Journal

A Wildlife Woodcut

11.17.2017

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

mouse woodcut by Henry B. Kane

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

mouse woodcut by Henry B. Kane

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

mouse woodcut by Henry B. Kane

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

mouse woodcut by Henry B. Kane

mouse woodcut by Henry B. Kane

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

Henry B. Kane

Henry B. Kane

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

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

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

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

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

Kane illustration

Henry B. Kane illustration

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

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

book by Henry B. Kane

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

Henry B. Kane

Kane holding a baby skunk, circa 1945

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

Cache Lake Country

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

Henry B. Kane illustration

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

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

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

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

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

Henry B. Kane illustration

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

Henry B. Kane illustration

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

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

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

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

Henry B.. Kane illustration

Henry B. Kane illustration

to precise “how-to” line drawings,

illustration by Henry B. Kane

to evocative whole-page woodcut images.

Henry B. Kane illustration

Back to the Mouse

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

Henry B. Kane

Appendix

Selected Books Illustrated by Henry B. Kane:

books illustrated by Henry B. Kane

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

The Woods and the Sea by Dudley Cammett Lunt

The Maine Woods by Henry David Thoreau

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

Wilderness World of John Muir by John Muir

The House on Nauset Marsh by Wyman Richardson

One Day on Beetle Rock by Sally Carrighar

Icebound Summer by Sally Carrighar

Natural History of New York by Edward Freeman

How to Hunt Deer by Edward Freeman

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

Take Sky by David McCord

For Me to Say by David McCord

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

Far and Few by David McCord

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

Wings in the Meadow by Jo Brewer

 

Selected Books Written and Illustrated by Henry B. Kane:

Thoreau’s Walden: A Photographic Register

The Tale of a Wood

The Tale of a Meadow

The Tale of a Pond

The Tale of a Mouse

The Tale of the Wild Goose

The Tale of a Bullfrog

The Tale of the White-faced Hornet  

The Tale of the Crow

The Tale of the Promethea Moth

The Alphabet of Birds, Bugs & Beasts

Wings Legs or Fins

Four Seasons in the Woods

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

 

Pyrography Center Table

09.26.2017

pyrography center table

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

pyrography on birch bark

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

A Brief History of Pyrography

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Flemish Art Company

(from pyromuse.org)

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

Flemish Art Company

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

 

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

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

pyrography frame

(cherrygallery.com archives)

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

(from pyromuse.org)

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

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

Pyrography and the Rustic Aesthetic

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

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

pyrography frame

(from cherrygallery.com archives)

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

pyrography plaque

(from cherrygallery.com archives)

 

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

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

pyrography canoe paddles

 

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

pyrography canoe paddles pyrography canoe paddles pyrography canoe paddles

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

pyrography canoe paddles pyrography canoe paddles pyrography canoe paddles

 

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

pyrography landscape

 

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

pyrography fish

 

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

pyrography on birch bark

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

pyrography blanket box

pyrography blanket box

 

Pyrography-Decorated Furniture: The Center Table

pyrography table at Cherry Gallery

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

 

 

pyrography table

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

pyrography center table

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

pyrography center table

 

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

Rare Rustic Hickory Armoire

06.23.2017

Rustic Hickory Furniture Company armoire wardrobe cabinet

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

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

Rustic Hickory Furniture Company armoire wardrobe cabinet

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

Rustic Hickory Furniture Company paper label

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

Rustic Hickory Furniture Company catalog

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

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

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

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

Rustic Hickory Furniture Company armoire

Rustic Hickory Furniture Company armoire wardrobe cabinet

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

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

Rustic Hickory Furniture Company armoire wardrobe cabinet

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

Rustic Hickory Furniture Company armoire wardrobe cabinet

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

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

Birding with Bookends

03.20.2017

Bradley & Hubbard bird bookends

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

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

bradley and Hubbard bird bookends

Blue Jay

(from larkwire.com)

Bradley and Hubbard bird bookend

Eastern Towhee

(from surfbirds.com)

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

Bradley and Hubbard bird bookends

Bradley and Hubbard bird bookends

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

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

Bradley and Hubbard bird bookends

 

The Eastern Towhee is on an American hazelnut branch.

 and the EasternTowhee is on a

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

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

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

Bradley and Hubbard bird bookends

Keep Reading

Blowing Rock Rustic Accessories

01.20.2017

blowing rock rustic wares charles dobbins north carolina

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

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

Works from the Blowing Rock Artist’s Oeuvre

Blowing Rock, NC artist Charles Dobbins rustic crafts

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

Blowing Rock, NC artist Charles Dobbins rustic crafts

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

Blowing Rock, NC artist Charles Dobbins rustic crafts

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

Blowing Rock, NC artist Charles Dobbins rustic crafts

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

Blowing Rock, NC artist Charles Dobbins rustic crafts

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

Blowing Rock, NC artist Charles Dobbins rustic crafts

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

Blowing Rock, NC artist Charles Dobbins rustic crafts

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

Blowing Rock, NC artist Charles Dobbins rustic crafts

The Blowing Rock cliff (photo: tripadvisor.com)

