Pearl Wisdom: Natural and Man-Made

At first glance, pearls may seem simple and uncomplicated, but there’s much more to their story than meets the eye.

There are two general classes of pearls: natural or man-made. Natural pearls are created by a living organism as a result of irritation. It occurs when a foreign object like a piece of shell or bone, or even another living thing, becomes stuck within an invertebrate with a soft shell, such as an oyster or mussel. In an act of protecting itself, the host organism begins to cover the foreign element in nacre, a crystalline material secreted by the organism. Over time, built-up layers of nacre cover the irritant. Because the process is not tied to any particular time schedule, the result is a product whose pattern, sheen, color, and dimensions are unique. Each natural pearl has its own individual identity.

Bulgari two-strand choker necklace with ruby rondelle beads and cultured pearls, 18K yellow gold clasp. Auctioned by Clars Auction Gallery for $70,000 + buyer’s premium on Feb. 19, 2012. Clars and LiveAuctioneers image

Man-made pearls, which do not rely on nature to take its course, are far more common than their natural counterparts. Also, pearl harvesting has been an ongoing pursuit for generations, so discoveries of old pearls are far less common than in the past.

Jewelry dealer and pearl appraiser Deborah Boskin, owner of db Designs, explained the effect that diminished supply has had on the pearl market. “The increase in interest and resale value for natural pearls has steadily grown over the past two decades,” she said.

This makes it an opportune time to sell natural pearls or turn one’s focus toward cultured pearls, which are available and affordable.   

Pearl Fact: Fewer than one in every 10,000 oysters produces a natural pearl of significant value.

To meet the growing demand for pearls, the practice of culturing pearls began in the late 19th century. It was the innovation of Kokichi Mikimoto that led to production of the first cultured pearls. After witnessing the depletion of oysters due to overharvesting in the waters near his homeland of Japan, Mikimoto sought to devise a process that would produce man-made, or cultured, pearls. Mikimoto achieved his goal in July of 1893 when he was able to culture a semi-spherical pearl, according to information from the Mikimoto website.

As explained on mikimotoamerica.com, cultured pearls transformed the opportunity of acquiring a pearl “from a chance to a certainty.” Not unlike nature’s process of creating a pearl, cultured pearls begin with a foreign object invading the tissue of an oyster. However, the object is placed inside the oyster by a technician, thus forcing the living organism to begin the process of coating the foreign element with nacre, according to information found at PurePearls.com. The process of creating cultured pearls may take place in either fresh or saltwater.

Opening oysters, extracting and cleaning pearls found inside, near the seaside town of Xiamen, China. Photo by Gauthier Delecroix, Creative Commons image.

Cultivating pearls in saltwater may take anywhere from 18 months to three years, while cultured pearls formed in freshwater settings, including lakes, rivers, and ponds, may be harvested as soon as two years after the process has commenced, says PurePearls.com.

Cultured seawater pearls generally come from one of three locations, which is also a definition of the type of pearl. Akoya cultured pearls are the most common and best known. These pearls are produced in Japan and China; while South Sea cultured pearls are produced in the waters off Australia, Indonesia, and the Philippines. Tahitian cultured pearls are cultivated around the islands of French Polynesia, most specifically Tahiti.

Pearl Fact: Archeological records reveal Mesopotamia was where natural pearls were discovered and first viewed as collectible gems. This took place around 2300 B.C., according to information obtained at the National Geographic website.

As fashion and cultural standards have changed, so, too, has the position of importance held by pearls.

Diamond and seed pearl necklace with central saltwater pearl measuring 60 centimeters. Auctioned for £1,300 ($1,600) in November 2017. Fellows and LiveAuctioneers image.

“For quite a while, every young woman owned and wore her cultured pearl strand as one of her primary pieces of jewelry. Japanese Akoya cultured pearls, both in graduated and uniform bead necklaces, were the status quo. Think of outfits in the 1950s and you can picture it,” Boskin said. “In the ’60s, styles began to change, and in the ’80s, South Sea cultured pearls came on strong. In the past few decades, people were inheriting cultured pearls necklaces from their grandmothers, aunts and mothers, but no one was wearing them, or buying them. On the secondary market, their value went down. There were too many sellers and too few buyers.”

She went on to say, “For South Sea pearls, the market was incredibly strong in both retail and secondary markets. The larger the pearl, the better, and people could own so many varieties – white, black, golden, bronze, pistachio colors in round, baroque and mixed strands,” Boskin continued. “Then in the 2000’s, the Chinese freshwater pearls being created began to be larger, rounder and with higher luster. Because they looked similar enough to South Sea pearls but were far less expensive, the South Sea market became quite soft. Today, the secondary market for cultured pearls overall seems to be slowly building back up.”

Although seawater cultured pearls are represented by a variety of types, these types are far less common than freshwater cultured pearls. Cultured pearls produced in seawater make up less than 10 percent of the global cultured pearl production, according to information found on the National Geographic website. In addition, seawater cultured pearls often have a higher value than freshwater pearls. Pearl farmers cultivating pearls in freshwater sources use mussels rather than oysters as the host, and they are able to insert a greater number of irritants into a single mussel, resulting in some 50 pearls at a time.

Baroque pearl and silver-inlay necklace. Jasper52 and LiveAuctioneers image

Pearl Facts: Pearl shapes and colors continue to evolve with technological advancements. Despite what may seem to be the case, the majority of cultured pearls are baroque, which simply means they are not round traditional pearls, but unique in shape.

If all this talk about pearls, natural and cultured, is igniting an interest in you to learn more, Boskin offers a few words of advice, starting with “buy what you love.” While jewelry does hold value, it is a relative value. It may not sell later for as much as its purchase price or insured “value.” Everything is continent on the whims of the market at any given point in time.

A final gem of wisdom about collecting pearls, natural or cultured, is to look for the best luster possible, Boskin said. Not only does luster enhance the beauty of a pearl, it tends to make the pearl more valuable.

Contact Deborah Boskin at http://www.deborahboskin.com.

Collecting Old Glory

The American Flag is an object of admiration and empowerment. Songs have been written about it, poems reference it, it’s the subject of artwork and countless designs, and it is at the core of the patriotism felt by many generations of Americans. The American flag also symbolizes the character of a nation and its people.

That’s a lot for a piece of textile to live up to, but the American Flag has done so for 250 years, since its design first began to take shape. To examine the changes in American Flag design over the centuries and the appeal it holds to collectors, we turned to foremost flag expert Jeff R. Bridgman, principal of Jeff R. Bridgman Antiques, Inc. www.jeffbridgman.com.

As Bridgman explained in his researched writing The Evolution of the Design of the American National Flag, the Sons of Liberty played an integral role in the foundation of the flag and its design. This came about in 1767 as the group worked to muster support within the colonies against British tyranny. History references the adoption, by the Sons of Liberty, of a flag featuring nine vertical stripes, alternating between white and red, as a symbol of the nine colonies that opposed the Stamp Act of 1765. Reports also point to the presence of flags featuring variations of the stripes, and the color selection, with the occasional inclusion of blue, in the design of flags seen during the early years of the Revolutionary War, according to Bridgman’s research.

Depiction of the Grand Union Flag, aka Continental Colors, thirteen horizontal stripes in alternating red and white, with the British Union Jack in its canton. Artwork by Hoshie.

An example of this is the “Grand Union” flag, largely accepted as the first national flag of the United States. This flag featured 13 stripes of alternating red and white, with the image of the British Union Flag positioned in its canton, at the top left corner. This flag would remain the generally accepted flag of the United States until June 14, 1777, when Flag Day was established and the recognizable “Stars & Stripes” version stitched by Betsy Ross was officially adopted. The resolution of the Second Continental Congress accepted on June 14, 1777 states: “Resolved, That the flag of the United States be made of thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new Constellation.”

Bridgman spoke of two other moments in the history of the flag’s design as being especially significant.

