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Tapestry: portable woven wall art

Imagine myth, legend and art that lasts centuries with the simple positioning of wool, cotton, silk and threads of gold and silver. These woven murals are tapestry: colorful creations that were functional and decorative that last lifetimes.

The art of weaving fabrics to form clothing and other decorative items can be traced to linen examples in ancient Egypt in the 15th century B.C. and throughout the area of the Middle East, particularly Syria and Iraq. Fragments of Greek tapestry have been found in China as far back as the third century B.C., and tapestry was mentioned in Homer’s Odyssey about the eighth century B.C. Weaving has been found in cultures around the world throughout ancient times, but many examples of early tapestry were woven into clothing, rugs and upholstery. Today, tapestry is defined as an art form specific to wall hangings.

Flemish tapestry, 18th century, depicting Cupid and Psyche, within a floral foliate border, 103in x 98in. Sold for $32,000 + buyer’s premium. Image courtesy of New Orleans Auctions Galleries and LiveAuctioneers

The need for tapestry

Cold, dark and dank. Life inside castle battlements was anything but comfortable. Stone walls, while excellent for protection, did little to provide warmth or color. From the 11th to the 16th centuries a castle was first and foremost meant for defense, a classic ‘form following function’ in architectural engineering. It wasn’t much different in a large palace either.

From the 14th to the middle of the 18th century, weaving techniques allowed large “nomadic murals,” as 20th century painter and architect Le Corbusier once described them, to be created and hung along castle stone walls mostly as insulation against the cold. Being visible required ornamentation and so an elaborate Biblical story, commemorative event, personal coat-of-arms, or hunting scene (the most popular subjects) was ordered specifically for the great rooms throughout the castle or palace with each taking at least a year to weave. For this reason, only the wealthiest could afford them.

Detail of a 16th century Flemish wool tapestry depicting a royal procession featuring griffins, maidens and mythological vignettes that sold for $200,000 + buyer’s premium in 2009. Image courtesy: Skinner and LiveAuctioneers.com

Because tapestry was so expensive to own, each became a status symbol of sorts. When the royal or wealthy household traveled to another of their properties, the tapestries were taken down, rolled up and moved to the next location with them, thus the nomadic description. King Henry VIII is said to have at least 2,000 woven tapestries at any one time.

Weaving one line at a time

The reason tapestry was only for the wealthy was that each tapestry, no matter the size, was done by hand, one thread at a time.

First a detailed, life-size drawing or painting of the subject was created, called a cartoon. If the tapestry was a series of panels or just one large tapestry, a complete cartoon was required. Once completed, a cartoon is placed behind the weaver with a mirror in front of the loom so that each strand corresponds exactly to the pattern of the cartoon. The weaver sits at a loom (there is a high-warp and low-warp loom depending on size) with warp threads (vertical ones that form a grid for the pattern) stretched tight at the top and bottom on rollers. This keeps the grid tight with the rollers adding additional warp threads as needed.

Closeup of the weft lines of a 17th century Flemish tapestry that sold for $4,000 + buyer’s premium in 2017. The dyed colors are uneven and have faded over time, indicative of its age. Image courtesy: Material Culture and LiveAuctioneers

Weft threads (horizontal ones that the weaver moves from “weft to wight” as weavers like to say) are dyed wool that placed strategically form the design of the cartoon, one weft thread at a time, one segment at a time using a smooth wooden bobbin. Weavers pass the bobbin through one or several warp threads and build up the pattern over time, perhaps a square meter a month.

As soon as one weft line is completed, it is tamped down with a comb, awl, or even long fingernails to compact the threads and disguise the warp threads. With several weavers working on one tapestry, depending on the complexity of the pattern, it can be completed in about a year or longer.

A smaller version of the high-warp loom used for smaller tapestries. The rollers at top and bottom provide new warp as the weft is added rolling up as each weft line is completed. Gregors Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The Industrial Revolution and technology have revolutionized tapestry allowing it to be first mechanized and now computerized. The cost is still high, about $35,000 a yard, and depending on the complexity of the design, still more than a year to produce, but the colors are more vivid “… with more life to them …,” said Noami Robertson, a weaver at Dovecot, a British tapestry studio.

In fact, there is a new resurgence in tapestry as an art form. Abstracts from artists such as Henri-Georges Adam, Jean Arp and Salvador Dali as well as artwork by Henri Matisse and Picasso have been woven into tapestry. Still, there are companies such as Gobelins Manufactory in Paris, France, that still handcrafts tapestry the same way it has been done since at least 1602.

A Salvador Dali design titled ‘Burning Giraffe’ is an example of a highly woven, vividly colorful modern type of tapestry that sold for $400,000 + buyer’s premium in 2017. Image courtesy GWS Auctions Inc. and LiveAuctioneers

What Collectors Need to Know

Identifying an early medieval or Renaissance-era tapestry is usually by the type of thread used throughout. Wool was most common, but cotton and linen were used as well. Any other type of thread suggests it is more modern. The use of silver or gold thread interwoven with other thread suggests a royal commission.

