Journal

A Collector’s Passion

08.14.2018

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

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

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

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

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

Jeanne Cherry’s 1995 book on tennis antiques.

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

Group of 27 tennis tintypes; Lot 877

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

 

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

 

Jeanne Cherry Collection of Tennis Antiques

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

 

The Jeanne Cherry collection of tennis antiques.

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

 

The Jeanne Cherry collection of tennis antiques

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

 

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

1. Fascination with History

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

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

 

the Jeanne Cherry collection of tennis antiques

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

 

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

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

The Jeanne Cherry collection of tennis antiques

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

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

 

the Jeanne Cherry collection of tennis antiques

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

 

the Jeanne Cherry collection of tennis antiques

Antique and vintage tennis shoes, Lot 902

 

the Jeanne Cherry collection of tennis antiques

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

2. Social Aspects of Collecting

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

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

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

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

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

the Jeanne Cherry collection of tennis antiques

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

3. The Aesthetics of Antiques

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

the Jeanne Cherry collection of tennis antiques

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

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

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

the Jeanne Cherry collection of tennis antiques

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

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

the Jeanne Cherry collection of tennis antiques

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

 

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

Process to Product and Past to Future

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

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

the Jeanne Cherry collection of tennis antiques

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

 

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

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

Jeanne Cherry collection of tennis antiques

Jeanne Cherry

A Brief Rant

06.25.2018

Antiques show sign (from singerly.com)

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

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

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

santa monica flea market

A stall at a flea market where anything goes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So What’s to be Done?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On the antiquing trail.

Rustic Plant Supports

04.19.2018

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

(from carolyneroehm.com)

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

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

(from archive.wiltonbulletin.com)

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

(from hydraz.club)

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

 

A Rustic Trellis

(from sunset.com)

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

 

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

Tools and Materials:

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

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

Hammer

Spool of floral wire

Directions:

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

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

 

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

 

(from charlottemoss.com)

 

(from gardenfuzzgarden.com)

 

(from birdsandblooms.com)

 

A Rustic Tuteur

(from karmaperdiem.com)

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


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

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

2. Tie the poles together at the top

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

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

 

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

 

(from sharesunday.com)

 

 

(from lovelygreens.com)

 

 

 

A Wattle Surround

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

(from instructables.com)

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

(from instructables.com)

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

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

(from instructables.com)

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

(from instructables.com)

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

(from gardenista.com)

 

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

 

(from babylonstoren.com)

 

(from thegardenglove.com)

 

(from jardinsalanglaise.com)

 

Rustic Resourcefulness

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

 

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

Nature is a Happy Pill

01.16.2018

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

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

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

Forest bathing in Japan (hikingresearch.wordpress.com)

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

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

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

Some Fascinating Research Findings

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

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

(hikingresearch.wordpress.com)

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

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

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

(centralparknyc.org)

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

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

(fastcompany.com)

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

(adventuremaine.us)

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

(visitfinland.com)

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

Kelvingrove Park Glasgow (thousandwonders.net)

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

(oars.com)

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

 The Author’s Style

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

(discovermoab.com)

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

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

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

(discovermoab.com)

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

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

Singapore (businessinsider.com)

Taking the Message Home

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

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

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

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

 

Robotiquing: The Future Could be Closer than We Think

10.23.2017

 “Name an occupation, and there’s somebody considering a robot to take it over.”

(David Pogue, cbsnews.com, August 2017)

In all of our contemplations aimed at anticipating the next waves of the antiques business, the possibility of our job sector being taken over by robots or computers programmed with artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms had never occurred to us. Yet given our technologically innovative economy, predictions are that nearly 40% of jobs currently held by real people in the U.S. could be lost to robots and artificial intelligent systems by 2030 (PwC’s Global Artificial Intelligence Study, pwc.com). So perhaps we should worry about our job security.

robot cartoon

While it is easy to envision robots zipping around an Amazon warehouse plucking merchandise from shelves to fulfill orders,

warehouse robots

(from cnet.com)

it is a stretch to imagine them galloping around the fields of an antiques market such as Brimfield in Massachusetts or Round Top in Texas to find antique treasures.

robotic horse

(from dreamstime.com)

Yet robots are not only taking over manual jobs in many sectors of the economy, they are also encroaching on jobs that rely more heavily on cognitive expertise. Collecting and analyzing data in insurance and financial industries, drawing up standard contracts in the legal field, and doing routine health assessments or disease diagnoses as general practitioners and pathologists now do in the medical field, can all potentially be accomplished better and more efficiently by intelligent non-humans.

