Journal

Bears Hooked Rug

02.25.2014

bears hooked rug

For as long has there has been a market for antique American folk art, hooked rugs have been a strong category within it.  Many excellent examples are documented in the 1985 book American Hooked and Sewn Rugs: Folk Art Underfoot by Joel and Kate Kopp.  Hooked rugs that were made for simple household comfort by women who were not formally trained as artists were nonetheless often imbued with artistic expression. Such rugs have always appealed to us, and we have bought and sold many over the years.

The types of hooked rugs we’ve owned fit within three general categories of design: floral, geometric, and figural – meaning that they depict objects such as animals, houses or landscapes. Each category can be further divided as originating from a pattern or from the hooker’s own design.

floral hooked rug

Floral hooked rug

 

geometric hooked rug

Geometric hooked rug

 

owls hooked rug

Figural hooked rug

The two bears rug which we are currently offering for sale is an example of an original design figural hooked rug.  It is made of wool fabric strips, measures 53″ wide by 25″ high, and has been mounted on a frame for hanging.

bears hooked rug

The scene shows two bears, an adult and a cub, exploring a fallen tree in the forefront of a hilly landscape at sunrise.  Given how the bears seem to be intently focused on the tree stump, perhaps the creator imagined them raiding a bee hive within it.  The larger bear’s honey-colored, lolling tongue reinforces this impression.

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Fakes and Forgeries: Fiction Not Far From Fact

02.25.2014

Our winter reading of novels, memoirs and trade papers loosely coalesced recently around the themes of fakes, forgeries, thefts and high-stakes collecting.  Although those are not exactly pleasant topics for antiques dealers to ponder, it is wise to be cognizant of them.  So our musings this month meander from one reading source to another to present the reflections they inspired.

The Unwelcome Reality of Fakes

Any antiques dealer who has been in the business for more than a few days has encountered fakes, forgeries, or reproductions that are passed off as being old. You learn quickly how to discern such things and what to be suspicious of (if it is too good to be true…), especially after being burned by finding out that something you’ve purchased with hard-earned money turns out to be worthless in the antiques trade.  A dealer colleague used to quip about lessons learned from buying a fake: “It is cheaper than a college education.” But paying dearly for credit hours in the school of hard knocks is not a winning business strategy. Thankfully, once you develop a field of specialization in the antiques trade, you don’t often get fooled.

In our field we are more likely to run into contemporary items that were made as reproductions, than to encounter fakes or forgeries that are purposely made to deceive. For instance, root burl and birch bark clad furniture pieces made in China for the decorative market (“Chinarondack”) turn up at flea markets, antiques fairs, auctions and galleries where they are being marketed as antiques, usually with the non-specialist who owns or represents them being none the wiser about their origin or age.

Thankfully, reproductions that compete with the antiques we sell are usually so off-kilter in their design and materials (e.g., the chunk-a-lunk “canoe paddles” sold as wall décor in home furnishing catalogs) that they are easy to discern as new. But just a few weeks ago, a dealer whom we respect as a specialist in 19th century formal furniture offered us a great-at-first-glance trade sign advertising a variety of boats for rent.  He doesn’t deal much in signs, but thought of us when he saw this one. Close examination revealed that it was at most 10-20 years old, not 100 years old as he was led to believe. It was a reproduction of Victorian-era signage, probably manufactured by a decorative retail company. We had actually seen another sign of the same design once before in the booth of a nautical dealer at an antiques show, and then later in the home of a collector who had purchased it from that dealer. On both encounters we looked it over carefully, so when the design surfaced again recently our past experience helped us steer clear of it.

But in the fine art market where paintings can sell for millions of dollars, forgery is a high crime that requires more than a trained naked eye to detect. A recent novel, The Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro (Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books, 2013) explores that fascinating world.

artforger

The author crafts a fictional, fast-paced tale around a factual incident – the 1990 heist of 13 valuable works of art from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston.  She weaves together three time and character strands within the novel – the present day life and fateful encounters of a struggling artist named Claire who is painting legitimate reproductions for a living, a tragic love relationship in the recent past of this artist, and the imagined distant past life of Isabella Stewart Gardner in which her encounters with Degas in France are communicated via letters written to her niece between 1890-98.

