Journal

Lake Painting by Vivian Milner Akers

09.24.2019

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.

 

pointilst

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: curtainswithoutborders.org)

 

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 (oxfordgalleries.com)

 

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: skinnerinc.com) 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. (artnet.com)

 

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

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 (artnet.com)

 

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

 

Sources

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, piercegalleries.com.

Antiquing Frames of Mind

07.18.2019

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. (artzealous.com)

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

 

 

(citizenvintage.com)

   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. (brimfieldauctionacres.com)

 

 

Cree Birch Bark Canoe

06.19.2019

 

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

05.21.2019

 

masterful rustic planterThe 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

04.25.2019

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?

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A Masterful Adirondack Table … with Provenance

03.19.2019

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.

 

Provenance

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Biophilic Design and the Role of Rustic Antiques

02.15.2019

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: archdaily.com)

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.” (svigals.com)

the new Sandy Hook Elementary School

(photo: svigals.com)

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

(photo: svigals.com)

 

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 (cherrygallery.com)

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; terrapinbrightgreen.com) 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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Hunter with Dog: A 19th Century Vernacular Sculpture

01.23.2019

19th century hunter with dog carving

 

This gracefully stylized, full-figure, three-dimensional portrait of a hunter with his dog, is carved from black walnut. It is signed on the bottom in careful cursive lettering: “Jas. Smith 1842 Albany, New York.”

 

 

19th century hunter with dog carving

 

The carving captures the affectionate relationship between the man and his dog. The dog looks relaxed, faithful and trusting, while the man conveys his own attachment to the dog by letting it rest its head comfortably, almost possessively, across his thigh.

 

19th century hunter with dog carving

 

The following photos from the same time period—daguerreotypes from the 1840s to 1860—show very similar poses of hunters with dogs and shooting accessories. Unlike the smiling norm of modern photo portraits, these men look rather formal and somber, as does the carved hunter. (Images sourced online from ebay and other auction sites.)

 

early photo of hunter with dog

early photo of a hunter with his dog

 

early photo of a hunter with his dog

 

Although the hunter sculpture is relatively large for a figural wood carving (16″ high, 10.5″ deep, 5″ wide), the overall detailing is minimal. The man’s face, ears and hair are representationally rather than realistically carved,

 

19th century hunter with dog sculpture

 

as are the dog’s body and face.

 

19th century hunter with dog sculpture

 

The hunter’s clothing is similarly sparsely represented as a simple single-breasted coat with a collar continuous with its lapel.

 

19th century hunter with dog sculpture

 

The only other elements in the sculpture are the hunter’s gun and shot pouch, both of which are carved with just enough detail to capture the essence of the objects and communicate clearly what they are.

 

19th century hunter carving

early photo of a hunter with his dog

The man on the right carries a shot pouch similar to the one depicted in the carving.

 

We believe that it is the minimalist representation and restraint in decorative detailing that give this sculpture such a compelling presence.

 

19th century hunter with dog sculpture

 

Vernacular Art

This carving is a stellar example of a genre of art created by untrained artists, also known as “vernacular art” or folk art to distinguish it from fine art produced by professional artists. In 18th and 19th  century America, where academically trained artists such as Charles Wilson Peale painted fine oil portraits of famous politicians and war heroes, regular people such as Jas. (19th century shorthand for James) Smith used materials they had on hand to capture familiar scenes and people in their everyday lives.

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Historical Canoe Trip Journal

12.07.2018

1864 canoe trip journal
This small (3” x 5”) leather-bound journal documents a canoe trip taken by five men in two birch bark canoes in the Moosehead Lake region of Maine during the Civil War. The diary, titled “Moosehead Lake, ME. Trip in Canoes,” was kept by L. G. Barrett of Newton, Massachusetts from August 22 – September 13, 1864.

1864 canoe trip journal Moosehead Lake Maine

All entries are in pencil so luckily have not faded and are readable—albeit with the help of a magnifying glass to interpret the small, cursive handwriting. There are 77 pages of writing, plus the author’s name, hometown, and date on the flyleaf, and trip expense tallies on the endpapers.

1864 canoe trip journal

There are also 9 charming small sketches.

1864 canoe trip journal Moosehead Lake Maine

Barrett’s sketch showing two canoes traveling up Moosehead Lake toward Kineo House, with Spencer and Katahdin Mountains to the east.

 

Barrett’s chronicles provide descriptions of traveling to and within Maine during the time period, as well as insights into the personalities and adventures of the canoe trippers. Rich historical details are packed into the journal’s pages.

The Region and Canoe Trip Itinerary

Moosehead Lake is the largest lake in Maine (40 miles long x 10 miles wide), with 400 miles of shoreline, a maximum depth of 230’, 40 islands, and a famous geological feature called Mount Kineo whose cliffs rise 700’ straight up from the lake shore.

Mt. Kineo cliffs

(image: mainememory.net)

By 1864, Moosehead Lake and Greenville, Maine, the town on its southern shore, were already bustling with lumbermen passing through on their way to northern forests, and well-to-do rusticators and sportsmen visiting the elegant Kineo House hotel.

