nature’s most graceful forms.

The two birch bark pieces we’ve shown as examples of heart-shaped plant motifs bear an interesting connection to a lesser-known theory of the origin of the heart symbol’s association with romantic love: the perfectly heart-shaped seed pod of the now-extinct giant fennel plant called Silphium which ancient Greeks and Romans used as a contraceptive. So hearts, plants and romantic love have a long history of association.

10. Beadwork Heart

Our final example is a Seneca beaded bag with a heart featured prominently at its center. The beaded designs on this bag also include stylized fiddleheads, flowers and other traditional iconography. It is an interesting juxtaposition of culturally significant Native American symbols with a fancy object made to appeal to Euro-American tastes and trends.

Perhaps the beaded heart called to the minds of both the fashionable lady who purchased this bag, and the Native woman who created it, thoughts of their loved ones.

Hearts Passing Hands

It is uplifting to think that the maker of an object who incorporated a heart into its decorative design decades or centuries ago may have been declaring positive emotions towards someone in particular, or was simply (intentionally or not) passing along good sentiments to whomever acquired the piece.

Perhaps our small virtual gallery exhibit will inspire you to seek out an antique with heart shapes to give to your own sweetheart, or just to live with as an object that subtly radiates a positive emotional presence in your own home.

Three Commemorative Fish Plaques


fish commemoratives

These fish portraits on wood commemorate three Smallmouth Bass caught in the early 20th century in New Hampshire’s Partridge Lake (near the town of Littleton, NH on the northern edge of the White Mountains bordering the Connecticut River).

commemorative fish plaques

They all came from the same cottage. Two are pencil sketches and one is pyrography, and they are dated 1905 and 1906.

fish commemoratives

The largest plaque is a pencil sketch on a rectangular plank that is 22″ long x 8.25″ high.

antique fish commemorative

The fish itself is 18” long, a size the angler must have thought impressive because there is a ruler drawn beneath the fish showing the tip of the tail at 18”.

antique fish commemorative

Its penciled inscription in the upper left says “Wednesday August 15th 1906.”

antique fish commemorative

The second largest plaque is 19.25″ long x 6″ high with a fish image that is 13″ long.

fish commemoratives

This portrait is wood-burned with a pyrography tool, including the decorative border around the edges of the plaque. 

antique fish commemorative

An ink inscription on the back simply says “Bass 1906.”

antique fish commemorative

The smallest plaque is 14.75″ long x 5″ high.

fish commemoratives

The pencil-drawn fish measures 12″ long.

antique fish commemorative

The inscription in the upper left corner says “Partridge Lake Bass July 16th 1905.”

antique fish commemorative

It is hard to know if the artist/angler first traced the outlines of the actual fish and then filled in the details, or did the entire portraits freehand.

The inscriptions on the largest and smallest plaques are definitely by the same hand. The brief inscription on the back of the pyrography plaque also seems to be in the same handwriting, given how the “a” in Bass is shaped. It is likely then, that the cottage owner or one family member was an enthusiastic angler.

About Partridge Lake

The lake was originally called Partridge Pond, named after an early large landowner, Nathaniel Partridge. In the 1700s the area around the lake was sparsely settled, with just two small enterprises near the lake shore – a boarding house that rented boats and fed horses of day trippers to the lake, and a small farm.

Partridge Lake map

It was not until the early 1900s that the lake became a summer resort area and people began to build private cottages along its shores.

At that time, Partridge Pond became known as Partridge Lake, which was perhaps a rebranding to appeal to rusticators.

lakeside rusticators

It is a warm water lake, with the majority of its 99 acres being between 10-30′ deep, with a few spots in the center reaching 40-50’ deep.  The lake still has a thriving population of Largemouth and Smallmouth Bass.

Partridge Lake

Types of Fish Commemoratives

We are attracted to all sorts of fish art, from paintings to carvings, whether they are folky representations or professionally rendered.  Much of this piscine art aims to document the beauty and allure of an entire fish species, or fish in general.

In contrast, the genre of sporting art that these three plaques fit into is called commemorative art. Commemoratives are created to celebrate one very particular fish, the person who caught it, and the place, date and how it was caught.

For hundreds of years proud anglers have documented their catch with commemoratives. Sometimes commemoratives document a “trophy” fish—one that is particularly large or heavy for its species and location.

But often a fish commemorative simply aims to preserve anglers’ fond memories of an experience, such as a fishing trip, or their sentimental attachment to a special setting.

We once visited a lakeside camp in New Hampshire that had a wall covered with fish drawings on planks, each memorializing a particular fish that generations of family members had pulled from the lake over 100+ years.

While taxidermy is one way to commemorate a particular fish, drawings, paintings, carvings and cut-out silhouettes allow the catchers to have their fish and eat it, too, so to speak.

Also, these alternative methods of preserving a memory of a fish can be less expensive to produce than taxidermy, depending on whether the angler also fulfills the role of artist or has the artwork done by a professional.

Here is an overview of various types of both homemade and professional fish commemoratives from our archives of antiques that we’ve sold over the years.

1. Professional Carving

Tully carved salmon

This salmon carving commemorates a salmon caught on a Scottish river in August 1898. It was created  by John Tully (1862-1931) and Dhuie Tully (1862-1950), a husband and wife fish modeling team who lived in Scotland. John carved the fish that anglers brought to him to commemorate, and Dhulie painted them. They are considered to be among the finest professional artisans ever to have worked in the commemorative fish carving tradition.

2. Professional Painting

salmon painting

This salmon was painted on tin by a professional carriage painter named Alphonso W. Ellis. The bottom inscription reads “Caught in Weld Pond May 1886 by George D. Bisben. Length 29″ Weight 11 lbs.”

3. Professional Taxidermy: Skin Mounts

Nash of Maine Mezzo Mounts

Captain John Waldo Nash (1862-1919) originated and patented a method of taxidermy known as a Mezzo mount, which is a fish skin mounted over a raised oval hardwood board. We bought and sold these two “Nash of Maine” mounts many years ago, but can occasionally still find original Nash mounts.

The Land-Locked Salmon backboard was inscribed: “Caught by Stuart H. Patterson spring of 1901 near Billy Soules camp Cupsuptic Lake Rangeley, Maine. Weight 7 ¼, 1 ¼  hours to land. Single strand leader.”

The Brook Trout backboard was inscribed “Caught by Stuart H. Patterson in 1903 near Senator Frye’s Camp at Junction of Mosse lmegumtic and Cupsuptic Lakes, Rangeley Lake. Wt. 5 ¾ lb.”