“The next would be 1795, when the flag was officially updated to include two more stars and two more stripes. In 1818 it was updated again, adding five more stars, but the stripe count was returned to the original thirteen. At the same time, it was decided that the flag would be updated annually, on July 4th, if any new states were added over the course of the ‘flag year,’” he said.

“For the first 135 years of our flag’s existence, it actually had no official star pattern, no official shades of red and blue, and no official proportions. There was also no official number of points that the stars had to have. All of this was decreed in 1912 via an Executive Order of President William Howard Taft.”

Hand-sewn cotton 34-star Civil War flag, canton incorporating the crosses of St. Andrew and St. George, possibly made with Southern sympathies, 1861-63. The stars are double-appliqued – sewn to both sides. Measures 48¾ by 68½ inches. Price: $26,500, available from www.jeffbridgman.com.

Bridgman went on to say, “Those were the big years. Also important was 1861. Before this date, private citizens seldom flew the Stars and Stripes. The onset of the Civil War and some related events changed all that.”

Flag Fact: The current version of the American Flag, featuring 13 alternating red and white stripes, and 50 stars on a blue background, has been in place since 1960 with Hawaii’s admittance into the Union as the 50th state.

With such a robust and multilayered history, it’s little wonder that American Flags are so coveted by collectors. In terms of current interest for the American Flag market, Bridgman cites the particular appeal of flags with historical ties. This places Civil War flags, both Confederate and Union, squarely in the arena of greatest popularity. Also influencing today’s collecting trends is the recent controversy over the Confederate battle flag. The removal of Confederate monuments is actually fueling the market for legitimate historical materials, Bridgman said, adding that collectors have a heightened sense of awareness about how our nation’s history is preserved.

“We use history to teach our kids about how we have grown as a nation. Confederate flags are a part of that,” he said. “They are a part about how we struggled and evolved. The objects that the war produced – textiles and otherwise – are beautiful and fascinating in their own right.”

Another area receiving attention from collectors are political campaign flags. “(They) are achieving results at auction like never before,” Bridgman said.

Evidence of Market Interest: In more than a few instances, antique campaign flags entered an elevated level at auction in 2017. During its July 2017 auction, Hakes’ Americana & Collectibles presented a selection of campaign flags that prompted several well-publicized bidding battles. For example, an 1860 Lincoln and Hamlin campaign flag sold for $40,124; and a John Bell Constitutional Union Party flag rose to $13,700, nearly tripling its high estimate of $5,000, according to an article posted by Antique Trader. Yet, the example that made auction history was a campaign flag touting James Buchanan and John C. Breckinridge as the Democratic Party’s running mates in the U.S. presidential election of 1856. The flag sold for a record-setting $275,000 during a May 2017 auction conducted by Heritage Auctions. The winning bidder was none other than Bridgman, according to an article posted by LiveAuctioneers’ Auction Central News.

1860 campaign parade flag with 33 stars in a pentagon medallion configuration and with an uncommon abbreviation of President Lincoln’s first name. The flag’s provenance includes a period of time when it was sewn into a quilt consisting of several rare political flags. Measures 11½ by 17 inches. Price: $48,000, available from www.jeffbridgman.com.

In addition to activity at auction and direct sales through his company, Bridgman is also witnessing the appeal and interest in American Flags first hand at the many shows he attends each year.

“(Shows) usually provide a ton of education for both collectors and dealers alike. Sometimes we learn as much or more from clients as we teach them. Shows are often full of educated, interested historians and collectors of all kinds,” said Bridgman. “They are a great place to actually see and touch material first hand and ask all of the questions necessary and get answers straight from the horse’s mouth, if you will.”

Attendance at shows helps with the overall education of a collector, which is something they will draw on for a lifetime. This is particularly important when people are purchasing flags from sellers via the Internet. The virtual world can provide unimaginable opportunity, but it also can be an overwhelming and confusing place for collectors just getting started, according to Bridgman. This speaks to the importance of educating oneself and becoming familiar with the history of both flags and textiles.

Tips From the Top: Bridgman’s Advice About Starting a Flag Collection

  • Buy from experts who have handled many flags. Don’t be drawn to the temptation of saving a dollar. If you do, you’ll more often lose dollars than win them. This goes for all categories of antiques and is in no way unique to flags. Whether it is silver, paintings, tramp art, decoys, porcelain, guns, or quilts, go to someone who knows their materials backwards and forwards and can be positively trusted to identify authenticity. A good deal will also tell you when they don’t know something.
  • After you’ve selected an expert and chosen some objects that you like, go with your gut. You’ll usually be happiest when you pick something you love.
  • Protect your investment by getting it mounted and framed by an expert in conservation of early textiles. Use U.V. protective glass or Plexiglas, change your lighting to LED, and minimize ambient light exposure when you are not using the space occupied by the textile.

With more than 25 years in the business of acquiring and selling flags, Bridgman’s appreciation for flags, their history and meaning runs deep.

“I love flags because they are not only an objectification of my love for America, its history and all it was intended by our forefathers to stand for, but also what America offers to people with the wherewithal follow to their dreams,” he said. “I also love the flag for the artistic achievement of the people who made it in the 18th and 19th centuries, when people had the liberty to design it as they chose.”

Thirteen-star American Navy jack with a diamond configuration that is unique among 13-star flags, likely made for a Hudson River paddle wheel steamer, circa 1880-1895. The jack flag is flown at the bow (front) of a military ship when at anchor or moored. Measures 23¾ by 35¼ inches, mounted and framed by Bridgman Antiques, Inc., conservation department. Price: $9,800, available from www.jeffbridgman.com.

At any given time, Bridgman has about 2,500 flags in stock, with the majority dating to the 19th century, some from the 20th century. Interestingly, recently he re-acquired a flag he had sold years ago. His in-depth explanation about the flag’s provenance demonstrates the type of appreciation Bridgman has for flags, and his intention to help others cultivate that appreciation for themselves.

The flag he re-acquired, Bridgman explained, is “a Liberation flag, made in France to celebrate the arrival of American troops following the Normandy invasion. Specifically, it was given to the 3rd Squad of the 8th Infantry Regiment (Motorized), which served under the 4th Infantry Division during the June 6 attack.”

He went on to say, “On the following day, the unit relived the famous 82nd Airborne Division at Ste. Mere/Eglise, battling German tanks and Panzer Regiments. Members of the French resistance movement presented the flag to the 3rd squadron while passing through French territory, and the squad proceeded to carry it through the balance of the war.”

“It has a beautiful, light blue, silk canton and wide red stripes that are a deep scarlet,” Bridgman said, describing the flag. “Like many of the flags I love best, it’s beautiful and unusual as well as historical.”

Finally, when asked about the valuable lessons that can be learned from exploring the American Flag’s long design evolution, Bridgman offered the following thoughts:

“[An appreciation for] quality hard work and a job well done, caringly delivered, value in handcrafted construction and thoughtful design; pride in patriotic love for our country, its people, and the men and women of our military who, with their own will and that of many great presidents and leaders, have afforded us all of the things we have today.”

He continued: “Many of these we take for granted, wanting more and more, and demanding special attention at every turn. A historic flag reminds me of a simpler time, when men and women made their own happiness from their own sweat and endeavors, and thanked God for what this great nation made available.”

To learn more about American flags, visit www.jeffbridgman.com.

 

Links to sources mentioned:

“Evolution of the Design of the American National Flag”:
http://www.jeffbridgman.com/pdf/2017-THE%20EVOLUTION%20OF%20THE%20DESIGN%20OF%20THE%20AMERICAN%20NATIONAL%20FLAG%20FROM%201767%20-%201912,%20AS%20IT%20RELATES%20TO%20COLLECTING%20ANTIQUE%20EXAMPLES.pdf

Flag Fact:
http://www.ushistory.org/betsy/flagfact.html

Sale of Lincoln and Hamlin flag through Hake’s:
http://www.antiquetrader.com/antiques/collectibles/1860-campaign-flag-sets-world-record/

Sale of Buchanan flag through Heritage:
https://www.liveauctioneers.com/news/auctions/auction-results/james-buchanan-1856-campaign-flag-posts-world-record-heritage-auctions/

Richard Avedon: Life through the lens

“If a day goes by without my doing something related to photography, it’s as though I’ve neglected something essential to my existence, as though I had forgotten to wake up.” — Richard Avedon

This quote from iconic 20th-century photographer Richard Avedon speaks to the deep passion he felt toward photography. It was a passion he summoned in capturing on film the essence of people, the various experiences and emotions of life, and the evolving landscape of culture.