Each weft thread should not be completely even throughout. Since the tapestry was hand sewn a certain unevenness along each weft line should be expected. The colors of the weft threads were usually dyed, and some fading is expected over time, especially on the front since that side was exposed (the reverse should be more vibrant). If the design is shown only on the front, then it is definitely more modern. Always check with an expert for a complete examination.

Design is important, too. Biblical stories, hunting scenes, important events, personal coats-of-arms were the themes most reproduced in detailed, colorful tapestry during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.

Late 15th/early 16th century Franco-Flemish Gothic Biblical tapestry fragment, possibly depicting the life of David. Sold for $24,000 + buyer’s premium. Image courtesy of Gray’s Auctioneers and LiveAuctioneers

And finding tapestry of this period should be easier because the cost of acquiring Renaissance-era tapestries has fallen in recent years, according to a New York Times article in 2018. “[N]ow these historic hangings sell for much less than they originally cost, and sometimes for less than they were selling even 40 years ago,” wrote Scott Reyburn.

With new techniques, colors, designs and collectibility, tapestry is no longer intended as only insulation for a drafty castle or a status symbol that is rolled up and moved from place to place, although the originals are still appreciated for their history.

Instead, tapestry has evolved as an expression of individual artistic personality finally freed from the confines of the earthly necessity of existing solely for warmth and status. Tapestry, whether old or new, still makes your home a castle.

Miami Beach style packaged in online auction Nov. 19

Two hundred lots of “Jewelry and Decorative Arts Inspired by Miami Beach” are available in a Jasper52 online auction to be held Tuesday, Nov. 19. Victorian-era estate jewelry, sterling silver serving pieces and flatware sets, and rare wristwatches are featured. Dozens of lots of sterling silver are presented in the sale. An important lot in this category is a pair of large George III covered entrée dishes made by renowned London silversmith Paul Storr in 1805.

Estate platinum GIA Ceylon sapphire and diamond ring, mid-20th century. Estimate: $4,500-$5,500. Jasper52 image

View the auction here.

Learn more about the auction on Auction Central News.

Jasper52 switches to vintage French lighting fixtures Oct. 30

From French Modernist chandeliers to mid-century industrial lamps, a Jasper52 online auction to be held Wednesday, Oct. 30, has everything needed to light up a room or desktop.

French Art Deco modernist chandelier, 1940s or early 1950s, 39in. high x 20in. wide x 30in. long. Estimate: $2,000-$2,500. Jasper52 image

View the auction here.

Learn more about the auction on Auction Central News.

The wide world of tin-glazed earthenware

NEW YORK – Earthenware has a long history dating back nearly 30,000 years. The ability to form earth and clay into storage, drinking, cooking and household utensils proved helpful, especially as a nomadic life transitioned into more stable communities.

Process

Earthenware by its nature is porous. Forming earth and clay into a pot or utensil, then allowing it to dry has limited use. It is fragile, unable to hold liquid and cannot be made too large as it is bulky, heavy and easily damaged. Firing it at temperatures as high as 1,100 degrees C (2,000 F) is the only way to strengthen it for daily use as a storage container.

However, to make it impermeable for the storage of liquids, a thin, clear coat of lead glaze and other oxides was fired to seal the pot. Later a tin oxide was added to form a white glaze from which a hand-painted decorative element could be applied.

A Rouen faience tray, mid 18th century, “decorated in the Rococo manner with an amourous Watteauesque couple set in a stylized garden setting,” according to the auction description. It sold for about $12,000 + the buyer’s premium in 2015. Image courtesy: Dreweatts Donnington Priory and LiveAuctioneers

Lead glaze vs. tin glaze

To fire correctly, the basic composition of clay used for earthenware today is 25% kaolin (a silicate), 25% ball clay, 35% quartz and 15% feldspar. When formed together and fired the result is a biscuit, or bisque, from which the final product is glazed and decorated.

A lead-based vitreous compound consisting of powdered glass melts over the earthenware at very high temperatures to create a glossy, transparent, impermeable coating. This type of “enameling” has been found in China as early as the 13th century B.C. Lead glaze is more durable than the tin-glazed compound and is used for molded decorative items that are painted after firing. Lead glaze alone was largely replaced by tin glaze about the 15th century.

Tin oxide was added to the lead glaze about the eighth century in region that is now Iraq to create a white opaque compound allowing colorful overglazes and design to be painted directly onto a mostly flat surface before being fired. This process required more skill since mistakes couldn’t be corrected and therefore was more expensive to produce. Tin oxide became difficult to get during World War I and zirconium and zircon has since been substituted as a cheaper alternative, except in very small quantities.

Identifying tin-glazed earthenware

Once tin oxide was added to lead glaze, most collectible earthenware is made with this formulation.