4. Folk Plaque

salmon plaque

This plaque features a salmon profile cut from pine (perhaps made from a tracing of the actual fish) and enhanced with carved details, then mounted on a shaped and painted backboard. It is inscribed “Chinook Salmon. Caught by Lena Congdon May 11, 1941. Weight 7 lbs, Fly Grey Ghost. Guide Stewart Young, 1st Conn Lake, N.H.”

5. Folk Silhouettes

fish silhouettes

These three wooden cut-outs of a salmon and two rainbow trout commemorate fish caught in April 1958 on Sunapee Lake in New Hampshire.

In recent times, traditional methods of commemorating a fish catch have given way to digital photography.

This recent “long arm shot” (holding the fish at arm’s length to exaggerate its size) shows a proud fisherman (posted on with a 4 lb 6 oz Smallmouth Bass caught on a New Hampshire lake not far from Partridge Lake. 

While photographs can capture the beauty of a fish more accurately than other types of fish memorials, they do not have as much tactile or universal appeal as traditional commemoratives.

Historical Camp Décor

In order to imagine the context that the three Smallmouth Bass commemoratives might have resided in, we found these photos of a camp on Partridge Lake that was built in 1900, during the same time period that these commemoratives were made.  

Partridge Lake cottage

It is easy to picture a person walking down to the lake from this camp, fishing pole in hand, and walking back up holding a bass to trace.

Partridge Lake cottage

The unfussy interior of the camp probably looks much the same in this recent photo as it did in the early decades of the 1900s. The three Smallmouth Bass fish portraits would have looked right at home on its plain board walls.

Antique commemorative fish portraits are quintessential decor for a lakeside camp, adding visual delight while also holding within them the proverbial story of a fish catch.

fish commemoratives

Regional Rustic: Furniture from the Southern U.S.


southern rustic stand

Antique rustic furniture seldom comes with a handy, origin-identifying “Made in (name of place)” label.

Nor do antiques always turn up in the geographical regions where they were made.

Over the span of generations, families move around the country taking their furniture with them; estates get sold at auction and shipped out of state; or dealers travel across states to antiques shows with furniture they picked locally then sell to buyers from far-away locales who do not necessarily pass along information about where it came from to the next person who purchases it.

Since the provenance of antiques often gets lost in these ways over the years of being bought and sold or inherited and dispersed, dealers need to be able to recognize patterns in design, materials and construction techniques to determine the origin of a piece.

But being able to recognize and group pieces of rustic furniture according to similar characteristics is just the first step. Determining the geographical region where they were made requires having archetypes—similar pieces whose origins are documented—to relate them to.

Thankfully, such reference pieces do exist—in museums, photographs, books, family histories and verbal provenance that sometimes is successfully passed along from sellers to buyers.

This is exactly the process we’ve used to hone our skills at identifying rustic furniture produced in the southern United States during the late-19th to early-20th centuries.

Southern Rustic

The catchall term “Southern rustic” refers more specifically to furniture made by craftsmen in the Southern Appalachian region of the U.S., which includes West Virginia, southwestern Virginia, eastern Kentucky and Tennessee, western North Carolina, South Carolina, northern Georgia, and northeastern Alabama.

Antique rustic furniture from these areas has several distinguishing features. Below is a description of the four most distinctive Southern rustic furniture traditions, along with photos of pieces that illustrate them, made by both known and anonymous craftsmen. Most of the pieces incorporate more than one Southern design element, bolstering evidence of their origin.

1. Sinuous Twig Trim

Two of the hardwood species most commonly used in Southern rustic furniture were rhododendron and mountain laurel. Many designs featured these species’ thin, naturally arched and curving twigs and roots

southern rustic cupboard

The maker of the small Southern rustic cupboard above spelled out his initials “EDL” and the date “1912” with curved twigs placed on either side of the mirror. The two doors, as well as the two side panels, have figural and geometric designs made from sinuous twigs and roots, including hearts, stars and trees.

southern rustic coffee table

The small coffee table above illustrates another common Southern design technique: using naturally curved rhododendron branches as stretchers and braces. Although we do not know the name of the person who made this table, we do know that it was made in Lakemont, Georgia around 1925 (along with a number of other pieces) for the Lake Rabun Hotel.

Georgia rustic furniture
This photo shows several pieces of a 30-piece set of rustic furniture when it was still in place in a sitting room of the Lake Rabun Hotel in Georgia (from “Rustic Traditions” by Ralph Kylloe, 1993)

2. Partially Peeled Twigs

southern rustic footstool

The legs, stretchers and darker twig apron trim on this circa 1920 Southern mosaic twig footstool are rhododendron branches. Each one is partially peeled to create a pattern of light and dark contrasts.

The maker lightly peeled areas to remove only the top layer of bark, but did not gouge into the wood. Peeled striations highlight the legs’ vertical height, while other peeled areas are more lozenge-shaped. The fully peeled light maple twigs along the apron complement the lighter inner bark of the partially-peeled rhododendron twigs, creating a pleasing interplay of colors. This woodworker had a good eye for design.

southern rustic stand

The drink stand above was made in North Carolina around 1920. It is completely clad with tightly pieced halved twigs that are partially peeled to reveal the lighter inner bark.

southern rustic stand

Unlike the even spacing of peeled areas in the footstool above, the maker of this stand randomly peeled both small and wide patches of bark to create a decorative pattern.

southern rustic planter

The half-round twigs forming the case of this planter, as well as the rhododendron branch legs and sinuous stretchers, also have partially peeled surfaces. The peeled areas are wide, amorphous patches rather than evenly shaped dots or lozenges.

blowing rock rustic stand

A final example of partially-peeled wood elements is this small stand made in the 1920s by Charles Dobbins from Blowing Rock, North Carolina.

The stand is a good illustration of how Dobbins typically peeled both cylindrical sapling trunks and sinuous twigs to create light/dark surface contrasts.

blowing rock rustic stand
This stand is one of the rare pieces of antique rustic furniture that did come with the equivalent of a “Made in . . .”  label attached to its base.

3. Notched Twigs

While notching twigs resulted in the same contrasting light and dark patterns as partially peeling them, notches were gouged deeper into the wood. Notched twig furniture thus has a bumpy texture.

Ben Davis rustic table

This library table from the 1920s is one of the signature designs of Reverend Ben Davis (born in 1876)—he made several of the same style over the years. Davis was a Baptist minister who preached throughout western North Carolina and made rustic furniture to supplement his income. All of the natural twig elements in his tables are deeply and evenly notched. In this example, the inner wood is darker than the surface bark. The rhododendron root burl accents are also notched.

southern rustic table

This table is more simply designed and constructed than Ben Davis’s furniture, but nonetheless every single twig is similarly ornamented with notch carving.

southern rustic table
A close-up view shows the droplet-shaped notches created with a chisel or pocket knife.
southern rustic stand

Our final example of notch decoration is this exquisite Southern stand dating from 1920-30. Although we do not know the identity of the maker, we do know that he was born in 1854 based on a gift inscription on one piece dated 1935 saying “From Father in his 81st year.”