The Beatles Portfolio: John Lennon, Ringo Starr, George Harrison and Paul McCartney, circa 1967, London, four dye-transfer prints, printed 1990, 21 5/8 x 17 3/8 in. each, signed and numbered 1/6 in ink in the margin. Sold for $600,000 at auction in October of 2011. Phillips and LiveAuctioneers image.

During his 60-year career, Avedon produced portraits of leaders and legends, including Marilyn Monroe, Malcolm X, Gloria Vanderbilt, Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer, and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. He revealed the glamorous world of fashion in its most authentic state, and, in stark contrast, the somber realities of life inside a mental institution.

One thing that is evident in Avedon’s work is that it didn’t matter if the subject was famous, infamous or unknown. From his perspective behind the lens of a camera, all were of equal importance.   

Portrait of elderly woman, borderless gelatin silver print, unmounted, 6¾ x 9¼ in. Sold for $340 during a January 2018 auction. Jasper52 and LiveAuctioneers image

Fun fact: Avedon was a pioneer in America’s mid-century advertising culture. His photography helped shape campaigns that made Calvin Klein, Revlon and Versace, among others, household names on an international scale.

Born in 1923 to parents with familial ties to fashion – one in manufacturing and the other in sales – it’s easy to see how Avedon’s interest in clothing came about. A love of photography took hold in his pre-teen years after joining New York City’s Young Men’s Hebrew Association Camera Club, according to Biography.com.

Avedon’s interest in photography continued to grow throughout his high school years, and he honed his skills after joining the Merchant Marine. He served as a photographer’s mate second class, from 1942 to 1944, assigned to shoot photo portraits for mariners’ identification cards. After fulfilling his commitment to the Merchant Marine, Avedon continued to study the mechanics of photography, both in academic settings and on the job. This resulted in a variety of opportunities that allowed him to photograph world leaders, entertainers and everyday people.

Groucho Marx, gelatin silver print, taken in 1972 and printed in 1975, signed, numbered 11/50 in ink, 15¾ x 15 in. Sold for $8,500 during an October 2011 auction. Phillips and LiveAuctioneers image

Fun Fact: Securing a job as a photographer at either Harper’s Bazaar or Vogue would have been a career pinnacle for Avedon, but he actually worked at both, for extended periods of time. His career highlights also included joining The New Yorker as its first full-time staff photographer.

After a 1955 exhibition of his work at the Museum of Modern Art, Avedon became a global name, with his photographs appearing at many other prestigious institutions around the world. They included the Smithsonian Institution, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, Minneapolis Institute of Art, University Art Museum at Berkeley, and the Carnegie Museum of Art, as well as countless galleries.

JudyGarland exhibition portrait taken at the Palace Theater, New York, in 1951, gelatin silver matte, photographer signature on recto, 11 x 13¾ in. Sold for $3,750 during a March 2010 auction. Profiles in History and LiveAuctioneers image.

In March, an exhibition featuring 27 photos of President John F. Kennedy and family taken by Avedo, concluded at the Springfield Museum in Massachusetts. According to information on the Springfield Museum’s website, Avedon was the lone photographer granted permission to take official White House-approved photos of the Kennedy family during the time between Kennedy’s election and Inauguration Day.

From various accounts, it appears Avedon lived his life the way he had hoped he would, and it seems his death kept with the script. On Oct. 1, 2004, Avedon died from a cerebral hemorrhage – while shooting photographs for The New Yorker in Texas.

“If each photograph steals a bit of the soul, isn’t it possible that I give up pieces of mine every time I take a picture?” — Richard Avedon

Sources:

https://www.biography.com/people/richard-avedon-9193034; https://www.avedonfoundation.org/history/; https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2013/sep/20/big-picture-richard-avedon-women

5 Authors of Young Adult Fiction You Should Know

Growing up can be glorious, exhilarating and difficult—and that might very well be just one day. For generations, writers have explored this most complex, yet all too relatable topic, in the genre of literature commonly known as Young Adult Fiction, or simply YA.

The past couple of decades have been a boon to this genre of literature. Global YA sensations include series such as Harry Potter, Twilight, The Hunger Games and The Shadowhunter Chronicles, and singular top-sellers including A Fault in Our Stars, The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian, The Book Thief and most recently The Hate U Give, captivating audiences of all ages, backgrounds and regions.

First edition of ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone,’ author’s presentation copy inscribed by J.K. Rowling to the family of her daughter’s nursery school chum, one of only 500 copies printed in 1997. Sold for about $140,738 at Bonhams in November 2017. Bonhams image

However, these modern-day reflections of the accomplishment and angst that often accompany the period of life between childhood and adulthood are part of a legacy of literature that helped generations of people through the most trying times. Do vintage classics including Charlotte’s Web, The Outsiders, The Catcher in the Rye, the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys series, and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn ring a bell?

Legendary List: One of the most extensive lists of “best of the best” in YA was compiled by Time magazine: http://time.com/100-best-young-adult-books/

In no specific order, we’ll look at five authors of Young Adult Fiction whose contributions to literature provided voices of truth for millions of young people. These works also afford those with a passion for literature and collecting the unique opportunity to amass a library of references that speak volumes and can become a cherished collection.

—Judy Blume: Born in 1938 and raised in Elizabeth, New Jersey, she currently resides in Key West, Florida, with her husband, where they operate the nonprofit Books & Books @ The Studios. She’s the award-winning author of 29 books including the revolutionary YA works Freckle Juice, Blubber and Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. Her first book was published in 1969. Her books dealt with topics not often discussed with young adults of 1970s America. Subjects including teen sex, birth control, bullying, body image and death.

In addition to selling more than 85 million copies of her books, which include versions in 32 languages, Blume has long been an active advocate of the National Coalition Against Censorship, according to information on judyblume.com.

—John Greene: Born in 1977 in Indianapolis, Ind. He is an award-winning novelist specializing in YA fiction. To date, he’s authored five books and co-authored an additional two, with two of his books (A Fault in Our Stars and Paper Towns) transformed into feature films. In an uncommon, but innovative move, Green teamed up with fellow YA author David Levithan (New York Times best-selling author of Every Day and Invisibility) to co-author the series Will Grayson, according to Green’s official site, www.johngreenebooks.com. Another element of his body of work is viewable via YouTube. In the virtual universe, he teamed up with his brother, Hank, more than a decade ago to communicate primarily through video blogs at vlogbrothers.com on YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/user/vlogbrothers). The brothers also developed the program Crash Course (https://www.youtube.com/user/crashcourse), which features vlogs where the subjects of history, literature, economics, biology, chemistry and government, among others, are discussed. Each program is led by an expert in the field. At present, the Crash Course channel has 7.4 million subscribers, and the vlogbrothers greet a community of 3.1 million subscribers on YouTube.

YA Perspective: “The defining characteristic of YA literature is emotional truth,” responded David Levithan, author of Every Day, in an article appearing in The Atlantic. “Even if we’re not the same as the characters we read, they are all dealing with things—issues of who they are, who they should be, what they should and shouldn’t do—that we all deal with, in their own ways. With The Hunger Games, even if we will never be in Katniss’s shoes, the decisions she makes make emotional sense to us—even when she makes the wrong ones.”