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

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

Keep Reading

A Rustic Masterpiece

12.13.2016

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

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

 

rustic masterpiece cabinet

 

and the beveled mirror surround represents intertwined branches.

rustic masterpiece cabinet

 

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

 

rustic masterpiece cabinet

 

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

 

rustic masterpiece cabinet

Keep Reading

Penobscot Ash Splint Baskets

10.17.2016

ash splint baskets
Native American ash splint baskets have long been appreciated for their utilitarian and decorative qualities. Back before it was easy to mail-order goods from afar, people relied on what was locally produced or available in their hometown stores. Families lucky enough to live in regions where Native Americans made and sold baskets typically had all sizes, shapes and types of baskets put to various uses in their homes.

basket peddlers

Basket peddlers traveling door-to-door in the 19th century (McMullen & Handsman, 1987)

In my (KH) childhood home in northern Maine we had many baskets made by local Maliseets and Mi’kmaqs, as well as some Penobscot and Passamaquoddy baskets made on reserves south of our town. A large, strong-handled, thick-splint “potato-picking” basket held garden tools in our shed; a tall oval, handled basket with sweet grass trim held tins of mink oil and bottles of shoe polish in the back hallway; a delicate, two-tiered round picnic basket sat high on a shelf in the kitchen closet; and a lidded, low, round, fine-splint basket held ribbon and other sewing notions. One of my first purchases with babysitting money as a young teen was a “fancy basket” with rose and indigo colored splints which eventually became a cherished reminder of home in my college dorm room.

basket maker

Hands of a basket maker (Calloway, 1989)

Basket-making is still a vibrant Native American craft in northern Maine, but the three baskets we have just acquired are much earlier examples from the mid-19th century. While in an excellent state of preservation, these three Penobscot baskets date to circa 1850-60, which was prior to the widespread use of decorative techniques such as twisting splints into conical points (called the porcupine technique) and adorning edges with braided sweet grass.

 

multi-color ash splint basket

Round Penobscot lidded storage basket with handles and colored splints, c. 1850-60 (17″ diameter x 16″ high)

This tall, lidded storage basket has wide splints alternating with bands of fine splints. The two Penobscot baskets shown below are very similar in style, although not as tall, and also date from 1850-60.

Penobscot storage baskets

These baskets are in the collection of the Abbe Museum in Bar Harbor, Maine (photo from Eckstorm, 1932)

In addition to its large size, another striking feature of this basket is its multi-color splints. While the standards or warp (vertical splints) are blue and russet, the weavers or weft (horizontal splints) include yellow and green along with blue and russet.

dyed ash splint basket
Before the horizontal splints were woven into the body of the basket, color was applied to both the warp and weft splints with a cloth swab or soft brush dipped into a stain made from powdered pigments or cakes of watercolor paints (McMullen & Handsman, 1987). The color appears only on the exterior of the splints (with some interior edge leakage around the sides of the narrow splints). In later baskets whose splints were soaked in vats of aniline dyes, both the exterior and interior of the splints were richly colored.

baskets5

In a swabbed basket the bottom was left uncolored.

lid of an ash splint basket

In this tall basket the lid was also left its natural color. Ash splints are quite pale when freshly woven, but they darken to a golden beige with exposure to light and air over time.

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Late Summer Fish Catch

08.22.2016

Pair of fish portraits

Although we have not been fishing in actual waters this month, we have, as always, been trolling for antiques. Our most recent catch in the fish category is this appealing pair of oil on canvas portraits of a landlocked salmon and a brook trout. The body shapes of the salmon and brook trout are fairly accurate, as is their coloration. They are slightly naïve renditions rather than perfect anatomical representations, indicating that the artist was not academically trained.

fish close-ups

Both fish are shown hooked in realistic ways – on a side edge of the mouth for the salmon and the bottom edge of the mouth for the brook trout – situations that the artist had likely experienced firsthand.

close-ups of hooked fish

The fish are painted on a faux birch bark background, which is not an uncommon treatment for fish still life paintings, such as these two by Walter Steward from our past inventory.

Walter Steward trout and pickerel paintings

We have also found fish portraits painted directly on birch bark, such as the trout below.

trout painting on birch bark

Another fish/birch bark association we’ve encountered is commemorative silhouettes of actual fish traced and cut from birch bark, such as the one below that memorializes a fish caught on the Tobique River in New Brunswick in the 1940s.

birch bark trout silhouette

A much earlier birch bark trout silhouette was made by Percival Baxter (1876-1969), the 53rd Governor of Maine and after whom Baxter State Park is named, when he was just seven years old.