The design of his stands (we’ve owned several by this hand) are very symmetrical, and all are extremely well constructed. Each twig has multiple, even rows of notching. By placing the notched twigs vertically, horizontally and diagonally in mosaic patterns, the maker achieved an even more dynamic design than the light/dark notching alone creates.

4. Twig and Burl Latticework

 One of the most elaborate Southern rustic furniture techniques involved creating open lattice patterns with twigs and root burls.

southern rustic burl chairs

These exceptional rhododendron root arm chairs feature elaborate rhododendron root burl lattice-work on the back and aprons. They have a strong sculptural presence and are representative of a classic, vernacular form of rustic furniture from the Southern Appalachian region of West Virginia being made at the turn of the 20th century.  

southern rustic screen

Rhododendron or mountain laurel root burls are pieced between long and straight notched branches to create the frame of this Southern rustic room screen. The open areas between the root burls create a lattice effect.

southern rustic fireplace screen

The same materials and techniques were used to create this smaller circa 1900 frame. It would have originally had a fabric insert to serve as a decorative screen in front of a fireplace during the summer months.

southern rustic shelves

This set of standing shelves is a final, and exceptionally fine example of Southern root burl lattice work. It was made in North Carolina around 1910. Its maker painstakingly applied fine root segments all along the frame, and carefully pieced together root burls in panels between the frame elements. The whole piece manages to be simultaneously delicate and sturdy, a rustic masterpiece made by a very skilled woodworker.

Themes and Variations

Designing and making rustic furniture has always been a creative process, so even when a craftsman was immersed in a regional design tradition, each maker’s work was unique.

Some Southern rustic furniture makers were particularly good at cohesive and symmetrical design, while others had extraordinary cabinetmaking skills that resulted in well-constructed, refined furniture. And then there were those who put traditional design elements together in completely surprising ways.

Blowing Rock lamp
A clock/lamp combo made by the Blowing Rock, North Carolina artist Charles Dobbins.

Part of the fun of studying antique rustic furniture is learning to recognize regional themes among all of the fascinating variations.  

rhododendron root stand
A Southern rhododendron root table (from “Rustic Traditions” by Ralph Kylloe, 1993)

Lake Painting by Vivian Milner Akers


painting Vivian Milner Akers

This American Impressionist oil-on-artist’s-board captures an intimate slice of nature: a shoreline with birches and aspens in the foreground and a lake beyond.

The scene is Pennesseewassee Lake in the western Maine town of Norway, but it evokes shoreline settings common in lake regions all across the northeastern United States.

painting Vivian Milner Akers

The painting (sight size: 13.5″ w x 16.5″ h; frame size: 19.5″ w x 22.25″) was created by Norway, Maine native son Vivian Milner Akers (1886-1966) in 1943.

painting Vivian Milner Akers
Vivian Milner Akers
Akers in the 1920s.

Akers often painted en plein air and this painting captures the vibrancy of the living landscape he likely was looking at as he painted. The textured surface created with lively sweeps of a brush and painting knife that left thickened areas of paint also contribute to a sense of movement in the trees, sky and water.

Vivian Milner Akers painting

The scenery around Pennesseewassee Lake has been prized by locals and visitors for many generations, and has been featured on photo postcards since the early 1900s:

Lake Pennesswassee
1907 postcard of Pennesseewassee Lake
Pennesseewassee Lake
1922 postcard of Pennesseewassee Lake
Pennesseewassee Lake
1940 postcard of Pennesseewassee Lake

It is still a scenic and popular lake. We visited there in September 2019 and took this photograph from the boat launch:

Pennesseewassee Lake

Akers painted different scenes along this 5-mile long lake lake many times. It is fair to say that for him, this lake was a muse.

A bog at one end of the lake which Akers captured at sunrise. (private collection)
Akers painting
Akers’ inscription on the back of the bog painting.
Vivian Milner Akers painting
A Pennesswasee scene that Akers painted in a more pointillist style. (private collection)

While Akers’ artistic development and inspiration were rooted in Maine, he was also quite worldly and benefited tremendously through associations with other gifted and notable artists, within and beyond his home state.

About Akers: An Artist from Childhood Onward

Akers was a multi-talented artist his entire life. He once commented about being given a box of pastels by a neighbor when he was five years old that “Miss Hatch thought she was presenting me only a gift. In reality she was founding a career.”

Vivian Milner Akers
A photo of Akers kneeling in costume around the age when he first became interested in art. The photo was taken by noted Norway photographer “Miss Libby” whose work influenced Akers’ later interest in photography.

At the age of 19, Akers went to New York for about a year where he took courses at the Art Students League. He did this with the sponsorship of a prominent Norway native who recognized the young Akers’ talent, and who lived and worked in New York City for Joseph Pulitzer as business manager for his newspaper the New York World

Vivian Milner Akers
Akers as a young man.

This began a life-long pattern in which Akers would leave Maine periodically for work and study with the help of prominent sponsors who were often people who summered in Maine’s western mountains and lakes region. But after periods living and studying elsewhere, Akers always returned to live and work in his hometown of Norway.

Akers’ father also recognized the boy’s budding talent and offered to support him for a few years to focus on his art after he graduated from a local post-secondary academy in 1908. Akers built a “shack” in his family’s apple orchard to serve as a studio where he worked diligently for 4 years solely on his art.

Vivian Milner Akers painting
Akers painted a Lake Pennessewassee scene on this Norway Grange Hall stage curtain in 1910 during the early, exploratory stages of his career (photo:

Akers then taught school briefly before becoming a commercial photographer, purchasing a photography business and studio in Norway in 1914. In 1929 he had the photography studio moved 50’ off Norway’s Main Street, and after several upgrades to the building he made it into both his home and studio for the rest of his life. 

Vivian Milner Akers
Akers home and studio as it appeared during his lifetime.
Vivian Akers' studio
In September 2019, with the help of the curator of the Norway Historical Society, we were able to find and take this photo of Akers’ former studio, now being used as a storage shed.

Akers seems to have made a living primarily from photography until about 1935, while also continuing to paint and develop his additional artistic skills.

Relationships with Rusticators: Artistic Opportunities and Influences

The western Maine region around Norway is graced with numerous beautiful lakes and mountains that attracted city dwellers beginning in the rusticator heyday of the mid- to late-19th century.