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Old Hickory One-Drawer Stand

01.27.2014

Every so often we still acquire a piece of hickory furniture that we had seen pictured in vintage catalogs, but had yet to find on the market.  This little stand had caught our eye in the 1935 Old Hickory Furniture Company catalog because it is one of just a few Old Hickory end and side table designs that included a drawer.  We are pleased to finally have an example of this particular form to offer for sale.

Old HIckory one-drawer stand

This stand was produced within a special series of furniture introduced in 1935 that mixed hickory pole frames with distressed pine which, as the catalog relates, “lends its mellow charm to most cases and tables.” To increase the pine’s mellow surface character, workers at the Old Hickory factory distressed (or “antiqued”) the soft wood using chains and nails to impart the impression of a history of use.

Old Hickory one-drawer stand

The physical design of the pine and hickory furniture series also had a historical character, reflecting consumers’ interest in Colonial revival forms during the 1930s.  An entertaining sales pitch and aesthetic rationale for these designs was spelled out in the introduction to the 1935 Old Hickory catalog:

The files of Early Americana and a wide observation in the peasant districts of Europe have afforded many inspirations for the quaint, authentic and ‘true to type’ patterns shown in Old Hickory’s new groupings of rustic furniture…The details of a century-gone craftsmanship, the homely old materials, rope, leather, pine, square-headed nails, have all been faithfully used…There is, in these new patterns, relief from the jangle of cities and the standardized forms of today so wearisome to nerves and eyes.  They carry you back to wind-swept prairies, deep primeval forests, and last and best of all, the men and women who faced this wilderness, axe in hand, with which to new a home.

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Not Obsolete: Five (Plus Two) Popular Old-fashioned Furnishings for Rustic Retreats

01.27.2014

We recently came across a blog post listing ten furniture pieces that, in the opinion of the author, are becoming extinct in the wake of modern lifestyles, technologies and tastes – including TV cabinets, roll-top desks, and water beds. This spurred our thinking about how furniture changes with the times – not just the era-specific styles (e.g., ornate Louis XIV or spare mid-century modern) reflected in furniture design, but also the actual pieces of furniture that in some time periods are more central to daily life than in others. Curio cabinets and ferneries were particularly well-suited to Victorian hobbies and décor, whereas sectional sofas and mudroom storage cubbies are popular today.

Much of the antique furniture we sell, however, is placed in rustic retreats where families consciously lead a more relaxed and simpler lifestyle that provides a respite from the normal bustle and patterns of modern everyday life.  So along with rustic versions of the basics that are desirable furnishings in any modern home – dining tables and chairs, upholstered chairs, rocking chairs, sofas, console tables, lamps, mirrors and the like – rustic homes often include types of furniture that harken back to earlier eras.  Here are five such pieces that prove to be ever popular for rustic retreats:

1. Game tables.  Card games and jigsaw puzzles typically happen during leisure hours with family members of all ages. There is not always room in our primary homes to dedicate a table surface to a jigsaw puzzle in progress, but having a table that is always available for and well suited to holding puzzles, board games and card games is a priority in many vacation retreats.

Habitant game table

Old Hickory game table

2. Porch gliders. Nothing quite evokes an idyllic rustic lifestyle like whiling away an evening gently gliding to and fro on a porch with a view of nature.  Rustic gliders, especially versions with seat springs and cushions, are sometimes used as indoor sofas as well.

old hickory upholstered glider

Old HIckory glider

3. Coat trees. In more formal homes, outdoor coats typically reside in a hall closet.  But free-standing coat trees, developed when houses did not have commodious closets, get a lot of use in rustic homes – in bedrooms for a favorite flannel shirt and wool sweater, in bathrooms for towels and robes, and near doors for sunhats and fishing caps, binoculars and creels, jackets and rain slickers.