—Jason Reynolds (1970): In his own words this Brooklyn-based writer plans to: NOT WRITE BORING BOOKS. Based on the sales of and accolades surrounding the 11 books he’s written, it appears he is on target with his goal. Graduating from The University of Maryland, College Park, he’s earned a litany of awards in the nine years since the debut of this New York Times bestselling author’s first novel. He’s the winner of a Kirkus Award, Walter Dean Myers Award, an NAACP Image Award, and several Coretta Scott King honors. This is in addition to being named a Newberry Award, Printz Award and National Book Award honoree, according to his author’s page at the site of his publisher, Simon & Schuster.

Jason Reynolds ‘As Brave as You,’ published in 2016, is a Kirkus Award finalist, Schneider Family Book Award winner, and a Coretta Scott King Award winner. It is the story of two young brothers from Brooklyn who spend the summer with their grandparents in Virginia. Simon & Schuster image

Among the YA books Reynolds’ has written is Ghost, All American Boys, Long Way Down, For Every One, and As Brave as You.

—J.K. Rowling (1965): Is a native of Gloucestershire, England, the daughter of an aircraft engineer for Rolls Royce and a science technician in the chemistry department at Wycedean Comprehensive, where Rowling received her education, according to information obtained at her site. Her first book came together when she was 6, and at the age of 11, she had penned her first novel: a story about seven diamonds and their owners.

Following her graduation from university, she worked in London, and her career included work as a researcher with Amnesty International. The idea for Harry Potter was perceived in 1990, and in the course of five years’ time Rowling developed the entire series. She taught English for the next several years until her first book was published by Bloomsbury Children’s Books in 1997. In 2001, Warner Bros. debuted the film version of the first book, which was followed by eight more films recounting the series, ending the final film Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, which was released in 2011.

Although Rowling began as an author of children’s literature, the Harry Potter series had evolved to such a point that, by the publication of the fourth book (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire), her work was classified as young adult fiction, as well.

—J.D. Salinger (1919-2010): Another native New Yorker, Jerome David Salinger was not a successful student, and ultimately was sent to the Valley Forge Military Academy in Wayne, Pennsylvania. Later he took evening classes at Columbia University, where he met Whit Burnett, a professor who ultimately helped Salinger get his work published.

He was drafted during World War II, during which time he began working on chapters of a book featuring the life and experiences of young Holden Caulfield. According to Biography.com. In 1951, Salinger’s work was published as The Catcher in the Rye. Although it is now regarded as an example of classic young adult fiction, early on it received its share of criticism and calls for censorship, as well as praise. It went on to sell 65 million copies. However, it also became part of the story involving the tragic assassination of John Lennon in 1980. Mark David Chapman, the man who murdered Lennon, had a copy of The Catcher in the Rye and said the reason for the attack was spelled out in the book.

Young Adult Fiction Fact: The Harry Potter series has sold more copies than the combined populations of the United States, Canada, Australia, and the UK. (Source: BookRiot.com)

As history has proven, there are always stories to be shared and lessons from which to learn. Some of the most poignant, relatable, influential and inspiring are those told through the experiences and eyes of young adults.

The Allure of Crystals & Geological Specimens

Double-terminated tourmaline crystal, obtained in Pech Valley, Afghanistan. Minerals Paradise image

The Allure of Crystals & Geological Specimens

Crystals and natural specimens are some of the most stunning and scientifically fascinating non-living objects in the universe. There is often remarkable symmetry within the way their atoms responded to time, pressure, and heat during the “growth” process of these beautiful objects of nature.

Crystals are comprised of a pattern of ions, atoms, and molecules that evolve within various states. Jeffrey Post, Ph.D., is curator of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. He states in an article about the Smithsonian Gem and Mineral Collection, for the Gemological Institute of America, one of the goals in maintaining such a collection is to provide a way in which people can “…think about the earth in a different way.”

A matrix of opaque and soft translucent gray quartz crystals, offset by rod-like inclusions of rich black manganese, with a spray of aquamarine crystal rods three inches long, 6 x 5 x 3½ inches overall. Sold for $45,000 during a 2014 auction. I.M. Chait Gallery and Auctioneers and LiveAuctioneers image.

At this current time in history, when information about nearly anything can be gathered quickly and easily, the discovery of crystals and other non-living mineral specimens in the field requires time, focus and dedication. There’s a lot of ground to cover, as it were, when it comes to “rockhounding.” People who “rockround,” or dig for, discover and collect crystals, rocks and mineral specimens, are part of a lineage that dates back centuries. Rockhounds have varied goals. For some it’s about creating a collection; for others, it’s to study the scientific aspects of specimens. Still others incorporate geological specimens into lapidary art, or turn to crystals and other natural specimens for their reputed healing properties. Thanks to rock, gem and mineral shows; as well as various retail outlets, collectors don’t necessarily have to dig to acquire the objects they desire.

To gain a better understanding of this collecting interest, we turned to self-confessed rockhound and dealer Muhammad Majid, of Minerals Paradise (http://www.mineralsparadise.com), to share some insight. Majid’s father, a pioneer of the gem and mineral market, started the family business in Namak Mandi Peshawar, a city in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan. It is one of the world’s largest markets for mineral specimens. The Majid family specializes in tourmalines, morganites, aquamarine, topaz, and many lesser-known stones including tantalite, microlites and herderites.

An etched Heliodore crystal specimen from Wolodarski-Wolynski, in the Ukraine, a gem beryl “floater” crystal of saturated, slightly greenish yellow hue and excellent transparency, natural surface etching with complex crystal faces, 12.70 x 5.10 x 3.80 cm, sold for $19,000 during a 2014 auction. Leslie Hindman Auctioneers and LiveAuctioneers image

How would you describe today’s collecting market for crystals and geological specimens? How has it changed in the past few years?

Majid: The market has changed drastically. We had buyers who were buying rare minerals in the past, but now most collectors prefer the common minerals such as tourmalines, morganites, and aquamarines, among others. Prices have also gone sky high in recent years.

What advice would you give someone who is just discovering an interest in collecting crystals and specimens?

Majid: In my opinion, one should not just start collecting crystals and minerals; they should study them, their characteristics, and also their pricing, because minerals have no fixed value.

Physical properties minerals to consider:

    Color

    Luster (assists with determining if a mineral has a metallic or non-metallic luster and is light-reflective or dull)

    Translucence

    Hardness (for comparison of density from one mineral to another)

    Size

Rose quartz, “La Madona Rosa” specimen, discovered in the Lavra Berilo Branco mine in Brazil in the late 1950s, given the name for its resemblance to the artistic depictions of the Virgin Mary, measuring 15½ x 8 inches. Sold for $662,500 during a June 2013 auction. Heritage Auctions image.

What are some of the most helpful tools for collectors of crystals and natural specimens?

Majid: Having an idea about the pricing of a mineral is the most important thing. As I said, minerals and crystals have no fixed value. For this purpose, I think the Internet is the best available source.

In recent years, which two crystals or specimens that you’ve sold were most memorable and why?

Majid: I sold one 4 kilogram double-terminated and undamaged aquamarine specimen to one of my regular buyers. It was a significant deal and I had to go to the Nagar mines twice in one week to acquire the specimen. It’s a 22-hour drive from our city to the Nagar mine.

Also, in February of this year, I sold a morganite specimen. I made a deal with my buyer, but then the miner refused to give the specimen to me, even though I had paid half in advance. I wanted to get that specimen for my buyer at any cost because it would destroy my reputation if I were unable to do so. The buyer had paid $15,000 for that specimen, and I had to pay $17,000 to the miner to get it for the buyer.

___________

Tourmaline with albite crystal specimen. Minerals Paradise image

Crystals and geological specimens may be enjoyed in public exhibitions around the world. Among the places within the United States where sizable collections of crystals, minerals, and other geological specimens are displayed include:

• Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, Washington, D.C.: https://naturalhistory.si.edu
• Rice Northwest Museum of Rocks and Minerals, Hillsboro, Ore.: https://ricenorthwestmuseum.org
• Natural History Museum, Los Angeles, Calif.: https://nhm.org
• American Museum of Natural History, New York, N.Y.: https://www.amnh.org (Renovation is currently under way at the new Allison and Roberto Mignone Halls of Gems and Minerals. The halls will open in the fall of 2019.
• Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, Santa Barbara, Calif.: http://www.sbnature.org

The Meaders family: Southern stoneware innovators

The Meaders family may not have been the first to produce Southern stoneware, but its members were, and still are, among the most influential and imaginative contributors to the genre.