These seasonal residents included prominent artists who influenced Akers, as well as well-to-do families who purchased his artwork and decorative embellishment services.

One lasting influence on Akers was the painter John Joseph Enneking (1841-1916), who is known as America’s first Impressionist. He had a summer home in North Newry, Maine not far from Akers’ home town of Norway.

Although Enneking had settled in Boston after being held prisoner by the Confederate Army during the Civil War, he went to Europe in 1872 to study painting. While living in Paris from 1873-1876 he painted alongside Monet and Pissaro in Monet’s garden, and also mingled with Millet, Corot, Renoir and Manet. Enneking’s Impressionist style is evident in artwork he produced of the New England countryside once he had settled back in the U.S.

Oil on canvas by John J. Enneking (

As a young man, Akers was impressed with Enneking, stating in a newspaper interview that “Enneking is the first man I ever saw painting Maine in colors as Maine really looks.”

He was influenced by Enneking to experiment with an Impressionist style.  Akers even chose an iconic Impressionist subject—waterlilies—for several paintings.

Akers' painting
At a Maine auction in 2006 we bid on an Akers’ waterlilies painting that was very similar to this 1922 waterlilies painting of his, which sold for $15,275 in 2005. (photo: The one we bid on ultimately sold to another bidder for $19,950, setting a record for the sale of his work.

In 1930, as Akers continued to hone his landscape painting skills, he was hired by a wealthy rusticator family (the Vivians, who were perhaps Akers’ relatives since his mother’s last name was Vivian) to decorate a bunkhouse in their Penneseewassee Lake cottage compound. He painted a huge 4’ x 8’ map of the lake to hang over the room’s fireplace.

akers lake painting
A view that Akers painted of Penneseewassee Lake, where rusticators “from away” built cottages in the early 1900s. (

Akers also trimmed the bunkhouse with original wood carvings, a skill he had been practicing since the 1920s, in part by embellishing his own home studio with carved doors, paneling and handmade furniture.

Another opportunity-maker for Akers was Douglas Volk (1856-1935), a renowned portrait artist and rusticator who had purchased a home in 1898 on Kezar Lake in Lovell, Maine, nearby to Norway. Douglas and his wife Marion Volk, a textile artist, established an artists’ colony which is still active today, at their home on the lake which they called “Hewnoaks.”

Hewnoaks in its early days.

Akers interacted with the Volks, as well as with the many artists who visited and produced artworks at Hewnoaks. This included prominent artists of the Arts and Crafts Movement such as painters Frank Benson, John Calvin Stevens, Childe Hassam, William Merritt Chase, and the woodcarver Karl A. von Rydingsvärd.

Painters Akers and Volk
Douglas Volk (l) with Vivian Akers (r). The two men had a mutual respect for one another, and Volk served as a mentor to Akers.

While Akers gravitated naturally to landscape painting, with encouragement from Volk he also developed skills as a portrait painter, which was a natural progression from his work as a portrait photographer.

Photograph by Vivian Akers
Akers’ photo portrait of famed Norway, Maine snowshoe maker Mellie Dunham.

Akers recounted that he typically took up to 50 photographic studies of a person whose portrait he was to paint “to study the person as I could not in any other way.”

In 1934 Akers opened a portrait painting studio in Plainfield, New Jersey for a few years, encouraged by one of Norway’s rusticator families from the New York City area. A 1936 newspaper article reported that Akers had painted 54 portraits since moving to New Jersey, and “his compensation for each…has run well into three figures.”

One of the portraits Akers painted, showing a girl with his own cat, was selected in 1936 for display in New York’s National Academy of Design 1936 show.

Akers painting

Akers’ portrait work culminated in 1954 with a commission to paint a portrait of Chief Justice Earl Warren, which now hangs in a 40” x 50” frame (also made by Akers), at Occidental College (Warren’s alma mater).

Portrait by VIvian Akers
Akers with his portrait of Chief Justice Earl Warren in 1954.

While Akers’ interest in wood carving began in the 1920s when the Arts and Crafts movement had many followers in the United States, it extended into his later career as well, as he applied his carving skills to making picture frames.

Akers reportedly started making frames in the 1930s under the influence of the well-known Pennsylvania Arts & Crafts master frame maker, Frederick Harer. It is surmised that Akers met Harer while Akers was living and working in New Jersey, and some Norway residents recalled that Akers made frames for Harer’s workshop for a time. Akers went on to make hand-carved frames for many of his own paintings for the rest of his career.  

Akers always had a somewhat peripatetic lifestyle as he pursued his art, with travels made possible through connections with influential people who summered in Norway. For instance, the rusticator Vivian family recruited friends within their New York social circle to underwrite Akers’ painting trips to places such as Switzerland and California’s Sierra Mountains in exchange for receiving some of the paintings he produced in those locales.

Akers painting
Sierra Mountains scene by Vivian Milne Akers, 1928 (

Over the years Akers exhibited his paintings in New York, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania. But one of his largest and final exhibits was in Maine in 1949, fittingly in the town where he was born. At the Universalist Church in his hometown of Norway, he showed over 200 paintings (both landscapes and portraits), a large carved panel, and 68 very small (about 7” square) landscapes painted on hardwood, a style that he had begun creating in the 1930s.

Akers painting
One of the small landscapes on wood that Akers created to sell as souvenirs in local Norway stores. (private collection)

Akers died in 1966 at the age of 79 in the place he loved best: Norway, Maine.

Vivian Akers
Akers, about ten years before his death.

People young and old throughout the town fondly remembered Akers’ kindness and generosity.

Those personal qualities, as well as the many paintings owned by families who recognized his multiple artistic talents in his lifetime and in the decades since, are his lasting legacy.  

Vivian Akers painting


Several photos and most of the biographical details in this article are derived from the monograph titled “Vivian Akers of Norway, Maine, 1886-1966 A Brief Biography” by David Sanderson. Written for The Norway Summer Festival, June 2004.

Pierce Galleries, online artist biography of John Joseph Enneking,

Antiquing Frames of Mind


antique frames

What motivates you to buy antiques?

Our Musings this month explore this question as a follow-up to our recent article on Antiques as Slow Decor. We’ll dig deeper into the frames of mind that compel people to diverge from the trend of quick consumerism to shop for antiques, even when it takes more effort than buying mass-produced merchandise with the click of a mouse.

Enthusiasts of antiques and vintage goods approach their pursuit from all kinds of angles, for all kinds of reasons. We’ve compiled a list of 11 of the motivations that we’ve seen underlying the fascinating human behavior known broadly as antiquing.