Kineo House

Kineo House on Kineo Point, Moosehead Lake, c. 1880 (image: mainememory.net)

 

The first steamboats had begun providing ferry service along the length of the lake in 1835, providing access to hunting camps, farms, and villages before railroads were built. By 1900, 25 steamboats were actively transporting people, livestock, mail and supplies up the lake on regular schedules.

steamboats on Moosehead Lake

Two steamboats docked on Moosehead Lake, c. 1890 (image: mainememory.net)

Barrett and his canoe tripping party planned to paddle up Moosehead Lake from Greenville, portage across the Northeast Carry to the West Branch of the Penobscot River, and then go downriver to Chesuncook Lake, and thus into the true wilderness of Maine.

1864 canoe trip journal Moosehead Lake Maine

It is plausible that their trip itinerary was influenced by the writings of fellow Massachusetts adventurer Henry David Thoreau who had lived in Concord, just 15 miles northwest of Barrett’s hometown of Newton. Thoreau’s book, The Maine Woods, published posthumously in 1864, documented a canoe trip up Moosehead Lake, over to Chesuncook Lake and beyond. One can imagine the men from Newton being inspired to visit this area that Thoreau so eloquently described.

Chronology of the Trip with Journal Excerpts

The following provides some daily highlights of the trip, along with photographs gleaned from the internet that provide images of what the men were experiencing (although most of the photos are from a slightly later time period, taken after the 1888 introduction of the first roll film camera which made it easier for travelers to take photos).

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Moose We Have Known

10.18.2018

moose hooked rug

October is a good time to celebrate one of the largest mammals native to North America, the stately Moose (Alces alces). These mid-autumn weeks are rutting season, when moose do their best to ensure the production of offspring.

Our thoughts turned to moose on a recent trip to northern Maine. We saw a few of the majestic beasts atop trailers being hauled behind pick-up trucks, as Maine’s highly-regulated and restricted moose hunting season had just begun.

We were in the area to check out one of the newest additions to our National Parks system, the Katahdin Woods & Waters National Monument (KWWNM).

Mount Katahdin

One of the views we captured of Mt. Katahdin (find out more about the KWWNM at https://www.friendsofkww.org/)

After driving along the KWWNM Loop Road, stopping at scenic vistas and taking a few jaunts to explore short side trails, we finished the day with a hike along the historic Wassataquoik Stream—used in the 1840s by loggers to access stands of virgin white pines, and later for driving spruce logs downstream.

Wassataquoik Stream

Wassataquoik Landing by George H. Hallowell, circa 1901. Maine state Library collection.

Explorers, naturalists and sportsmen—including Henry David Thoreau in 1857 and Theodore Roosevelt in 1879—used Wassataquoik Stream in the latter half of the 19th century as an upstream route to access Mount Katahdin.

Wassataquoik Stream

The Wassataquoik looking upstream.

Wassataquoik Stream

The Wassataquoik, looking downstream while dreaming of paddling it.

When we were not musing on Wassataquoik Stream’s distinguished history or looking for boreal birds (we saw two Black-backed Woodpeckers!), we were thinking about moose. That is because we were frequently reminded during our hike that moose are prominent denizens of the northwoods—not because we spotted any, but because we had to watch where we stepped along a trail dotted with piles of fresh moose droppings.

moose droppings

(photo: pressherald.com)

There were also recent moose tracks everywhere.

moose track

(photo: wildernessvolunteers.blogspot.com)

Although we didn’t see a living moose that day, like anyone who has spent time hiking in northern Maine or canoeing in Canada, we have seen our share of moose in the wild.

moose family

A decades-old photo taken by a family friend of three moose on Maine’s East Branch of the Penobscot River which runs along the border of the KWWNM.

Occasionally we also hear first-hand stories of the worst kind of moose encounters: those involving cars. Last October, Kass’ sister was driving along a country road in northern Maine and hit a moose that bolted out in front of her car.

impending moose hit

Coincidentally, a teenager had been videotaping the bull moose in a field next to his house and was still filming as it darted across the road, so he recorded the moose/car crash—the photo above is a still shot from his videotape showing the moose just before its collision with the car.

Luckily, the driver was going slowly so nobody was hurt, although since the moose ran off into the woods we don’t know its ultimate fate.

Indoor Moose

Now to transition to our indoor encounters with moose, namely those we’ve experienced as antiques dealers. Moose have long been a favorite subject for fine artists and folk artists to depict in a wide range of mediums. Moose in many renditions have always been a popular rustic accessory.

So here is a look back at some of the hundreds of moose we have known—and owned—over the past 25+ years in the antiques business.

Moose Textiles

moose with bears hooked rug

Moose with bears hooked rug

mooe blanket

Camp blanket with moose border

 

moose hooked rug

Moose, cattails and ducks hooked rug

 

moose hooked rug

Moose at sunset hooked rug

 

moose hooked rug

Naive portrait of a moose hooked rug

 

moose hooked rug

Moose hunting hooked rug

 

moose hooked rug

Moose by a stream hooked rug

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