Trout silhouette by Percival Baxter

The text on the fish reads: “Speckled Trout (Salmo Fontinalis) Weight: 8 lbs, Caught at Toothakers Cove, Cupsuptic Lake, June 3rd, 1884 by Percival Proctor Baxter, Aged seven years. This is a correct outline of the fish. Guide Jerry Ellis Rangeley City, ME” (from collections of Baxter State Park; mainememorynetwork.net)

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Rustic with Provenance

06.16.2016

Finding unique, attractive and functional rustic furniture that was created in earlier eras is always a satisfying outcome of our hunt for antiques. Although all antiques have an origin story and a life history subsequent to our finding them, more often than not those specifics remain unknown to us. So it is particularly gratifying when we can trace the provenance of notable rustic furniture that we find, as we were able to do for these three tables in our current inventory.

Camp Nominigan tables

These pieces – a dining table, a game table and a coffee table – originated at Nominigan Camp, a lodge built in 1913 on Smoke Lake in Algonquin Provincial Park, Ontario. We have a handwritten note from the previous owner of the tables stating that they were given to his mother by Dr. Mary Northway whose family once owned Nominigan.

At wilderness outposts, furniture was usually made onsite from local trees. In this case the softwoods around Smoke Lake’s Loon Point, where Nominigan (meaning “Among the Balsams”) was built, provided the furniture’s raw materials. The frames of the tables are made of bark-on white cedar poles, and the table tops are pine.

Camp Nominigan rustic tables

 

Camp Nominigan rustic tables

They are sturdily built with tight tenons, and have classic rustic style.  But before providing more details about the furniture itself, it is worth delving into the history of Nominigan Camp, their original home.

Nominigan’s Origins

Nominigan Camp was built as an outpost of a Grand Trunk Railway resort called the Highland Inn located on Cache Lake in Algonquin Park (est. 1893). The Highland Inn was built in 1908 during the height of the rusticator movement to accommodate tourists who could travel to the Park relatively easily via train from their urban residences in Montreal and Toronto. The railway and Cache Lake Station were located directly in front of the Inn.

The Inn started modestly, serving primarily as a way station for anglers and campers who went on to explore the interior of the Park.

Highland Inn

The Highland Inn, circa 1910

 

Angler at Highland Inn

A guest at Highland Inn after a day of fishing.

It quickly grew in size, however, and gained amenities such as steam heating, modern kitchens and a formal dining room serving multi-course meals.

The Highland Inn

The Highland Inn after expansion. The railroad track is visible parallel to the shoreline.

The expanded inn attracted a larger clientele who enjoyed the combination of a remote wilderness setting with the luxuries of a fine hotel.

Guests at the Highland Inn.

Genteel guests at the Highland Inn.

As more guests brought families on vacations to the Inn, the owners saw a need and an opportunity to expand its entertainment options, so sightseeing trips became a favorite pastime. The most popular was the “Grand Outing” to Loon Point on Smoke Lake, which required traveling more than seven miles from the Inn via train, stagecoach, portage and boat.

Inevitably, the human urge to “make the wilderness comfortable” transformed Loon Point from a simple camping and day trip location to the site for a new lodge which became an official outpost of the Highland Inn, named Nominigan Camp. The following passage sardonically summarizes the genesis of Nomingan, which could also aptly describe the origins of many lodges and camps built by rusticators and those who served them during the late 19th and early 20th centuries:

Since it was already a beloved camping site … what was more appropriate than to put up a lodge to shelter these campers? Simple, of course – an outpost – only log buildings – but of course, we must include hot and cold running water, lighting and good meals. And there must be room to keep boats there, and perhaps a launch for sightseers who want more comfortable travel than by canoe, and good fireplaces to give cheer and… and… and… And so it was. (Northway, 1970a)

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Seth Steward Lake Painting

03.23.2016

Seth Steward lake painting
This scene captures the peaceful mood of a northern lake at sunrise on a calm, late summer day. The red maples are beginning to change color, but the foliage on all of the trees is still lush.

Seth steward lake painting
There are three people in a boat along the left shore, perhaps preparing for a day of fishing.

Seth Steward lake painting

The painting is housed in its original deep molded gilt-gesso frame (some minor losses) with overall dimensions of 33.5″ x 21.5″ and a sight size of 27″ x 15″.

Seth Steward lake painting

This oil on canvas scene was painted in 1914 (signed and dated lower left) by Seth Wyman Steward, Jr. (1844-1927) of Monson, Maine when the artist was 70 years old.

Seth steward lake painting

This photo of Seth working in his studio was taken circa 1915, so it captures how he would have looked during the time period when he created this lake painting.

Seth W. Steward, circa 1915

(from Monson Historical Society)

At that point in his life he had been working as a professional painter for nearly 50 years, ever since returning home to Maine in 1865 after serving in the Union Army during the Civil War. He advertised himself as a “painter, decorator and artist in oil” who also “hung paper and painted carriages.”

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