And just for fun, we’ve put each motivation on a continuum so that you can rate how central each one is to your own attraction to antiques and antiquing.

Antiques show shoppers. (

Motivations for Buying Antiques

   1.  Appreciation of Quality

A somewhat broad, but often accurate generalization, is that old things are almost always made better than new things—due both to the quality of the materials used, and to the craftsmanship applied to their creation. Even everyday objects were made to last “back then,” before a mindset of novelty, plenty and disposability infiltrated our manufacturing and buying habits.

               How motivating is lasting quality in your attraction to antiques and antiquing? 

                      Barely >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> Highly

                          1             2             3             4             5

   2.  Aesthetic Appeal

The classic design or whimsy of an old object, plus its time-worn patina, combine to give antiques a presence that is hard to replicate with something new. Also, finding an antique which appeals to your personal taste that is also one-of-a-kind makes it all the more alluring.

      How motivating is aesthetic appeal in your attraction to antiquing?              

                      Barely >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> Highly

                          1             2             3             4             5

   3.  Appreciation of Design Heritage

Design movements are typically rooted in a place, a time period and often an aesthetic philosophy. Even if you acquire just a single antique, understanding the historical context of its creation can deepen your appreciation of it.

Sometimes exploring the roots and context of a design movement extends beyond appreciating individual objects by inspiring people to recreate an entire, historically accurate setting in their home—such as by decorating an Adirondack Great Camp in the style popularized by Gilded Age rusticators.

       How motivating is appreciating design heritage in your attraction to antiques and antiquing?    

                      Barely >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> Highly

                          1             2             3             4             5

   4.  Connoisseurship

This is where appreciating quality, aesthetics and design heritage come together in a deeper way through sustained study of a particular genre of antiques.

Becoming a connoisseur requires looking at, and often owning, lots of examples of a category of antiques to learn to discern what makes one example different from, and better than, another.

Connoisseurship also entails consulting resources, including both books and people, as part of the learning process. Ultimately, a connoisseur of antiques finds satisfaction in being able to competently recognize and rate how an antique measures up to others of its type, for instance by classifying it as Good, Better, Best, Superior, or Masterpiece—a continuum that antiques dealer Albert Sack developed for evaluating early American furniture.

      How motivating is connoisseurship in your attraction to antiques and antiquing? 

                      Barely >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> Highly

                          1             2             3             4             5

   5.  Story and Provenance

All antiques have a provenance (a story of its origin and life-history) even if most of the time we don’t know all of its specifics. Uncovering who made something, and who owned it down through the years, can be a thrill for some antiques buyers and can also influence the antique’s value.

Even when an antique’s ownership history is not traceable, it is usually possible at least to figure out when something was made, and in what general region. But just knowing that an object has played a role in the lives of others throughout decades or even centuries allows us to imagine its storied past.

               How motivating is an object’s story in your attraction to antiques and antiquing? 

                     Barely >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> Highly

                          1             2             3             4             5

   6.  Emotional Resonance

Time and again we have seen shoppers alight on an antique simply because it speaks to them in some way that is often difficult for them to articulate. We call that resonance.

Sometimes an object directly evokes good memories, perhaps of a grandmother’s home or a childhood summer cottage. But it can also touch one’s core identity by subconsciously striking a chord with who you are or hope to be. Like art, old objects can be inspiring, even if just enough to make you smile. 

                How motivating is emotional resonance in your attraction to antiques and antiquing? 

                      Barely >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> Highly

                          1             2             3             4             5

   7.  Creative Expression

Selecting and arranging antiques and vintage goods can be a form of creative expression. They are the raw ingredients for truly novel room combinations that would be difficult to achieve solely with mass-produced furniture and décor.

The popular term “curating” is applicable here. It implies both to mindful selection of objects to live with, and to creatively arranging them. If you have curatorial inclinations, it is likely that antiques inspire you to indulge them.

     How motivating is creative expression in your attraction to antiques and antiquing? 

                     Barely >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> Highly

                          1             2             3             4             5

  8.  Instagrammable Interiors

We decorate with antiques for personal reasons, both aesthetic and functional, but also to create spaces that other people will enjoy.

Social media allows us to reach beyond our immediate family and friends to share our aesthetics with people who will never set foot in our homes.

While it’s easy to be cynical about the self-marketing dimensions of beautiful Instagram posts, a more positive view is to appreciate how easy it is to share one’s pride of place and taste with others. If someone garners even a little inspiration from seeing how you use and display great old objects in your home, then you’ve made the world a slightly happier place.

                How motivating is inspiring others in your attraction to antiques and antiquing?               

                       Barely >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> Highly

                          1             2             3             4             5

   9.  The Thrill of the Hunt

We’ve known many antiques collectors and dealers who refer to the process of shopping for antiques as “treasure hunting.”

The scarcity and uniqueness of most categories of desirable antiques provide endless opportunity to hunt for treasures. When dedicated and even arduous hunting yields a find, the reward is not just the object itself, but also an intoxicating feeling of euphoria.

For those who are competitive by nature, there is an added thrill of being the one among many hunters to find a really good, one-of-a kind or scarce object. If you regard antiquing as a sport, then your goal is of course to be a winner.

Finally, when finding just the right antique entails a multi-step or multi-months hunt, the story of how you acquired it becomes part of your and its history, giving it all the more meaning in your life.

           How motivating is the thrill of the hunt in your attraction to antiquing?                

                      Barely >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> Highly

                          1             2             3             4             5


   10.  The Thrill of a Bargain

The thrill of getting a bargain when shopping for antiques has two dimensions.

The first is tied to finding an object “under the money.” It might very well be an expensive object that costs thousands of dollars, yet is priced hundreds or even thousands of dollars below its current market value. (Caveat emptor: The marketplace has a way of defaulting to the truism that you get what you pay for, so be extra cautious when you think you’re getting an inordinately great deal on an antique.)

The other dimension of bargain hunting for antiques is the thrill of finding really good things that are inexpensive. These objects might be priced exactly at their true market value, yet are a good value in every sense of the term, usually because they cost less than a new object of similar quality. Solid, well-designed antique furniture for example, can often be obtained for a fraction of the cost of similar pieces that are handmade in limited production by contemporary cabinet makers.  

               How motivating is the thrill of a bargain in your attraction to antiquing? 

                      Barely >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> Highly

                          1             2             3             4             5

   11.  Social Connection

Finding camaraderie among fellow antiques enthusiasts heightens many people’s enjoyment of antiquing. We’ve known collectors who are as motivated by getting together with members of their collecting clubs as they are by the material they collect.