Even those higher order job skills, however, still seem more codifiable into computer algorithms than the uncertain processes of buying and selling antiques. Experts in artificial intelligence acknowledge that computers still don’t succeed very well when trying to accomplish tasks that require flexibility and non-routine procedures. Since a course in Antiquing 101 would have as its first lesson how to be versatile, intuitive, and adaptable, our profession may still have some time remaining in the human realm before computers catch up with us.

But perhaps not much time. Researchers on the cutting edge of AI are working diligently to program computers to master abstract reasoning, learning, creativity, problem-solving, and cognitive flexibility. A major goal of this work is for AI to mimic intuitive judgment so that a computer will be able to make good decisions on the basis of uncertain and incomplete information, just as humans do every day.

One challenge of this research is to understand and then codify how irrationality enters into decision making. If researchers crack the irrational, emotion-laden dimensions of how professionals make decisions in their day-to-day work, then perhaps they are getting closer than we realize to building robots that could become antiques dealers.

(from nytimes.com)

So to determine how likely it is that we’ll have antiquing robots in the not-too-distant future, let’s get analytical by breaking down the various components of the antiques dealer’s profession, and then rate each dimension from 1 (low) to 5 (high) on an automatization likelihood scale, which is a computer takeover Threat-O-Meter of sorts.

An Antiques Dealer Has to Know Stuff

Despite a trend towards melding the antiques business with the world of design in which what matters most is an object’s visual appeal rather than its age and historical authenticity, we still believe that it is essential for antiques dealers to focus on objects that are original products of a past era. Understanding an antique’s origin requires contextual knowledge of historical periods and their artistic or stylistic movements, who was making what kinds of things during that era (whether individuals, collectives or manufacturing companies), variations of forms by geographic locations (continents, countries, regions), typical materials and assembly or creation techniques used, and so forth.

(from robohub.org)

All of this factual background information is supremely suited to becoming a massive database that could anchor object identification algorithms. So this dimension of our professional skill set merits a score of 5 on the takeover likelihood scale.

Likelihood of Robot/AI Takeover:

Low                                         High

1          2          3          4          5

An Antiques Dealer Has to Find Stuff

A huge part of an antiques dealer’s job is seeking and finding antiques that are worthy of buying and selling. Computers are much better at certain kinds of searching (i.e., querying databases) than humans. But those searches will only be productive if the raw information being searched is high quality.

Most sellers, other than high-end auction houses that employ specialists in various subfields of antiques or specialist dealers who post their goods online, write sketchy or inaccurate descriptions of antiques which could pose a challenge for search algorithms that lack the wisdom to a) filter out worthless keyword hits, b) dig for unlikely labels and associations, and c) fill in the blanks of what isn’t said about an object. Then there is the challenge of following up on potential leads; will the antiques dealing “bot” chat with the auction house bot to get its questions answered?

friendly robot

(from jonvilma.com)

Beyond these challenges to an intelligent robot scanning through antiques online, many antiques—in fact, most of what we purchase—never appear online. Robots finding antiques anywhere other than through a database search is highly unlikely (unless home monitoring security cameras that are becoming increasingly popular begin to automatically upload photos or video of the insides of homes, garages, barns, and storage units as searchable, pictorial data—yikes!). Since AI systems have high potential to search databases, but low potential to search physical nooks and crannies, this dimension of antiques dealing merits a score of 3 on the takeover likelihood scale.

Likelihood of Robot/AI Takeover:

Low                                         High

1          2          3         4          5

An Antiques Dealer Has to Evaluate Stuff

Evaluating the merits of an object is where the first two dimensions of an antiques dealer’s repertoire—knowing stuff and finding stuff—interact. It is not enough just to know facts or to find an object; it is essential to be able to retrieve and apply knowledge in reference to a particular object that is in front of you. Is it real or fake? Is it old or new? Is it intact or broken? Is it solid or wobbly? Is it in original or modified condition? Is it rare or common? Is it aesthetically pleasing or unappealing? Is it a desirable or undesirable form in the eyes of potential buyers? Is it appropriate for our specialty niche within the vast universe of antiques? More often than not a dealer has to do all of this evaluation under time pressure to make a decision to buy or not to buy something before another interested party comes along.

thinking

It is hard to envision an AI system, robotic or otherwise, evaluating antiques. Even with hand-like appendages that have enough dexterity to get a physical feel for an object, and eye-like fixtures that can home in on and even magnify an object’s features, the robot would have to be able to integrate the visual and tactile information it was accumulating with a cognitive database that includes not just facts, but also a storehouse of subtle experiential knowledge such as human dealers have accumulated over years of handling antiques.

To be successful as an antiques dealer, it is crucial to acquire antiques that meet a certain standard of quality and have an intrinsic value based on features such as craftsmanship, aesthetic appeal, rarity, or historical importance. The likelihood that this complex evaluative dimension of an antique dealer’s skill set could be programmed into computer algorithms is low, meriting a score of 2 on the takeover likelihood scale. (It scores 2 rather than 1 because cutting edge work within the field of AI is aimed at developing systems that can learn through experience.)

