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.

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.

 

 

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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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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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White-tailed Deer Family: Three Wall Sculptures by Noah Weiss

09.19.2018

Noah Weiss carving

These large-scale carved deer – a buck, doe and fawn – are products of the artistic vision and incredible talent of self-taught carver Noah Weiss (1842-1907).

The wall sculptures are carved from pine – in relief on the front and flat on the back – to be approximately half life-size, and they are in fairly accurate proportion to one other.

deer family

The upright buck is 35” wide x 47” high; the grazing doe is 40” wide x 29” high; and the standing fawn is 25” wide x 20” high. (The shoulder height of an adult White-tailed Deer is 32” to 40” and their body length runs 52” to 95”.)

Noah Weiss deer carvings

 

Weiss painted and varnished these deer, as he did all his carvings, and he added a real antler to the buck (he was also known to have added real antlers to a carving of an elk head, and horns to the carving of a bison head). Most compellingly, Weiss captured each deer’s elegant body shape and proportions – their long, thin legs, pointed snouts and alert ears.

Noah Weiss deer carvings Noah Weiss deer carvings

 

These circa 1890-1900 deer carvings turned up recently in Northampton, Pennsylvania, the town where Weiss lived, worked as an innkeeper, and produced sculptural works of art to decorate the walls of his inn. Fortunately, newspaper accounts during Weiss’s lifetime as well as research by art historians have documented details of the life history and creations of this incredible self-taught artist.

Noah Weiss: Hotelier and “Untaught Sculptor”

Noah Weiss was born in 1842 in Pennsylvania where his paternal great-grandfather had settled upon emigrating from Germany. He grew up on a farm in the Lehigh Valley region (near Allentown, PA) where as a boy his artistic talents were recognized by a wealthy doctor who offered to send him abroad to study art. But his father declined, saying he needed Noah to work on the farm. Thus Noah had little formal education and no encouragement or tutoring in art.

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“The Fighting Muskellunge” by Arnoud Wydeveld

07.23.2018

fish painting by Arnoud Wydeveld

 

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

 

fish painting by Arnoud Wydeveld

 

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

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

 

fish painting by Arnoud Wydeveld

 

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

 

(from questroyal.com)

 

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

 

fruit still-life painting by Wydeveld

 

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

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

 

Wydeveld fish painting

 

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

 

Wydeveld fish painting

 

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

 

Arnoud Wydeveld fish painting

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

 

fish painting by Arnoud Wydeveld

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

 

Detail of the painting’s period frame.

 

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

 

Muskellunge painting by Arnoud Wydeveld

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

 

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Rare Old Hickory Daybed

05.22.2018

Old Hickory daybed

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

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

hickory hoop arm chair

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

 

Old Hickory dresser

 

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

 

Old Hickory daybed

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

 

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

 

Old Hickory 1942 catalog

 

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

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George Browne’s “A Bluebill Drake”

02.19.2018

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Signature in lower left of “A Bluebill Drake”

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


George Browne’s Early Development as an Artist

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

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