Chatting with others who share your interests and understand the significance of your discoveries, often the same people with whom you have good-natured rivalries and jealousies about who acquires what, adds a social dimension to the hobby of antiquing.

Another aspect of making social connections around antiques is the seemingly old-fashioned practice of developing a close relationship with an antiques dealer whose recommendations, advice and merchandise you trust. Especially at higher levels of connoisseurship and budget, a dealer’s vetting and curating roles, as well as gaining access to first-pick offerings, can be essential to serious collectors.

               How motivating are social relationships in your attraction to antiques and antiquing? 

                        Barely >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> Highly

                           1          2          3          4          5

Antiquing as Nonconformist Consumerism

Human behaviors, even one as seemingly basic as shopping, are complex in part because of the multitude of motivations that factor into our decision making.  Now that you’ve discovered a bit more about what motivates your own shopping for antiques, let all of that complexity take care of itself and just have fun doing it!

What all of these dimensions add up to for us is a profile of someone who appreciates beauty, is intellectually curious, and prefers to forge their own creative path as a consumer and home decorator.  

As a small business specializing in antiques, we rely on people like that—people like you—who embrace the process of shopping for antiques. Despite the convenience of online and mass-market shopping, thankfully there are still many people who are enthusiastic participants in the endlessly fascinating world of antiquing.  

Crowds rushing through an opening gate at the Brimfield Antiques Market. (

Cree Birch Bark Canoe


Cree birch bark canoe

As the summer season unfolds, fortunate vacationers and cottage owners will have the opportunity to spend peaceful hours on the water paddling canoes. It is thus a fitting time to remember and celebrate Native-made birch bark canoes, the progenitor of recreational canoes made of wood and canvas, aluminum, or high-tech plastic that most of us use today.

Cree birch bark canoe

This birch bark canoe that we’re now offering for sale is a traditional Eastern Cree hunter’s canoe that we obtained in Quebec where it was made in the 1920s.

Eastern Cree territory

Eastern Cree homelands run along the east coast of lower Hudson Bay and James Bay, and inland southeastward from James Bay (for perspective, the Eastern Cree community of Wemindji is 820 miles northwest of Montreal).

Thanks to the scholar Edwin Tappan Adney and his colleague Howard I. Chapelle whose book The Bark Canoes and Skin Boats of North America (Smithsonian Institution, 1964) documented the detailed characteristics of many different tribes’ canoes, it is possible to match this canoe’s attributes to those of Eastern Cree designs.

Bark canoes page
Illustration of Cree canoe details by Adney & Chapelle

This canoe is petite at only 12’ long (by 32” wide and 15” high). Adney and Chapelle describe this model as a straight-bottom Cree hunter’s canoe that is lightweight and a sized to hold one paddler plus gear.

Cree birch bark canoe

This barely (possibly never) used canoe came from the Montreal area, so it was most likely purchased by an affluent sportsman after a fishing expedition led by a Cree guide in the greater James Bay region.

Cree birch bark canoe
Early photo of Eastern Cree guides with canoe (Adney & Chapelle)

Canoes could be transported between James Bay and Montreal via railway beginning in the early 1900s—and still can be (we have used that service ourselves).

birch bark canoe exterior

The canoe’s bark has an appealingly aged, amber patina. As per tradition, the inner bark of the birch tree was used for the exterior of the canoe, while the less waterproof, flakey exterior birch tree bark was turned to the inside of the canoe, scraped to make it smoother, and then covered with planking and ribs.

Cree birch bark canoe
Stretching out a roll of birch bark to begin canoe building. (Adney & Chapelle)

Most of the body of the canoe is a single piece of birch bark, but the sides have additional panels that were added to attain necessary width.

Cree birch bark canoe
A page from Adney & Chapelle showing how birch bark was cut and gores and panels inserted.

The cuts that were made to shape the bark were then overlapped and sewn together with spruce root.

Cree birch bark canoe

Those seams, as well as the seams joining the side panels to the rest of the bark, were then sealed.

Cree birch bark canoe

The seams of this canoe are sealed with real pitch (not tar, which was sometimes used as a sealant for later canoes) that would have been heated and mixed with wood ash or charcoal and deer fat to repel water.

Cree birch bark canoe

Strips of sinew lashing join the bark to the stems.

Cree birch bark canoe

Cloth impregnated with pitch is tacked over the portion of the stems that ride in or close to the water to reinforce the waterproofing.

Cree birch bark canoe

The birch bark sides are rolled over the top of the inwale, then a cap rail was added on top and nailed down to the inwale.

Cree birch bark canoe

The cedar ribs, gunwales and planks of this canoe are hand riven rather than sawn.

Cree birch bark canoe

The narrow, v-shaped cedar boards inserted into the bow and stern are called headboards. They close off and brace the hull in the area beyond the ribs.

Cree birch bark canoe

Finally, thick, native-tanned moose hide straps are lashed to the center thwart to hold paddles during portaging, and another piece of hide tied to two thwarts was probably used as a painter to secure the boat to a tree at a landing.

Cree birch bark canoe

The Canoe’s Decorative Value

Although this canoe is probably still water tight, or could be made so with a few touches of pitch sealant, its best use now is as a decorative object. It is really hard to find an antique birch bark canoe that is such a perfect size for displaying on a wall or from rafters.

Hanging canoes as décor in rustic lodges goes way back to the turn-of-the-20th-century rusticator era. This circa 1900 photo of an Adirondack lodge interior shows a birch bark canoe displayed on a wall, with taxidermy bear heads above and plaques of Native American silhouettes below it.

birch bark canoe in adirondack lodge

We expect that our canoe’s days of traversing waterways are over, but hopefully it will continue to be admired for its looks, as well as for the important role that birch bark canoes played in the evolutionary history of watercraft.

Cree birch bark canoe

Exceptional Bird-Adorned Rustic Planter


masterful rustic planter

The most compelling pieces of rustic furniture showcase a craftsman’s imaginative use of organic forms found in nature. The raw materials for these creations are typically the durable parts of woody plants: twigs, branches, trunks, branch collars, bark, cones, seeds, bracts, roots, burls and vines.

A skilled rustic artisan is able to integrate the intriguing shapes, colors, sizes and textures of these plant parts into a harmonious design.

The creator of this alluring rustic planter excelled at doing just that.

masterful rustic planter

Made in France in the early 1900s, this planter (21” wide, 17” deep, 38” high) succeeds at being simultaneously utilitarian and decorative.

masterful rustic planter
Planter viewed from the opposite side – either side could be displayed as the front.