Theirs is a pottery-making story of happenstance. Before the commercial availability of containers made of tin and glass, or the luxurious invention of refrigeration, 19th- and 20th-century potters created valuable vessels for carrying and containing perishables and goods.

Anytime a region’s soil was found to be dense with clay, the area would soon become the site of pottery operations. White County, Georgia, was just such a place. It’s reported that at one point during the 20th century, Mossy Creek, located in southern White County, boasted nearly 100 potters among its residents. Included within those numbers was John Milton Meaders, who founded Meaders Pottery in 1892-93.

Cleater & Billie Meaders Grape and Snake jug, signed on bottom and dated Nov. 18, 1992, applied grape clusters, grape leaves and handles, with curved, open-mouthed snake coiled around the vessel, tobacco-spit glaze, 18½ in. tall by 11 in. wide. Sold for $500. Image courtesy of John Coker, Ltd., and LiveAuctioneers

Various historical accounts indicate the Meaders family turned to potting to augment the income they generated as farmers. The elder Meaders viewed the new pursuit as a way for his six sons to learn a trade that could serve them for years. Apparently, that idea was well received, as five of his sons became potters, including Cheever Meaders. Between 1920 and 1967, Cheever ran Meaders Pottery. Following suit and learning the trade were Cheever’s sons Edwin, Cleater – who ran separate potteries – and Lanier, who carried on the operation of Meaders Pottery. If Lanier’s name sounds familiar, it may be due to the popularity of his unique face jugs.

To learn more about this family of potters, their influence and insights about collecting Meaders stoneware, we turn to John Coker, the principal of John Coker Ltd., an auction house located in eastern Tennessee that has been in operation since 1971. Coker has auctioned fine examples of Southern stoneware on numerous occasions.

Are there pottery-making techniques in the Meaders family lineage that stand out for their unique, efficient or progressive characteristics?

While the Meaderses’ pieces are unique, other makers produce close replicas of face jugs and other creations that originated with the extended Meaders family. Keep in mind that like any business, the customer usually gets what he or she wants. If the need was for a churn, large jug, butter crock or canning crock, the Meaderses, like any other potters, made what was salable. Usually, such utilitarian pots were plain, but the glaze usually tells a collector it is a Meaders piece. After Cheever passed away, some modern methods of turning were employed, as in replacing a mule with a small turning motor for the wheel, but basically, not much changed from the creative standpoint.

Large pottery jug, 17 1/2 in. tall by 9 in. wide, applied handles, signed on the base ‘Lanier Meaders,’ tobacco-spit glaze, sold for $425. Image courtesy John Coker, Ltd. and LiveAuctioneers image

It seems early examples of work by the Meaders family were at the forefront of studies of American folk art and life. How do you think the Meaderses’ contributions helped shape Southern folk art and 20th-century pottery?

Many of the regional potters from western North Carolina, northern Georgia, and eastern Tennessee studied and purchased Meaders family face jugs to see how they were made – what colors were used for glazes, how the eyes were formed, the way broken porcelain ‘teeth’ were inserted, the ways that cigars or tobacco products were used, and the methods by which warts and facial deformities were represented. Also, it was about seeing how the jugs or pots were formed, and from what angle they were made to be viewed. I have seen collections that began with pots made by Lanier’s parents (Cheever and Arie) with a progression through the cousins, as well as other regional makers who were adept at copying the style and adding quirks of their own. Having seen numerous collections where the owners personally met Lanier and his mother, it seems many felt a connection to the Meaders family. Over the years they’d choose to stay in touch with them, as well as acquiring different pots when they found something different enough from what was already in their collection.

A graduated set of lidded canister jars by Arie Meaders featuring a grape-and leaf-motif on bulbous-form bodies, ranging in size from 10¼ in. high by 7½ in. wide to 11½ in. high by 8 in. wide. The set sold for $5,600. Case Antiques Inc. and LiveAuctioneers image

Are face jugs the most desirable Meaders’ items?

The Meaderses were adaptable craftsmen, but the face jugs were probably the best-known and most collected pieces they made. Part of their creations were face jug mugs or big cups with handles, as well as whimsical pieces. These creations include the only [example] of a human head made as a bust but not a jug. It had a large open mouth with broken teeth, a cut on the face sewn up with stitches, bulging eyes, grotesque ears and a glaze that almost looked like something that had crawled out of a grave. The Meader potters were capable of making utilitarian objects, and this specifically included candle holders with a large drip area and a loop handle. Mrs. Meaders also made jelly, jam or sugar bowls, most with lids, that collectors both use and love. The glazed surfaces of these containers are unusual and arresting in appearance. Many have a grainy or slightly rough exterior. They are by no means pretty. Some of the Meaderses’ large pots, crocks or urns are knee-high and above, but these are not normal or usual by any means. They also made milk or beverage pitchers that were somewhere between one-quarter and one-half-gallon capacity. The palette of the glaze on these was close to, if not the same as, the surfaces of the face jugs, but not necessarily made as a match.

 

Lanier Meaders face jug, eyes with bluish-gray dripping glaze, tobacco-spit glaze on vessel, applied ears, open mouth. Sold for $1,800. Image courtesy of John Coker, Ltd., and LiveAuctioneers

How would you describe today’s market for Southern art pottery? Specifically Meaders-made?

This is a market that seems to be consistently going up, with the more unusual pieces bringing larger amounts of money. Lanier is, of course, the choice of most collectors but his father, Cheever, and mother, Arie, as well as his grandfather, John, are collected; with John being the originator of the face jugs in the family. Some of the Dorsey and Craven families of White County, Georgia, made similar pieces that are on occasion confused with Meaders pieces but are older. In addition, the older Brown and J.B. Owens Pottery pieces from North Carolina are close to the Meaders pieces. At auction today, you can expect that the Lanier pieces will generally do better than any of the other makers, but there is an adage among collectors that “odd or weird will always trump good any day.” The pieces that collectors love and are most attracted to are the highly unusual pieces that they have never seen and know they are likely never to see again. Hence, one of the reasons for their strong prices in today’s market.

Folk pottery rooster, cobalt glazed, features pronounced comb and waddles, seven-feather tail, incised signature and ‘5-26-1990’ date under the base, Edwin ‘Nub’ Meaders, 16½ in. tall by 7½ in. long, sold for $275. Jeffrey S. Evans & Associates and LiveAuctioneers image

What advice do you have for people interested in acquiring Meaders pottery? What insights do you have for helping people authenticate Meaders pottery?

The Smithsonian produced a film, “The Meaders Family: North Georgia Potters,” as the inaugural film in its Smithsonian Folklife Study. A DVD of the film is available through the Smithsonian. Plus, there is a collection of Meaders Pottery displayed at the Folk Pottery Museum of Northeast Georgia.

Finally, as Coker stated, time spent studying and becoming familiar with Meaders pottery by attending auctions are helpful would be most helpful in learning more about the South’s most celebrated family of stoneware artisans.

Weegee: Gritty photos of urban life

Heralded and criticized for revealing the darker side of society through the lens of cameras, pioneering photojournalist Weegee captured the reality of a world he knew only too well.

Born in 1899 in what was Lemberg, Austria, Usher Fellig, who would later adopt the professional name “Weegee,” emigrated from his homeland to the United States with his family in 1909. The 11-year-old’s given name was changed to Arthur during immigration processing at Ellis Island. Just two years later he would run away from home, joining the throngs of children living on the streets of New York, the very streets on which he would later photograph the subjects and scenes that made him widely known.