Likelihood of Robot/AI Takeover:

Low                                         High

1          2         3          4          5

An Antiques Dealer Has to Buy Stuff

Once an antique passes a dealer’s evaluation of its intrinsic value, the decision to buy it requires a judgment of its economic value: is there room for advancement? Answering that question requires experiential, marketplace knowledge that differs from factual knowledge about antiques. It also requires a certain emotional investment in the ultimate economic outcome of a transaction; will a robot care if it makes or loses money?

There is also often an emotional dimension to an antiques dealer’s decision to purchase an object beyond caring about the economics of the outcome—falling in love with an old thing can often eclipse rational decision making. Many times dealers justify a purchase by saying “It had to be bought,” meaning that the object has a special quality or historical importance that retail buyers may never recognize or care about, so technically it is not a good investment but it is emotionally satisfying.

Beyond loving something, there are other types of gut feelings that can lead to an aesthetic snap-judgement acquisition that is difficult to rationalize based on facts—luckily these purchases often turn out to be objects that also resonate with retail buyers. It is fair to say that such decisions are intuitive, and intuition is an ongoing bugaboo of artificial intelligence.

The actual mechanics of making a purchase on the other hand, are ripe for automatization—since even now you can make one-click purchases online, or can just wave a cell phone in front of something in a store and ta-da! you own it, then it won’t be much of a stretch for a robot to employ the same purchasing methods without any verbal interchange with a seller. In summary, since economic data could be programmed into an algorithm, AI systems might become more intuitive, and the mechanics of making purchases is getting increasingly automatized, this dimension of an antique dealer’s repertoire earns a score of 3 on the takeover likelihood scale.

Likelihood of Robot/AI Takeover:

Low                                         High

1          2          3         4          5

An Antiques Dealer (Often) Has to Restore Stuff

Anyone who has ever attempted to fix something that is old—while renovating a historic home, for instance—knows that it is essential to be good at solving novel problems that endlessly crop up. When we purchase the parts of a rustic hickory bed frame, for instance, whose multiple mattress support poles must fit into specific holes that may have shrunk or enlarged over time, we know that it will likely require hours to get the parts properly fitting back together. And that’s just one example of many tasks required to make antiques usable again, or to revive their former luster—sofa cushions need to be remade or reupholstered, a tear in a painting’s canvas has to be patched, a broken mirror in a great frame needs to be replaced, water rings in a table top need to be removed, and so on.

Given that even state-of-the-art robots that currently work on assembly lines lack fine motor skills and are unable to deal with parts they’ve not encountered before, along with the trial-and-error and case-by-case specificity necessary to restore an antique, the restoration dimension of the antiques business earns the lowest possible score of 1 on the automatization likelihood scale.

Likelihood of Robot/AI Takeover:

Low                                         High

     1         2          3          4          5

An Antiques Dealer Has to Sell Stuff

There are two aspects to selling any object—finding buyers and making the case for the worthiness of your product. As we all discover each time we open an internet browser, tech wizards are getting increasingly better, and seemingly more insidious and devious, at figuring out our consumer preferences and habits to pitch products to us. So targeting audiences and crafting advertising pitches is something that AI systems are already much better at doing than human antiques dealers, who usually have no background in marketing whatsoever.

But the second aspect of selling something, compassionately communicating the merits of what you’re offering, requires a certain degree of empathy. We have to believe in, and even love what we sell in order to be successful. In the antiques business, a commercial transaction involves some degree of an emotional connection between buyer and seller that is mediated by an object that speaks to both parties.

empathy bot

(from its-interesting.com)

While a robot or AI system does not have its own emotions, it can simulate empathy. Customer service “chatbots” are getting increasingly better at anticipating and interpreting human emotions and adapting its responses accordingly. Given the hegemony of algorithm-driven marketing techniques, along with advances in emotional simulation and conversational interaction on the frontiers of artificial intelligence, the selling dimension of dealing in antiques surprisingly earns a score of 4 on the takeover likelihood scale.

Likelihood of Robot/AI Takeover:

Low                                         High

1          2          3          4         5

An Antiques Dealer Has to Be Good at Non-Stuff

While old objects (i.e., “stuff”) are the indispensable core elements of the antiques business, there are also necessary daily tasks that have little to do with objects. Running any small business involves chores such as bill paying, bookkeeping, and banking; maintaining buildings and vehicles; and handling mail and email, to name just a few.