The open case is roomy enough to hold a robust display of plants. The bottom of the case has a fitted metal tray to protect the wood from water. The interior sides are lined with green painted canvas, which also creates a moisture barrier between the wooden case and the plants.

rustic planter interior

While the interior of the planter is designed for practicality, its exterior is all about decorative impact.

masterful rustic planter

The elaborately ornamented plant case has a scalloped upper edge formed by 14 gracefully rounded segments that extend upward from the rim. Those segments are separated by scooped curves, so in total the edge design creates a pleasing interplay of positive and negative space.

That dynamic is accented by contrasting bark cladding—the background of the tall scalloped edges is dark bark, while the areas beneath the low scoops are covered in lighter color bark.

masterful rustic planter

The wave-like motion of the undulating edge is further enhanced by sinuous outlining of each dark and light panel with pliable twigs or vines. Slightly thinner supple twigs bent into semi-circles also create delicate scalloped edging along the bottom of the case.

Each panel of the case also has raised flowers created with pine cone bracts, and the darker panels also have flatter, lacy flowers made from bark cut-outs.

The design motifs on the case are echoed on the base of the planter, which also has contrasting light and dark bark panels with twig outlining, pine cone bract floral decoration, and a graceful, curving perimeter.

masterful rustic planter

The sturdy central pedestal of the planter is formed from the trunk of a small, vine-encircled tree turned upside down, so that the spreading roots are at the top where they form supports for the case. Side branches are applied further down on the trunk, and the bottom of the pole is encircled with root burls, completing the illusion that this is an upright, branching tree.

Keep Reading

Antiques as Slow Décor


yellow traffic light

During every waking moment, all of us are bombarded with opportunities to buy things, and then experience quick satisfaction when those goods arrive on our doorstep one or two days later—or perhaps even by drone on the very same day.

Although commercial consumerism has been a component of people’s daily lives for hundreds of years,

old advertisement

now that we spend so much of our lives online it is ubiquitous, insidious and inescapable.

Linger for 30 minutes comparing backpacks in an online store, and receive a 10% discount postcard in the mail from that outdoor gear store two days later.

Abandon a package of LED light-bulbs in an online shopping cart, and get periodic email reminders to log back in to close the deal.

Shop multiple fashion sites for elegant special-event garb, and be subjected to pop-up ads for similar clothing for months after you’re hoping never to need such fancy apparel again.

(For an amusing and only slightly exaggerated take on the tentacles of online commerce and smart speaker eavesdropping, see the recent short New Yorker humor essay Disturbing Digital Coincidences.”)

smart speaker

This aggressive marketing of online behemoths results in “fast consumerism,” in which getting the goods we want or need is just a mouse click away. But to cultural critics, “fast” means more than the timeframe in which we’re able to choose, purchase and receive goods. It also implies excessive rather than conscious consumption, which cascades into a multitude of environmental, ethical and social ills.

In contrast, “slow” consumerism means taking charge and being more thoughtful about how and what we buy. But just as the word “fast” implies more than a timeframe when describing consumerism, “slow” also means something more than a dimension of time when it is applied to our buying habits.

The “slow movement” has been described as nothing short of a cultural revolution (Honoré, 2004). It promotes a philosophy of not only slowing down the pace of life, but also of opting for quality over quantity and sustainability over wastefulness in our choices as consumers.

How does the slow movement relate to buying and decorating with antiques? To explore that question, let’s start with a brief look at the roots and expansion of “slow” trends.

vintage traffic sign

“Slow” as a Lifestyle Choice

The slow movement began in the 1980s when a group of epicureans and social activists in Italy coined the term “slow food.” They were reacting to the opening of an American fast-food franchise in the heart of a historic district of Rome, and were concerned that their country’s local food producers and the tradition of savoring food in small cafés would be overtaken by the fast food industry. They opposed the cultural standardization of how and what we eat, and sought instead to uphold regional food traditions.

In the 30 years since slow food activism began, it has morphed into a variety of similar slow movements, including:

Slow fashion – supports environmentally sustainable clothing manufacturing and good working conditions and livable wages for overseas garment makers, as well as advocating buying vintage clothes, redesigning old clothes, shopping from smaller producers, making clothes and accessories at home, and buying higher-quality garments that last longer.

Slow cities – improves the quality of life in towns by slowing down the pace of life and encouraging conviviality, with special attention to preserving a town’s cultural uniqueness, resisting homogenization, and protecting the local environment.

Slow money – catalyzes the flow of capital to local food enterprises and organic farms by investing in local food producers.

Slow design – creates goods that are made to last and are produced with low environmental impacts.

To expand this list, we hereby introduce and explore the term “slow décor.”

Antiques as Slow Décor

Slow décor is not the same as slow decorating. You can decorate your home slowly, taking time to find and arrange just the right pieces, whether you use mass-produced goods or bespoke and antique objects. Rather, slow décor refers to the décor object itself embodying the slow philosophy.

The following list presents a case for regarding antiques as perfect exemplars of slow décor. Each word highlighted in bold references a tenet of “slow movements,” especially those of slow design (Strauss & Fuad-Luke, 2002), and applies them to antiques and antiquing.

1. Antiques fit the time dimension of the slow philosophy. It takes time to learn about antiques, particularly to understand the history and cultural contexts that gave birth to their design. It also takes time and experience to learn to judge good from bad, and authentic from fake. Finally, once you’ve learned about a genre of antiques and zoned in on what you’d like to acquire, it often takes time to find them. (Hint: Let an antiques dealer know what you’re looking for and the often ultra-slow process could become just sort-of-slow.)

2. Antiques fit the quality dimension of the slow philosophy. Good craftsmanship was the norm 100+ years ago, so antiques typically are solidly, even exquisitely, made.

3. Antiques fit the sustainability dimension of the slow philosophy. When you reuse things such as antiques that already exist, then there is no new environmental impact required to produce them.

4. Antiques fit the durability dimension of the slow philosophy. This refers to buying things that were built to last. High quality antiques typically survive well to be reused for generations to come.

5. Antiques fit the uniqueness dimension of the slow philosophy. Since antiques are typically one-of-a-kind, they are by definition unique. Curating a personal collection of antiques also celebrates the uniqueness of one person’s individual vision and aesthetics.

6. Antiques fit the less-is-more dimension of the slow philosophy. This promotes choosing quality over quantity. Antiques make it possible to be satisfied owning fewer good things instead of lots of lower-quality objects.

7. Antiques fit the mind-satisfying dimension of the slow philosophy. While our appetite for novelty can drive our desire to acquire the latest trends, we can also satisfy our need for novelty by discovering new genres of antiques. The more you delve into the world of antiques, the more amazing surprises you discover.