‘Mother and Child, Harlem,’ 1939, gelatin silver, printed later, annotated ‘printed by Weegee from the original negative, Louis Stettner’ in pencil with the photographer’s stamp on verso, 13 1/8 in. x 10 5/8 in. Sold for $1,900 at an April 2016 auction. Heritage Auctions and LiveAuctioneers image.

His early years living in the belly of the concrete jungle prepared him for his career as a crime photographer, a job that kept him busy, given the upheaval present in New York City during the Great Depression. As reported by The Art Story, Weegee made use of his familiarity of the city, its more colorful spaces and characters, and his ability to get in good with the local police to get the jump on other photographers as crime stories were breaking. His connections and street savvy may have put him in the prime position, but it was his eye and photography skills that secured his place in American photojournalism history.

To gain a better understanding of the impact and influence of Weegee, we spoke with Christopher George, the imaging technician at the International Center for Photography, an institution dedicated to photography and visual culture. Through exhibitions, school, public programs and community outreach, ICP provides an open forum for dialogue about the role that photographs, videos and news media play in society today.

For the past 15-plus years, George has managed the scanning of more than 20,000 photos by Weegee. The archive of photos originally came to the organization in 1993. Some 16,000 photographs and 7,000 negatives by Weegee were bequeathed to ICP by Weegee’s longtime companion, Wilma Wilcox. The New York Times has called the ICP ‘Weegee Central.” During his years at ICP, George has also gathered materials such as newspapers and magazines, continuing to build on the work set in motion by Miles Barth and his team to research and best represent Weegee’s work.

Rare example of a photograph of Weegee; inscribed ‘To Joe;’ dated 1949, mounted on photo board, previously belonged to Joe Jasger, a fellow photographer, 11¾ in. x 9 1/8 in. Sold for $1,400 during a May 2013 auction. Kaminski Auctions and LiveAuctioneers image.

What photography techniques and processes used by Weegee are most influential?

His ingenious techniques were ahead of their time. Early in his career, he was processing film in a repurposed ambulance and in a subway, when speed and getting a photo published first was crucial. Late in his career, he used kaleidoscopes and other techniques – both on camera and in the darkroom – to produce “distortions.” These were prescient and not unlike Photoshop and app filters of today, except it was in the 1950s and early ’60s. Plus, he was known for his use of flash photography and his instinct for self-promotion.

Gelatin silver print, circa 1960, stamped studio mark to verso ‘Credit Photo by Weegee the famous,’ and inscribed to lower margin, 10 in. x 8 in. Sold for $300 during a June 2016 auction. Wright and LiveAuctioneers image.

FUN FACT: Legend has it the name “Weegee” came about in response to Fellig’s uncanny ability to be the first on the scene of an accident, sometimes even before authorities. Word spread that it was because he turned to a Ouija board for information. Hence his choice to change his name to the phonetic spelling of the popular board game. Weegee was the first citizen in New York to be granted a police radio, and would tune into the police frequency for leads to chase up.

In your estimation, how did Weegee help shape the practice of crime photojournalism?

In the words of Ralph Steiner: “… I can say something about why he is a great photographer, which he certainly is. His greatness as a crime photographer grows out of three things: First his willingness to live entirely for his work. Second, his ingenuity in carrying it out. Third, his very intelligent approach to a kind of material which other photographers treat in a routine manner. And there is the all-important fact that Weegee, unlike the majority of photographers I have met, is a rich personality. You can’t squeeze blood from a stone; nor can you an editor squeeze good pictures out of a stony photographer. Weegee moves in a world of violence, brutality, bloodshed and horror, but the pictures he brings up out of it do not depend entirely on the drama of the event. They are good because Weegee adds a little of himself – a little of Weegee is really something.” This commentary appears in an article that appeared in the March 9, 1941, issue of PM Daily.

Also, George went on to say:

He pioneered the use of a police radio, both in his car and apartment/studio. Often when he photographed an “event” or “crime,” he made sure to include the people affected by the crime, an “audience” or spectators. For example, the photo Their First Murder shows people who were affected, and also not affected or oblivious to, a crime, a death, a dead person in their proximity and field of vision. Weegee also photographed that dead body, but it’s the people’s reaction to the crime that is remembered today… .

After concluding that most fires and people who were no longer living look pretty much alike, he would often look for a “human element,” things that were ironic or funny.   

His use of “found” language and signs is unparalleled. In the photo Joy of Living there’s a dead body – a traffic accident victim – covered in newspapers, a crowd of people (an audience), and above it all is a movie marquee that reads, in part: “Joy of Living.”

Vintage gelatin silver print dated Feb. 24, 1942, 11¼ in. x 14 in. Sold for $6,000 during a Nov. 2013 auction. Santa Monica Auctions and LiveAuctioneers image

How did society of the day and the culture Weegee was part of present itself in his work?

Something that is perhaps lesser-known, or underappreciated, or underrecognized (about his work) is the influence of World War II. Like most people alive in the early ’40s, the war was ever-present. Even in one of his most famous photos, The Critic, World War II plays an important role.

What noted photographers and artists appear to be influenced by Weegee’s work?

Diane Arbus was greatly influenced. Perhaps Louis Faurer was as well, in addition to Leon Levinstein. wwwzBeginning in the early 1930s and continuing throughout his life, Weegee took many self-portraits (or had friends take his photo). Sometimes he would wear different clothes and play different roles: the reporter, the curious passerby, an arrested criminal, an ice cream seller, a protester, a best-selling author, etc. One time he dressed up as a circus clown and photographed the circus and circus audience as a camera-holding clown. I don’t know if Cindy Sherman was influenced by these photos, they aren’t well-known, but Weegee and Cindy have made similar photos.

Gelatin silver print of a human cannon ball (a woman being fired from a cannon), circa 1943, Weegee Collection stamp on lower left, and written in pencil on verso, 25 in. x 21 in. Sold for $2,000 during a November 2016 auction. Clars Auction Gallery and LiveAuctioneers image.

What makes Weegee’s work appealing to photographers and collectors more than 90 years after his professional photography career began?

Because the photos are so great! There’s a lot of “depth” to his best photos. They can be funny, and sad. Most of his well-known photos were made from about 1937 to 1945 — a relatively short amount of time). Perhaps all were “commercial” — made to be sold to newspapers and magazines, but it was about more than that. Weegee began his life in poverty, as an immigrant from Eastern Europe; lived and struggled through the depression; was financially comfortable for a few years; and then lived with very little money and in not-great health, for about 20 years.

What do you believe today’s photographers and photo artists can learn from Weegee’s work?

He was an individualist and a humanist. Perhaps one thing that is not always acknowledged is how hard and how much he worked. He was incredibly prolific. Like most geniuses, he was born at the right time and place. He grew up in poverty, dropped out of school early, found his “calling,” worked extremely hard, became successful — when he was around 45 — and then lived another 25 hardscrabble years — with not a lot of success.

Gelatin silver print, ‘Girls at the Bar,’ circa 1946, artist’s representative’s credit stamp on verso, 13 3/8 in. x 10½ in. Sold for $6,000 during an April 2006 auction. Phillips and LiveAuctioneers image.

Weegee’s own words answer the question with first-person examples.

“Most photographers always use the same old methods. We’ll assume that a horse-drawn wagon is going over the Williamsburg Bridge. A car hits it, and the driver is tossed into the water and gets killed. The other photographers will take a picture of the bridge and then have an artist draw a diagram showing how the guy fell into the water. What I do is go and see what happened to the poor old horse.”

“When I take a picture of a fire, I forget all about the burning building, and I go out to the human element. If I see a woman standing by a fire engine and crying, it’s much better than a picture of the building. The building is just a spectacle.”

“A photographer should have confidence in himself, and if he gets a good idea, he should go take it, even if everybody laughs at him.” PM Daily, March 9, 1941

George offers one final gem of insight about Weegee: In June of this year, the first extensive biography about Weegee will be released: FLASH: The Making of Weegee The Famous, by Christopher Bonanos. It will be published by Henry Holt & Co., a division of Macmillan Publishers.