It is also essential to maintain networks of people who play key roles in the business, such as delivery and restoration specialists, as well as other dealers, pickers, and clients. Given the complexity and range of tasks involved in running a small business, and the necessity of social interaction to accomplish most of them, the non-stuff aspects of dealing in antiques receives a fairly low score of 2 on the automatization likelihood scale.

Likelihood of Robot/AI Takeover:

Low                                         High

1          2         3          4          5

AI: From Job Security Threat to Job Opportunity Enhancer

The average score for the likelihood of robotic takeover of the seven dimensions of an antique’s dealer’s job that we’ve described is 2.8 on a scale of 5, so if our ratings are accurate it seems unlikely that human dealers will be usurped by intelligent robots within our lifetime. Phew.

But what might be the role of AI in the near future of our profession? We’re intrigued that one of the huge challenges to AI advancement is the need to catalog “commonsense knowledge.” Not only do humans know a massive number of facts that can be expressed through language, they also possess a huge range ofnon-conscious and sub-symbolic intuitions” (see Malcolm Gladwell’s 2005 book Blink). These intuitions are difficult to articulate, yet play a crucial supporting role for rational thought. How can those foundational building blocks of expertise in any field be programmed into computer algorithms?

The answer is to start figuring out and capturing what experts know—on both explicit and implicit levels. So a new job opportunity for seasoned antiques dealers could be to work with computer scientists who are interested in cataloging what we know and how we make decisions. It could be argued that if we knew what we were doing well enough to tell a computer what we do, then we would actually know what we’re doing, and sometimes we’re not so sure of that. But we’d be game to give it a go.

Contributing to AI databases could be the most viable way for the old guard in the antiques business to transfer their wisdom given that very few young people are coming into the antiques profession as apprentices, which for centuries has been the most effective way to pass along difficult-to-articulate knowledge and practices.

While waiting for a scientist from MIT to come knocking at our door with money in hand to hire us as consultants, we will look to the burgeoning developments in artificial intelligence fields for other professional benefits. Rather than worrying about robots as our replacements, we will regard intelligent computer systems as our pals.

robot and human hands

(from shadowrobot.com)

The following vision statement about artificial intelligence from a recent article in The Atlantic (“Our Bots, Ourselves” by Matthew Hutson, March 2017) is hopeful:

 (AI) will also work with us, taking over mundane personal tasks and enhancing our cognitive capabilities. As AI continues to improve, digital assistants—often in the form of disembodied voices—will become our helpers and collaborators, managing our schedules, guiding us through decisions, and making us better at our jobs.

So perhaps we can look forward in the near future to carrying a digital assistant with us (no, not just our current smartphones) on antiques buying trips to weigh in with facts and even some wisdom about potential purchases. Or perhaps our professional assistant bot might be more useful back in the office managing our paperwork so that we can be out on the road. Either way, we look forward to meeting our new, smarter-than-humans antiques dealing brethren.

(from dnainfo.com)

 

 

 

Glamping: 21st Century Rusticating

08.21.2017

As summer nears its Labor Day finale, I am already wistful for opportunities to spend warm days and starry nights in peaceful, outdoor surroundings. Recently watching a movie filmed on the steppes of Mongolia (The Eagle Huntress – the best, albeit the only, G-rated movie I’ve seen in a long time) got me thinking about one way to live with just a fabric’s (or sheep’s hide) width of separation from nature: in a semi-permanent shelter such as a traditional Mongolian ger (more familiarly known as a yurt).

(from jcreore.wordpress.com)

Having stayed as a guest in several back-to-the-lander friends’ yurts over the years, as well as having spent part of a college semester living in an oceanside tipi (free housing!), I can attest to how sleeping in a white-walled, round shelter somehow feels spiritually uplifting. Or perhaps it is the lack of clutter, the simplicity of lifestyle, the gorgeous setting, or the combination of all these things that feeds the soul more robustly than dwelling within the squared walls of a solid house.

Reinvigorating the spirit with a return to simplicity was the same motivation that impelled 19th and early 20th century rusticators to flock away from cities into the wilds.

(from newyorkhistoryblog.com)

 

(Camping on Lake George, NY in 1919 – from newyorkupstate.com)

Yet the rusticators of yore also wanted their creature comforts at the end of a day exploring the wilderness, which gave rise to the elegant Great Camp style that we still appreciate in lodges, inns, and private homes today.

Dining room in an Adirondack Great Camp on Upper Saranac Lake, circa 1903 (archives of The Adirondack Museum)

The recent rise in popularity of “glamping” (glamorous camping), in which resort-style amenities are paired with overnights in simple structures such as yurts and tents, reveals that not much has changed in the desires of the rusticator demographic. Glamping proprietors proudly advertise tents provisioned with queen beds, sheets, blankets, pillows, towels, mini-fridges, coolers, fans, heaters, electric lights, bath amenities, and lounge chairs. Flush toilets, hot showers, and sometimes gourmet meals are available just a short walk beyond the tent flaps.