rustic hall trees

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Owl Bookends

12.30.2013

owl bookends

These bookends fit within several categories of collectibles, each with its own world of variation:  figural cast iron, bookends, and owls.  For our audience interested in rustic décor, it is more likely the owl form that will have primary appeal, with their value as uncommon vintage cast iron figures in excellent condition, as well as their usefulness as bookends, being secondary attractions.

owl bookends

For collectors of figural cast iron such as bookends and door stops, condition and rarity are important attributes. These bookends (6” high, 4.25” wide, 2.25” deep) retain their pristine original surface, painted in shades of yellow, green, brown, silver and black.

owl bookends

 The form is a stylized owl rather than a portrayal of a particular species – it captures the essence of owl anatomy including large, forward-facing eyes, a facial disk with shortened feathers, and an upright posture.

owls

(Barred owl photo from adenabrook.org)

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A Snowy Owl Irruption

12.30.2013

It has been an exciting early winter for bird watchers here in Maine and elsewhere in the Northeast, along the Atlantic seaboard and throughout the Great Lakes region, due to a plethora of Snowy Owl visitors.  For our final Musings entry of the year, we are delving further into the owl theme introduced in this month’s Featured Find.

snowy owl

(wikipedia.org)

Every so often birds that normally live year-round in the Arctic make their way south in large numbers during the winter months.  This past summer researchers reported high breeding productivity among Snowy Owls in the Arctic.  Their primary food source – the lemming – was plentiful, so adult owls laid as many as 8-9 eggs, about twice their usual clutch size.  But when the hordes of hatchlings became hungry adolescents later in the season they started to disperse southward, presumably in search of more abundant food supplies.

Since Snowy Owls actively hunt during the day and prefer wide-open, tundra-like expanses such as salt marshes, sand dunes and hay fields, they are relatively easy to spot.  When we’ve seen them in past winters, however, it has been across an expanse of estuary where even through a spotting scope they appeared miniscule.

But we recently had the pleasure of watching a Snowy Owl for an extended length of time from only 30’ away.  This was in Biddeford Pool, Maine, an old settlement along a large tidal pool at the mouth of the Saco River in southern Maine, where as many as ten Snowy Owls have been seen at a time this winter. The one we viewed was sitting on the arm of an Adirondack chair, no less.  We were mesmerized gazing through binoculars at its large yellow eyes and swiveling head.  Since we had neglected to bring a camera, we only got a poor cell phone photo taken from a respectful distance, so you’ll have to use your imagination to turn the blob on the right arm of the middle chair into a magnificent Snowy Owl.

snowy owl

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Rare Indiana Hickory Steamer Chair

11.25.2013

Hickory steamer chairThis hickory chair evokes the leisure lounging of passengers on the deck of a steamship, yet it is much sturdier than traditional steamer chairs which typically had light open cane weave or flat slats on the seat and back, and thin, collapsible mahogany frames.  In contrast, this chair has a sturdy hickory pole frame with solid double stretchers along its length, and a tight herringbone weave rattan cane seat and back.  It does, however, have the basic shape of a steamer chair with a long leg rest and a slightly inclined back rest, as seen in this vintage photo of passengers relaxing aboard a steamship.

passengers in steamer chairs

Photo postcard available on eBay

Despite Indiana’s proximity to the Great Lakes where passenger steamers were a popular means of transportation from the 1890s through the 1940s, these heavy hickory chairs would not have been manufactured with steamships in mind.  This circa 1930 ad for an Old Hickory steamer chair indicates that a more likely target audience for these chairs was institutions such as sanitariums, hospitals, hotels and resorts.

ohadweb

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Room Design Tools for Placing Antiques, Part 2

11.25.2013

This article is a follow-up to my previous posting on a quest for design software that could easily be used to place footprints of unique antique furniture in two-dimensional room schematics.  While the previous software I reported on fell short of ideal, I have recently found a more useful tool.

It has become common for mega home furnishings stores to provide an on-line tool that allows customers to place footprints of their products in a diagram specified to the size and shape of their own rooms.  But many of these tools only allow a user to insert furniture of the exact dimensions of the products the company sells, so are not adaptable for people wanting to try out unique antique furniture in a virtual room setting.  One tool used by these stores, however, is much more flexible, because it provides templates of generic furnishing (sofas, chairs, tables, lamps and the like) whose exact dimensions a user can specify.  It is room planner software developed by Icovia which different companies customize with their own logos and homepages, but the inner functioning across all of the stores’ applications are the same.