To view the book, visit https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781627793063.

Books published by Weegee that contain his photographs include Naked City (1945), and Weegee’s People (1946) and Naked Hollywood (1953).

Newcomb Pottery embodies Southern nature

Sometimes from the depths of despair come forth strength, beauty and inspiration. Such is the story of Newcomb Pottery, the American art pottery cultivated within and representative of New Orleans.

The Newcomb Pottery Enterprise was a vocational training program within the art education curriculum of Newcomb College. The program came out of the vision set forth by Josephine Louise Newcomb, the benefactor whose gift founded H. Sophie Newcomb College in 1886. The philanthropist made the donation in memory of her daughter Harriott Sophie Newcomb, who died at the age of 15 from diphtheria, according to information at the Newcomb College Institute site.

Newcomb, as she is quoted as saying, sought to create a place that “would go on year by year doing good. Such a memorial … [remains] better than statues or monuments.”

Art pottery plaque, circa 1918, decorated by Anna Frances Simpson with a landscape design of a moss-laden live oak set before a fence, featuring a matte glaze with blue, green ad pink underglaze, cipher at lower left, decorator’s mark, retaining the original paper label, 6 in. x 10 in. Sold for $8,500 during a November 2014 auction Neal Auction Co. image.

The college made history, becoming the first degree-granting “coordinate college” operating within a university in the United States; in this case Tulane University. It also served as the archetype for future women’s colleges.

Less than a decade after the founding of Newcomb College, the Newcomb Pottery operation came into being, under the direction of a pair of young art educators, Ellsworth Woodward and Mary Given Sheerer.

Drawing on the color and shapes of nature in Louisiana, the student potters and decorators would create utilitarian art pottery with distinctive designs and individuality.

Newcomb Note: During its 45-year existence Newcomb Pottery employed about 90 Newcomb College graduates, and together they produced 70,000 pieces of art pottery.

Not unlike other items attracting attention in the secondary collector market, Newcomb Pottery gained global acclaim at an major exposition, said Miriam Taylor, external affairs manager at Newcomb Art Museum of Tulane University.

Fine art pottery high glaze vase, circa 1907, decorated by Marie de Hoa LeBlanc, featuring a relief-carved landscape of cedar trees, blue, green and mustard yellow underglaze, base marked with Newcomb cipher, decorator’s mark, Joseph Meyer’s potter’s mark, 14 ¼ in. diameter. Sold for $31,00 during a December 2016 auction. Neal Auction Co. image.

“The Newcomb Pottery Enterprise gained international recognition when it received a prestigious bronze medal at Paris’ 1900 Exposition Universelle, a world’s fair that attracted nearly 50 million visitors. The enterprise would go on to win an impressive eight medals during its 45-year history, including a silver medal at the 1901 Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York, and the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco, California.

“At the former, Louis Comfort Tiffany invited Newcomb to display their works alongside those of the Tiffany Glass Co., effectively recognizing the New Orleans program as an artistic equal,” added Taylor.

Among the elements of Newcomb Pottery that reflect the obvious influence by the English Arts and Crafts movement is the commitment to handmade design, especially at the turn of the century, and the use of regional materials.

Art pottery vase, circa 1916, decorated by Anna Frances Simpson, featuring pine tree grove design, satin matte glaze with blue and green underglaze, base marked with Newcomb cipher, decorator’s mark, Joseph Meyer’s potter’s mark, 11 ¾ in. x 5 ½ in. Sold for $14,000 during a November 2017 auction. Neal Auction Co. image.

“Each piece that came out of the Newcomb Pottery Enterprise was completely unique and recalled the South’s distinctive natural landscape. Representations of plants and animals — from magnolias and live oaks to crabs and crawfish — appeared on works made of local clays collected in St. Tammany Parish on Lake Pontchartrain’s north shore,” said Taylor. “Early pieces were characterized by simplified flat patterns while later works offered softer, more realistic scenes of nature. During the enterprise’s final years, artists began experimenting with abstract designs that merely suggested environmental elements.”

Newcomb Note: During the period Newcomb Pottery Enterprise was in operation society viewed it as improper for women to throw the pottery, the process of shaping clay on a potter’s wheel. With this, men, including professional potter Joseph Fortune Meyer would throw the pieces, while female artists perfected the underglaze design of the ceramic objects. 

Most objects of Newcomb Pottery bear the potter’s mark, indicators of the clay mixture, and registration marks, as well the mark or monogram of the decorator. Plus, the Newcomb College mark, according to information obtained at www.arts-crafts.com.

Set of five bowl and plates, plate 8 ½ in. diameter and bowl 2 in. x 10 in. Sold for $3,000 during a November 2017 auction. Cottone Auctions image.

Current prices for Newcomb Pottery at auction range from $1,900 to $2,800, with the best pieces commanding $10,000 or more.

Newcomb Note: The Newcomb Art Museum of Tulane includes many examples of this storied art pottery in its collection, and currently features several in the exhibit “Clay in Places,” which is on display through March 24. Admission to the museum is free, and public exhibition tours are offered the second Saturday and the third Thursday of each month. www.newcombartmuseum.tulane.edu.

High glaze chocolate cup and saucer, circa 1909-10, decorated by Anna Frances Simpson, featuring a relief floral decoration, cup 3 1/8 in. x 3 in. x 2 7/8 in. Sold for $1,600 during a September 2017 auction. Crescent City Auction Gallery image.

Although it’s been nearly 80 years since Newcomb Pottery ceased production, the influence and impact of this history-making operation carries on.

“Beyond the creation of more than 70,000 unique works of art, the Newcomb enterprise proved the South’s ability for making significant contributions to the country’s cultural life,” said Taylor. “More importantly, it demonstrated conclusively that women were capable of pursuing paying professional careers outside of their homes, whether in New Orleans or beyond.”

Tramp Art: Carving scrap wood into folk art

Tramp art is a lot of things but one thing it is not is a style of art produced largely by tramps, hobos and vagabonds. Despite what its name seems to imply, sometimes a memorable moniker is not necessarily an accurate indicator of origin.

“The name is a misnomer – more of a romantic notion about folk art from the 1950s and before about folk art,” said Clifford A. Wallach, a longtime dealer and historian specializing in tramp art. “It’s felt ‘pure folk art’ was made by indigenous people; and having hobo wanderers making (tramp art) fit their definition at the time. Basically, a woman wrote an article for a magazine in 1959 after finding some in a Pennsylvania barn, and the owner thought it came from someone who passed through.

“Most tramp art was made in a home setting, but being a democratic craft, it was made by all types of people from every background.”

Four-color painted tramp art box with the inscription, ‘Grandma’s Box’ written in pencil inside the box, made out of ‘Real Thing’ cigar boxes and showing the wonderful lithographed label, the has a MN tax stamp, circa 1900, 10 in. x 3 ½ in. x 7 ½ in. Sale price $975 at TrampArt.com.

While tramp art may not have its roots solidly in the world of itinerants, Wallach and his wife and business partner, Nancy, have found evidence that indicates that it is an art form created from everyday objects by ordinary people. Using pocket knives and similar tools, they used a technique known as chip carving to create layers of geometric patterns on discarded wood and sometimes corrugated cardboard. Discarded cigar boxes were perfect for such carving. The Wallachs explain the process on their website, www.trampart.com.

Pendulum wall clock with a porcelain face, glass panels on the sides and is covered with layered pyramids, 1890s, 21 in. x 12 in. x 8 in., sold for $1,500 during a February 2017 auction. Jasper52 and LiveAuctioneers image

Helpful Analogy: “Constructing tramp art was similar to how a bricklayer or mason would assemble a wall – making a whole out of many pieces by stacking and layering. Elements were added using a process not unlike the appliqué technique of a quilt maker,” Wallach explains in A Legacy in Tramp Art, his third book on the subject.

Research shows the boom for tramp art began in the third quarter of the 19th century and lasted through the second quarter of the 20th century. There is debate about where the art form originated, with some reports pointing to Europe and others citing its development in the United States. Through their research, the Wallachs and others found examples of the art form appeared around the same time in both places.