(from sandypinescamping.com)

 

(from lakedale.com)

At a certain point one has to wonder, why not just stay at a luxury inn that is situated in a gorgeous, isolated setting?

(fogoislandinn.ca)

I suppose novelty is one motivation for choosing glamping over a traditional luxury inn – experiencing how it feels to sleep in a traditional Adirondack guide tent, for instance.

(from poshprimitive.com)

Another motivation could be the opportunity to sleep in relative luxury in a remote area where inns aren’t feasible to construct and maintain. The traditional means of accessing backcountry locations that require more than a day’s walk from civilization by carrying in a small tent on your back, crawling into it at the end of a long day and crawling out of it at as soon as possible in the morning, is not for everyone, and is certainly less glamorous than sleeping in a tent outfitted with beds and fresh linens.

Starting to set up our decidedly non-luxurious backpacking tent on a June camping excursion into the mountains of Maine.

I’ve learned, however, that accessing the hinterlands is not glamping’s only appeal, as illustrated by an Australian rental on the rooftop of the Melbourne Central Train Station advertised as providing “an outdoor urban glamping experience” in luxury-style tents “fitted with thick quilts, carpet, heating and other interior design quirks.”

(from thenewdaily.com.au)

Clearly, the burgeoning glamping industry offers a diversity of options to suit many individual tastes.

(from camporenda.com)

My personal preference is for a platform tent nestled beneath tall pines or positioned beside a lake or rushing stream, far from wafting diesel fumes and urban traffic noise, thank-you-very-much.

Platform tent camping on Lake George, NY in 1924 (from newyorkupstate.com)

Glamping tents are more spacious versions of the canvas tents used by 19th century outdoorsmen, from loggers to trappers to rusticators.

(from collections of the Maine Historical Society)

State-of-the art glamping tents are not unlike ones I resided in at summer camps, both as a camper and a counselor, but the modern tents are brighter, and presumably less leaky and mildewed, than the canvas tents I grew up with.

(from firelightcamps.com)

The décor of glamping tents also sets them apart from the orange-crate, cot, and clothesline bedecked interiors of summer camp platform tents. Interior design options for upscale tenting range from a bohemian style based on traditional Mongolian yurt interiors, filled with colorful rugs and textiles,

(from greenevelien.com)

to Euro-sleek, safari-style tent interiors that can include collapsable campaign furniture,

(from wedshed.com.au)

to an American rustic style in which bark-on hickory furniture mirrors the look of tree saplings thriving just beyond the tent walls.

(from housebeautiful.com)

I find the synergistic combination of a lovely outdoor setting with a simple, tastefully-appointed, white fabric structure that is open to the sights, sounds, and scents of the outdoors so compelling that I have started to nurture a scheme to create my own glamping destination – at home. Putting an elegant, safari-style tent on our property would allow not only glamping, but also “staycations” (another portmanteau term) right here in Vacationland (it even says so on our license plates).

There are lots of good options for purchasing high quality tents that include features such as tight-fitting, rain-shedding roofs, that are a vast improvement over the baggy canvas tents that I slept in at summer camps.

(from gr8lakescamper.blogspot.com)

We’ve had lots of practice putting up large tents from years doing outdoor antiques shows, so erecting and taking down a tent seasonally should be no problem.

I even have the “bathroom” figured out. My favorite privy design is one encountered on campsites in Algonquin Park, Ontario – simple boxes with a hinged lid set over a hole in the ground and surrounded by lush screening vegetation, which avoids the shadowy, cobwebby, smelly interior of a walled outhouse (just keep a big umbrella in the tent for visits to the privy on rainy nights).

Although the pleasures of at-home glamping can be enjoyed by placing a luxury tent just outside one’s door,

(from housebeautiful.com)

we are fortunate to have a location on our land that feels a bit more like wilderness – a salt marsh that is a brief walk through the woods from our house.

A wooded hummock overlooking the marsh is the perfect spot for an airy canvas platform tent.

Waking up to a misty sunrise over the marsh will provide a dose of nature’s tonic to begin the day.

Walking back towards civilization along a woodsy path will be a soothing way to ease into the routines of daily life and work.

I’m convinced that backyard glamping will be a way to renew the spirit by sleeping closer to nature – in relative comfort – just as rusticators did over 100 years ago. I have a whole winter ahead to refine the plan. Stay tuned!

A Captured Moment of Tennis History

04.20.2017

This month our musings on antique sporting goods continue, but as the season gradually progresses towards summer our focus shifts from ice skates (our February posting) to tennis antiques.