8. Antiques fit the cultural and emotional connections dimension of the slow philosophy. Objects that originated in an authentic past culture of design are a far cry from the homogenized, culturally unrooted or appropriated aesthetic offered up by mass-produced goods. Also, understanding the cultural heritage of antique objects inspires our emotional connections to them.

Taken together, these eight principles of the slow movement form a very positive case for buying and enjoying antiques—a.k.a. slow décor.

Tiffany lamp makers
Tiffany Glass Studios artisans at work.

But . . . Is Slow Décor Elitist?

Keep Reading

A Masterful Adirondack Table … with Provenance


Identities of the vast majority of the skilled woodworkers who created rustic furniture in the mid-19th to early-20th centuries are unknown. So it is a particular thrill when an antique example of outstanding rustic craftsmanship can be traced to a known maker, and thereby placed directly into the historical context of that person’s home region and the time period in which he lived.

The circa 1920 Adirondack center table (35” x 41” top, 28” high) that we are now offering for sale is just such a piece.

Elmer Patterson Adirondack Table

This table was made by Elmer Patterson who was born in Amboy, New York in 1859. By the age of 26 he was living in the Adirondack town of Speculator, NY, making pack baskets and snowshoes with his father to sell to guides, trappers and visiting rusticators. By the 1920s he had turned his talents towards creating rustic furniture at his home in the Adirondack foothills of Osceola, NY, where the yellow birch that he liked for furniture making was more abundant than in Speculator.

Elmer Patterson Adirondack Table

This center table showcases Patterson’s masterful use of his preferred Northern hardwood species. It has four sturdy yellow birch branch legs and a creatively designed base. There is a yellow birch pole at the center of the base from which four straight yellow birch branches extend outward, creating spoke stretchers to brace the legs.

Elmer Patterson Adirondack Table
Back view of the table.

In contrast to the straight yellow birch spoke stretchers, the four yellow birch branches that serve as leg-to-leg stretchers, plus the two branches that anchor those side stretchers to the center pole, are pleasingly sinuous. Four other curvy yellow birch branches that extend from near the bottom of each leg to beneath the table top add additional grace and stability to the table.

Elmer Patterson Adirondack Table
Side view of the table.

Patterson extended the decorative use of yellow birch in this table by applying half-round branch segments in tight rows all along the four sides of the apron.

Elmer Patterson Adirondack Table

The table top is made of smoothly processed and finished cherry boards that create a handsome reddish contrast to the golden yellow birch base and apron.

Elmer Patterson Adirondack Table
All of Patterson’s tables that we’ve seen and owned have had cherry tops in an incredibly smooth original finish, demonstrating that he was as good at finish work as he was at woodworking.
Elmer Patterson Adirondack Table
This table top has some surface scratches plus a shrinkage crack, but it retains its overall satiny sheen.


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Biophilic Design and the Role of Rustic Antiques


If given the choice between spending our indoor life in spaces that have: minimal or maximal natural daylight; negligible or plentiful views outside to trees, sky, and spacious vistas; concrete block or wooden walls; sounds of breezes, birds and babbling brooks vs. the background drone of machines and traffic; or some house plants, an aquarium and pets vs. only inanimate metal and plastic objects, most of us would gravitate to the indoor environments that have copious infusions of nature.

biophilic design of an atrium
(photo: Kellert, 2016)

That, in a nutshell, is the fundamental tenet of biophilic design, a set of principles that guides architects, builders and urban planners to create built environments that allow people to feel the presence of nature within the buildings they inhabit.

Thorncrown chapel
Thorncrown Chapel in Eureka Springs, Arkansas is a well-known exemplar of biophilic design. (photo:

While “green” architecture seeks to design buildings whose construction materials and ongoing energy consumption have minimal environmental impact, biophilic design is concerned primarily with how buildings can promote human psychological and physical health through recreating the patterns, processes and organic presence of nature indoors. (Green and biophilic designs are complementary, however, and are often implemented together.)

Biophilic design is grounded in a concept from evolutionary biology called the “biophilia hypothesis” which asserts that all humans alive today have a hard-wired emotional affiliation with other living organisms due to the millions of years during which our bodies and minds adapted to surviving among the plants, animals and landscapes of pre-civilization environments. (See our Journal article “Nature is a Happy Pill” for more details on the scientifically-documented, beneficial effects that nature has on our physiology and mental health.)

The best way to understand biophilic design is to study buildings that enact its principles. One of its most inspiring recent manifestations is the new Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. In response to the immense tragedy that the community experienced at the old school in 2012, a new elementary school was completed in 2016 which totally embodies the “healing and hopeful presence of nature.” (

the new Sandy Hook Elementary School

From its use of recurring shapes, patterns and colors that mimic organic forms, to the prioritization of natural building materials (e.g., wood cladding over steel safety doors), to its sunlight-washed interior spaces, to its landscaping that creates functioning natural habitats, the school affirms and celebrates life.

the new Sandy Hook Elementary School

Representations of Nature are the Next Best Thing: From Biophilic Design to Biophilic Decor

While a central goal of biophilic design is to create buildings that promote direct connections to nature (light, air, water, plants, animals, landscapes), its practitioners also advocate infusing representations of nature into architectural and interior design.

As antiques dealers, we’re particularly intrigued by those dimensions of the biophilic design framework that are not focused so much on the structure of a building and its landscape as on its interior décor. That subset of biophilic design principles promotes what we and our clients know to be true: it feels good to be surrounded by reminders of nature indoors.

moose antler chair
Moose antler chair (

A study of people’s behavior in a medical office waiting room illustrates the power of bringing representations of nature indoors (Ulrich, 2008). The first photo shows the original waiting room where researchers logged aggressive interactions and high levels of stress among visitors, patients and staff.  Clearly, the room is devoid of any inkling of nature.

waiting room

The researchers then redecorated the room with representations of nature—a mural of a savannah, house plants, earthy colors, floral patterns on fabrics, and furniture made of wood rather than metal (note the hickory chair in the right corner).

waiting room

They then observed and documented how people behaved and felt in the redecorated room, discovering that there was a significant reduction in conflict and stress for everyone working in and visiting the office.  Although it was still the same windowless room, the representations of nature created a more positive and calming effect on human emotions.

Rustic Antiques as Biophilic Décor

Here are five recommendations drawn from biophilic design frameworks (Kellert, 2018; that specify ways to infuse representations of nature inside the spaces we inhabit.

Each recommendation is accompanied by images from our past inventory to illustrate how rustic antiques provide indirect experiences of nature, and thus how they can contribute to biophilic design’s fundamental aim: creating human habitats that promote our health, performance and emotional well-being.

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