Miniature tramp art court cupboard, late 19th century, 22 in. x 15 in. x 10 in., sold for $2,400 during a January 2018 auction through Jasper52. Jasper52 and LiveAuctioneers image

“Tramp art was made worldwide where ever cigar boxes were sold,” Wallach said. “Mostly, they were found where there were concentrations of working men – like by factories, cities, etc.”

However, men were not the only ones creating tramp art, as the Wallachs discovered through their research. Reports reveal examples and supporting evidence of women, and even children, creating tramp art, and by people of various ethnic backgrounds. This discovery was significant given the identities of those responsible for tramp art pieces are unknown. Without formal training they pioneered an art form in their homes from found objects and materials that others saw as no longer having any value or purpose. This reason alone makes tramp art a prime example of outsider art.

Tramp art plant stand, rich mellow original color, first quarter 20th century, no water staining or missing pieces, 32 3/4 in. x 16 ½ in. x 16 in. Sale price $1,760 at Trampart.com

Just like most art forms, the shape and design of tramp art were driven by the imagination of the artists, and the availability of materials. However, there are a couple of items of tramp art that are most common: boxes and frames.

Tramp art chip-carved wood framed mirror, 19th century, 34 in. high x 37 in. wide, sold for $5,000 during a February 2017 auction at Clars Auction Gallery. Clars Auction Gallery and LiveAuctioneers image

“Many were made to celebrate an occasion, but most were made by men for women,” Wallach said. “Sewing boxes, jewelry boxes, frames to hold family or sweetheart photos. The most common decorative element besides the basic pyramid was the heart – what a great story for Valentine’s Day.”

Sunflower tramp art frame, circa 1920s, by John Zubersky, a known and celebrated tramp artist, 32 in. x 27 in. x 3 in., sold for $1,500 during an October 2017 auction. Jasper52 and LiveAuctioneers image.

Opportunity to View Tramp Art: Now through September 16, 2018, the Museum of International Folk Art is presenting the exhibition “No Idle Hands: The Myths & Meanings of Tramp Art.” The Museum is in Santa Fe, New Mexico, www.internationalfolkart.org

To learn more, look for these books by Clifford A. Wallach: A Legacy in Tramp Art, Tramp Art: Another Notch, Folk Art from the Heart, and Tramp Art, One Notch at a Time, written with Michael Cornish. http://www.trampart.com/books/

Whistler’s Etchings: Beyond the Portrait of Mother

James Abbott McNeill Whistler is famous for his 19th-century painting Arrangement in Gray and Black, commonly known as Portrait of the Artist’s Mother, but he was by no means a one-hit wonder.

In fact, more than a decade before the American-born and the England-based artist painted the portrait of his mother in 1871; he began creating what many deem one of his most important contributions to art: his etchings.

Born in Lowell, Massachusetts, in 1834, his appreciation and talent for artistic expression had an apparent calming effect on the youthful Whistler, whose temperamental behavior was evident at an early age. Not only were his natural talents recognized, but they were also encouraged while his family resided in St. Petersburg, Russia. During this time Whistler’s father served as an engineer aiding in the design of a railroad. Eleven-year-old James Whistler became a student at the Imperial Academy of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg.

‘Arrangement in Gray, Portrait of the Artist (Self-portrait)’ of James Abbott McNeill Whistler, 1872, Detroit Institute of Arts. Image licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license

Alas, his opportunity to study the subject of his passion was cut short, after only four years, following the death of his father from cholera. With the elder Whistler deceased, the family was forced to return to the United States.

Lesser-known fact: At the age of 18, Whistler joined the ranks of cadets at the United States Military Academy at West Point. Temperament and academic struggles led to his early exit from West Point. However, his introduction to cartography at the academy would result in work as a draftsman and the discovery of etching, a skill that would serve him well throughout his life.

At the age of 21, Whistler left the United States, where his devoutly religious mother and siblings resided, opting instead to settle in Europe. He would never return to the U.S., instead, he made his permanent residence in London, with frequent visits to France. However, his mother spent considerable time with him in Europe during 1871 while sitting for her son as he created his famous portrait of her.

‘Bridge, Amsterdam,’ etching, 1889, James Abbott McNeill Whistler, signed in pencil on tab at lower left with butterfly monogram and imp. And inscribed on verso at the right in the artist’s hand ‘1st proof pulled’ together with butterfly monogram, 6 ½ in. x 9 ½ in. Sold for $125,475 during a 2007 auction at Heritage Auctions. Heritage Auctions image.

His years in Europe included befriending several artists who would go on to experience great success as well. Among those were Henri Fantin-Latour, Gustave Courbet, Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro and Edgar Degas. Finding inspiration and influence in a variety of cultures, Whistler is reportedly among the earliest artists of the Aesthetic movement. From this ideology, the theory of creating “art for art’s sake” emerged.

During the mid-19th century, Whistler traveled through northern France, a trip that prompted him to create his first set of etchings titled Twelve Etchings from Nature, more commonly referred to as the French Set, according to information from the University of Glasgow website. After returning to London, while living near the bustling seafaring region of the River Thames, he created a set of etchings featuring the day-to-day happenings, including the activity of ships and barges docking and departing, and fisherman and dock workers tending to duties, all set against London’s architecture. These works would form Sixteen Etchings of the Scenes on the Thames.

‘The Palaces,’ etching with plate tone, on laid paper and trimmed to the platemark by the artist, 1879-80, signed with the butterfly and inscribed ‘imp’ in pencil on tab at lower right, annotated by Whistler with three tiny circles in pencil on the reverse, 9 15/16 in. x 14 ¼ in. Sold for $26,000 at auction in April of 2011. Phillips and LiveAuctioneers image.

In 1879, working on a commissioned assignment for the Fine Art Society, Whistler spent little more than a year in Venice, creating art inspired by the scenes of the Italian mecca. Among his works were 90 pastels and 50 etchings, including those that formed the Venice, a Series of Twelve Etchings set. In producing these etchings, it’s reported Whistler treated it as an opportunity to experiment with various types of ink, paper and the formation of composition, according to information obtained from the University of Glasgow website, which oversees the “James McNeill Whistler: The Etchings Project.”

‘Nocturne,’ etching and drypoint on cream paper, from ‘The First Venice Set,’ trimmed by the artist with signature on the tab in lower margin, 8 in. x 11 5/8 in. Sold for $15,500 during a December 2012 auction. Leland Little Auctions and LiveAuctioneers image.

Yet, as history reveals, not all of Whistler’s artwork, and in some instances, his demeanor, was met with favor. In a well-documented lawsuit, Whistler sued British art critic John Ruskin for libel regarding his review of Whistler’s piece Nocturne in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket. While Whistler was successful in his suit, the judge awarded only a nominal amount be paid, and far from the expense Whistler incurred proceeding with the court action.

Also, it’s reported Whistler’s brother-in-law, Sir Francis Seymour Haden, a masterful etcher in his own right, also influenced the early development of Whistler’s use of the medium of etching, according to an article posted on Skinner Inc.’s website. However, it’s also reported a long-standing feud between the two men developed.

‘The Wine Glass,’ etching, James Abbott McNeill Whistler, 1858, signed by the artists and etched in the print, measuring 5 in. x 4 in. Sold for $4,400 through Jasper52 in November 2016. Jasper52 image.

Lesser-known fact: Whistler’s legacy also includes published writings. His presentation Ten o’clock: a lecture, initially given in 1885, was an hour-long discussion about art. Also, The Gentle Art of Making Enemies, published in 1890, came on the heels of his lawsuit against Ruskin and discusses the case, and calls for a more progressive awareness regarding art.

Whistler created art up until his final days, before his death in the summer of 1903. His work, innovative creativity, uncommon character and outspoken commentary regarding the importance of embracing evolving artistic notions continue to speak to historians, artists and collectors around the world.