 

full plate tennis tintype

 

We recently acquired and sold this rare tennis tintype. Tintypes were a photography innovation introduced in 1856 and used into the 1880s, in which images were printed on thin metal plates. The size of tintypes range from large full plates (6.5” x 8.5”), which are the most desirable to collectors, to small 1/16th plates (1.375” x 1.625”). This tennis photograph is a full plate tintype.

 

tennis tintype

 

Tennis antiques do not fit exactly within the genre of rustic antiques so it may seem surprising to see this tintype featured here, yet there are some interesting areas of overlap. One connection between tennis and rustic antiques is that tennis was a popular sport enjoyed by genteel rusticators in places such as summer colonies near the turn of the 20th century.

 

squirrel island tennis match

A circa 1905 women’s tennis match on Squirrel Island, a summer colony off the coast of Boothbay Harbor, Maine, where tennis was a popular island activity. (from the Stanley Museum)

 

Another connection is that early sporting accoutrements make intriguing accessories within present-day rustic décor, especially in vacation homes where enjoying leisure sporting activities has been a long tradition.

 

rusticators with tennis rackets Lake George

Rusticators with rackets on the porch of a Lake George, NY home, circa 1890 (from Tennis Antiques & Collectibles)

 

So the occurrence of an antique tennis tintype in our recent inventory is not completely anomalous. Also, like most antiques dealers we occasionally step outside of our main specialty area to buy and sell other types of antiques. Jeff has learned about tennis antiques over the years thanks in large part to the expertise and enthusiasm of his mother Jeanne Cherry, author of the 1995 book Tennis Antiques & Collectibles (the source for much of the historical information included here).

 

While the flourishing of tennis in the United States coincides with the height of the rusticator era, from the mid-1870s through the first decades of the 1900s, it is a game with a much longer history—the precursors of the modern game of tennis date back to the 12th century. By 1750 a game called court tennis had evolved in Europe, and although players (members of royalty and other elite classes) used a racket similar to the shape of the rackets used today, they played in a walled court using rules that were very different from those of modern tennis.

 

early tennis

Major Walter Clopton Wingfield of Wales who, beginning in 1873, was among the first to play and popularize lawn tennis as a social activity among Great Britain’s Victorian gentry (from Tennis Antiques & Collectibles)

 

It was not until the 1800’s that tennis started to be played outdoors on lawns, giving rise to the game of lawn tennis which is the game we refer to simply as “tennis” today, whether it is played on grass, clay, or hard courts. The year 1877 marked the start of tournament tennis at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club in Wimbledon, and by the 1880s lawn tennis had “supplanted croquet as a social garden party activity in which men and women could participate together” (Cherry, 1995).

 

tennis tintype

 

Indeed, the seven women and four men shown in this tintype were most likely participating in just such a garden party. Based on some limited information we received with the tintype, we think the photograph was taken in the outskirts of New York City, which is plausible because one of the earliest lawn tennis courts in the U.S. was established in Staten Island, NY, thereby introducing people in that region to the game. In 1874 a young socialite named Mary Ewing Outerbridge had just returned from Bermuda where she had played tennis and acquired a boxed set of tennis equipment. When she returned home she convinced her local club, the Staten Island Cricket and Baseball Club, to mark lines and set up nets to create lawn tennis courts so that she could introduce tennis to her friends.

 

webstatenislandclub

An 1885 photo of tennis courts and players at the Staten Island Cricket and Tennis Club (aliceausten.org). By 1895 there were over 100 tennis clubs in in the United States.

 

The men and women in our tintype are holding lopsided tennis rackets, which is the earliest form of lawn tennis rackets.

 

lopsided tennis racket
Lopsided rackets had a relatively brief period of production and use, lasting from 1874 to the mid-1880s when flat-top rackets were introduced and quickly became more popular. So knowing the dates of lopsided racket use along with the dates of tintype photography makes it easy to date this full plate tintype to circa 1880.

 

Tennis racket head shapes, 1874 to present (from Tennis Antiques & Collectibles, 1995)

Tennis rackets from 1874 to the 1930s showing the evolution of head shapes (from Tennis Antiques & Collectibles)

 

Lopsided rackets have an asymmetrical head and are based on the shape of the court tennis rackets used in the 1750s which also had lopsided heads, thick gut stringing, and long handles. That shape was particularly suited to scooping balls out of the corners of walled courts, as well as for putting spin on the ball.

 

A d from American Lawn Tennis, 1917 contrasting 1882 rackets with 1917 rackets (from Tennis Antiques & Collectibles, 1995)

A 1917 ad appearing in American Lawn Tennis contrasting 1882 rackets shapes with more modern 1917 oval-head rackets (from Tennis Antiques & Collectibles)

 

In addition to their tennis rackets, the other main feature of interest in the tintype is the clothing that the men and women are wearing. The men wear what they would also have worn for participating in sports such as cricket: white shirts, white or cream flannel trousers or knickers, and jaunty caps.