I tried this software as provided by Ballard Designs (download the free app at https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/ballard-room-planner/id504303985?mt=8) by first creating an accurate dimensional outline of a recently renovated room in our home that we are ready to furnish.  Although I first tried to use the tool as an app on a mobile device (an iPad) I found that it lacked some key features that function on a standard desktop or laptop computer, which I suspect has to do with Flash not being functional on iPads.

Once I got going with this app on my pc, however, it was quick and fun to use.  I created a diagram of our 34’ x 14’ library, and moved walls to create the fireplace, bow window and entry doors to their actual dimensions.

room layout

room layout

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Large-scale Birch Bark Canoe Model

10.23.2013

Native American birch bark canoe models that were made in the 1800s to early 1900s were accurate replicas of a tribe’s full-size birch bark canoes.  The scholarly book titled The Bark Canoes and Skin Boats of North America by Edwin Tappan Adney and Howard I. Chapelle (Smithsonian Institution, 1964) has numerous detailed drawings and descriptions of traditional birch bark canoes and their construction.  The authors document the characteristics of many different tribes’ canoes, which makes it possible to attribute a birch bark canoe model to a particular tribe.

 

birch bark canoe model

 

This early 20th century model has the shape and characteristics of an Abnaki canoe. The Abnaki Indians included some Malecites and Penobscots, as well as members of southern and central New England tribes including those in New Hampshire and Vermont.  Eventually this group settled on the St. Francis River in Quebec, so Abnakis were also known as St. Francis Indians.

The various tribes making up the Abnaki group each had its own traditional style of canoes, but by the 1850s when they were living together in settlements along the St. Francis River they produced distinctive canoes that were an amalgam of different tribes’ designs.  Known for their excellent quality, these canoes sold well to sportsmen who used them for hunting and fishing.

 

Abnaki birch bark canoe

Fisherman and guide in a St. Francis Abnaki canoe (Adney & Chapelle)

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A Design Tool That’s Quick, Easy and … Inadequate

10.23.2013

arrangeroom2web

It can sometimes be hard to buy furniture without knowing how it will fit into a room, so I (KH) thought it would be useful to introduce our customers to a quick tool for inserting furniture footprints into a scale drawing of a room.  Huge companies such as Pottery Barn that sell mass-produced furniture online now have tools that let you draw your room dimensions, then insert two-dimensional outlines of their furniture to get a basic idea of how their products might fit your space.  This article reports the initial results of my quest to figure out how Cherry Gallery could adapt such a tool to assist buyers of unique antique furniture.

Fortuitously, we are completing renovations on an old (original portions built circa 1800, with major 1890s additions) house, and are nearly ready to furnish the final room that was gutted and refurbished over the past several months.  This room provides our real-life case study for testing online tools for drawing a floor plan and experimenting with adding furniture to scale.  My two main criteria were that the tool be free (not requiring purchased software), and so friendly that drawing the initial room outline on a computer screen would take no more time than it would to draw it on a piece of graph paper.

That quick-and-easy criterion pretty much ruled out using 3-D design tools, even though there are some good ones available online for free.  When designing our kitchen a few years ago, I was inspired by a 3-D rendering our brother-in-law had made of their kitchen plan using free but powerful modeling software called SketchUp.  I saw his rendering while visiting the completed kitchen in their new house, and was impressed by how well his plan evoked the actual space I was standing in.

Kitchen plan from Sketchup's sample renderings

Kitchen plan from Sketchup’s sample renderings

Deck plan from  Sketchup's sample renderings

Deck plan from Sketchup’s sample renderings

So I diligently set about trying to use SketchUp to transform our mental images of a new kitchen into a snazzy architectural rendering.  Suffice it to say that I flunked my self-taught course in SketchUp, being impatient to produce a product rather than master a process.  I resorted to making a 2-D floor plan on graph paper to give to our cabinet maker who then created elevations.

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