 

1880 men's tennis attire

 

The women, however, did not have such sporting attire. Instead they wore outfits for playing tennis that were very similar to the proper Victorian clothing they wore to garden parties: long dresses or skirts, corsets, petticoats, belts, bustles, and elaborate hats.

 

tennis tintype

 

lady's tennis attire

An 1881 Harper’s Bazar ad for a lawn tennis costume pattern (from Tennis Antiques & Collectibles)

 

Even as tennis became as much an athletic as a social event for women, the attire was slow to change. As late as 1905 May Sutton, a southern Californian who won that year’s Ladies Singles Championship at Wimbledon “created a small scandal by wearing her skirts a little above the ankle and rolling her sleeves up to the elbow” (Cherry, 1995).

 

maysutton

May Sutton Bundy (1887-1975) (cemeteryguide.com)

 

Tennis attire and tennis equipment (including rackets, presses, balls, ball containers, and tennis court marking and maintenance equipment) are just two categories of tennis antiques and collectibles. Other areas of collecting include decorative arts with tennis themes (jewelry, silver, and ceramics), fine art, books, prints and other ephemera, and photography. What we appreciate about tennis-related photography in particular is that its images immediately convey the context of early tennis culture, while individual objects convey smaller pieces of the larger tennis story.

 

One of our most rewarding roles as antiques dealers is enabling people to live with historical objects that speak to them in some way. Incorporating antiques into home decor is one way to assure that their aesthetic appeal is present in everyday environments. Many sporting antiques, including tennis equipment, are eminently suited to decorative display, and with a bit of creativity can blend well with rustic décor.

 

tennis decor

(tenniscanada.com)

 

Nostalgia for the Quiet Season

02.24.2017

Antique sporting goods – snowshoes, skis, skates, sleds, canoe paddles, tennis rackets, lacrosse sticks and the like – are reliably attractive accessories for rustic rooms. Within each category, examples range from “cheap and cheerful” to museum quality. For those who pursue sporting collectibles beyond their decorative value, there is always a lot to learn.

antique figure skates

I recently came across this photo of a pair of antique ice skates that I deaccessioned from my collection several years ago (well, okay, that’s a pretty fancy word for selling a relatively inexpensive object from a relatively modest collection, but there you have it). These circa 1900 skates are missing the leather straps that would have secured the blades to sturdy boots, becoming the precursors of modern boot skates.

antique ice skates

(from classicauctions.net)

I am drawn to antique skates because of their pleasing sculptural forms, such as the swan-head, short-curl and high-curl skates pictured below.

swan headed skates

(from iceskatesmuseum.com)

(from etsy.com)

(from etsy.com)

(from maineantiquedigest.com)

(from maineantiquedigest.com)

I also love the contextual images they evoke of people skating in the 19th and early 20th centuries, including the physical settings, social groupings, and what people wore and carried, such as muffs and lanterns.

"Winter - A Skating Scene" by Winslow Homer, 1868

“Winter – A Skating Scene” by Winslow Homer, 1868

The history and forms of antique ice skates, as well as their value as collectibles, are well documented in books (Antique Ice Skates for the Collector by Russell Herner, 2001), articles (“Antique Ice Skates in America” by Ann Bates, Maine Antique Digest, Feb. 1, 2010), and websites (e.g., antiqueiceskateclub.com).

skatesbook

Beyond their styles or values, the deepest appeal of antique ice skates for me is the emotion they evoke. Skating as a child in northern Maine was all about getting outside and having fun during an inhospitable season. Anyone who has ever skated on a lake or river knows the sense of freedom and even escapism it allows – there are probably few among us who have not related at times to Joni Mitchell’s lyric “Oh I wish I had a river I could skate away on…”

An 1895 photo of skating on a river that flows through my hometown (from mainememory.net)

An 1895 photo of people skating on a river that flows through my hometown (from mainememory.net)

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Bringing Nature In

11.21.2016

These reflections on bringing touches of nature indoors all started with a hornet’s nest. While on daily bird-watching walks around our property over the summer, Jeff noticed a huge hornet nest hanging from a branch about 10’ high in a maple tree along our driveway.

hornet nest

Although we didn’t take a photo of the nest in our own maple tree during the summer, it looked a lot like this, partially hidden among branches. (photo: dgrin.com)

A nest of Bald-faced Hornets (which are actually a species of yellowjacket wasps rather than true hornets) can be an unnerving presence over the summer, depending on its proximity to your house, garden, or relaxation and play spaces. But if the nest is far enough away to prevent unwanted encounters with its inhabitants, it can be safely ignored to allow the wasps to go about their business of enhancing their home, raising their young, eating other insects and pollinating wildflowers.

Then in late fall, after a few hard frosts kill the workers of the colony and spur the fertilized queen to decamp to a protected nook to overwinter, the beautiful product of the insects’ summer labors is easier to appreciate. Once the leaves fell from our maple tree (and after we had read up to make sure the nest wasn’t inhabited by hibernating insects, or that it would be reused the following year), we collected the nest and hung it temporarily in our garden shed.

hornet nest in garden shed

The strong yet amazingly light ovoid nest is made of layer upon layer of gorgeous marbleized sheaves that the wasps produce from chewed wood fiber.

hornet nest

 

hornet nest

This object is compelling because of its simple beauty, but it holds an allure beyond its pleasing shape, color and texture. There is something about physical objects that are direct products of nature rather than representations of it (in the form of paintings, sculpture and the like) which is fundamentally soul satisfying. Anyone attracted to the rustic aesthetic is likely to understand this.

rustic chair

Bits of nature – in this case the branch collars of a tamarack tree – often adorn rustic furniture.

As the hornet nest, now appreciated as an unintentional gift of nature, rested in our garden shed, I began thinking about whether and where to place it in our home. As often happens when a non-pressing thought lingers in the background of more immediate preoccupations, my mind was primed for inspiration. So when I came across a new book presenting images of nature in home décor, I took more notice than I normally might have. The book provides design inspiration that is quite different from, yet complementary to, the Adirondack/rustic aesthetic. Its pages provide a satisfying excursion through beautiful images and thought-provoking text, so it is worth sharing a brief overview.

The Natural Eclectic: A Design Aesthetic Inspired by Nature

The natural eclectic

This book is a surprisingly refreshing entry into the pantheon of coffee-table books on home styling. The author, Heather Ross, is an artist, photographer, stylist and shop owner (in Vancouver, BC). She is not an interior designer, so does not claim to have a flexible repertoire for creating diverse looks that express various clients’ tastes. Rather, the book presents her personal aesthetic, which will resonate with anyone who appreciates having tangible reminders of their connection to the natural world within their home environs.

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Rustic Meets Modern in a Collector’s Home

09.12.2016

Given the come-and-go nature of buying and selling antiques as dealers, we do not typically have the range of rustic furniture in stock at any one time to furnish every room of a house, or even to showcase one idyllic room setting. Therefore, it is a pleasure to present these photos from the home of a couple that has been collecting hickory furniture and rustic accessories for about 25 years. Over several decades they have honed their focus and continued to upgrade, thereby creating a curated treasury of pieces that manifest their personal tastes.

Two things set their home apart from many of the settings in which we’ve seen rustic collections. The first is that their collection resides in the home they live in every day, rather than in a vacation home. Secondly, they live in a mid-century house with white walls, rather than in a log or wood-paneled rustic home.

They are equally passionate about furniture, primarily antique Indiana hickory and Arts & Crafts genres, and accessories. Their accessories include art pottery made during the first decades of the 20th century by Ohio artisan Charles Walter Clewell, “weird wood” (a type of woodcraft created in many forms as rustic souvenirs in the early 20th century, in which the bark is left partially intact on the finished pieces), and animal carvings.

Old hickory furniture

This photo of their den shows examples of each of their collecting interests. The shelves flanking the fireplace contain an amazing collection of Clewell pottery. The hearth, coffee table and plinths hold pieces of weird wood. There are also a few animal carvings on the coffee table, and the two rustic floor lamps are carved to resemble tree trunks. Finally, there is a fine pair of Old Hickory barrel arm chairs with woven aprons. Their grey cat finds the chair on the right to be especially comfortable.

Old Hickory

Another view of the same room provides a better look at one of the Old Hickory chairs, and shows a hickory center table, a pair of weird wood tankards, and a table lamp with a carved bear.

Old Hickory furniture and Clewell pottery

This vignette displays elements from two of their collections – a rare form of Indiana hickory wall shelf and an Old Hickory dresser each holds pieces of Clewell pottery.

Old Hickory furniture

In an adjacent study, the collection themes continue – Clewell + weird wood + animal carvings + Old Hickory. Every piece is selected with a connoisseur’s eye. Some of the weird wood, such as the plaque in the middle left edge of the photo, features applied pot metal animals including deer, elk and moose. The Old Hickory chair whose back is shown in the lower right foreground is an uncommon 1940s modern design with its original nylon tape weaving. Juxtaposed with the rustic collections are a Frank O. Gehry cardboard “wiggle” chair and the original poster from a Marcel Duchamp exhibit featuring his Fountain piece, as photographed by Alfred Stieglitz. Keep Reading