Faience

This is the French name for tin-glazed pottery first produced during the 15th century Renaissance period in the Italian city of Faenza, near Ravenna. Today, it is more of a catch phrase for white tin-glazed pottery glaze that doesn’t have its own particular style. Usually the term refers only to the tin-glazed wares made in France, Germany and Scandinavia.

Two 19th century Italian majolica plaques depicting saints “in the manner of Benozzo Gozzoli (Italian, 1421-1497),” according to the auction catalog description. The pair sold for $38,000 + the buyer’s premium in 2016. Image courtesy of Cottone Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Maiolica, Majolica

Said to have come from the Spanish island of Majorca to Italy in the 15th century, this style of tin-glazed pottery is highly decorated with vibrant stylized natural or historical events known as istoriato. It is common in collector circles to identify lead-glaze pottery as majolica and tin-glaze pottery as maiolica.

Mid-18th century Dutch blue and white delftware, the smaller plate hallmarked with ‘IVDH’ for Jan van der Hagen of the ‘Het Jonge Moriaanshooft’ workshop. Image courtesy: Thomaston Place Auction Galleries and LiveAuctioneers

Delftware

A vibrant blue and white tin-glazed pottery from the city of Delft in the Netherlands. This style is easily recognized in the Delft blue tiles and jars showing Dutch scenes such as windmills. The heyday of Delftware is from 1640 to 1740 but became popular in England (known as English Delftware), Japan and China in the 18th century. Delftware production continued at a greatly reduced level through Victorian times into the 20th century. 

A 19th century luster glazed Etruscan-style charger featuring bulls, lions and other animals surrounding a large rooster in iridescent black, red and gold from the Italian potter Ulisse Cantagalli recently sold for $2,500 + the buyer’s premium. Image courtesy of Neue Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Lusterware

Tin-glaze pottery having a golden iridescent sheen is aptly named luster, or lusterware. Originating in the Middle East in the ninth century, this metallic glaze of copper and other metallic oxides provides an earthy brown to the white tin-glaze underglaze. Luster decoration became popular with English potteries in the first quarter of the 19th century.

Tin glazed Hispano-Moresque copper luster charger, probably 16th century, decorated with leaves, flowers and acorns with luster gold rings and small circles decorating the reverse that sold for $2,200 + the buyer’s premium in 2012. Image courtesy of Hyde Park Country Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Hispano-Moresque ware

Produced during the period of Muslim Spain beginning in the eighth century, tin-glaze earthenware was originally produced using Islamic and Christian elements, particularly the “IHS” monogram and personal coats-of-arms for export to Europe. The 14th and 15th centuries constituted the peak period before the Italian maiolica earthenware become prominent.

Specialty ware

Saint-Porchaire Ware

From 1520 to 1550, a specialized and highly detailed bas relief white lead glaze earthenware was produced in the French city of Saint-Porchaire intended only for high-end collectors of the time. Known as Henri II ware or Saint-Porchaire Ware, only about 70 pieces survive from the period.

Palissy Ware

French potter Bernard Palissy (1510-1590) created high relief, polychrome lead-glaze natural scenes such as fish, snakes, frogs and even mussels often from taking casts of the real thing. Known also as “rustic ware,” most examples at auction are 19th and 20th century reproductions attributed to the style of Palissy while the 16th century originals are considered museum pieces.

Made for export to the United States, this early 19th century English creamware jug made in Liverpool features President Thomas Jefferson surrounded by a garland and the 13 original states that sold for $5,500 + the buyer’s premium in 2016. Image courtesy: Heritage Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Creamware

Making use of the white, glassy lead-glaze coating, potters in 18th century England, particularly from Staffordshire and Leeds, created a relatively inexpensive substitute for porcelain. Josiah Wedgwood’s production of what was called pearlware was so prolific by 1780, that his mass- produced transferware was exported throughout Europe and undercut the more expensively produced tin-glazed, hand-painted earthenware.

Collectibility

When reviewing auction values for vintage lead-glaze or tin-glaze earthenware, it doesn’t seem as if there is a significant difference in the final hammer prices. The style, period, age and condition dictate what is more collectible.

Tin-glazed earthenware doesn’t hold up as well as lead glaze, however. Edges, posts and the feet of tin-glazed objects are prone to crack and decay more often than the harder edge lead-glaze pottery.

While most early tin-glaze and lead-glaze pottery have higher auction values, a resurgence in replicating early Renaissance tin-glaze pottery in Italy in the early 20th century can be an alternative. Artists such as Roger Fry, Duncan Grant, Alan Caiger-Smith and others from the 1920s to the 1950s can be the start of an alternative collection. Even Picasso has his own brand of tin-glaze earthenware design.

There is a lot more to glazed earthenware to discover. With so many design elements and periods to choose from, tin-glaze and lead-glaze earthenware easily lends itself to the collector mantra: Collect what you like first.

Russian Lacquer Boxes

Lacquered wares – wood or metal objects decorated with coats of lacquer – date from antiquity. This opulent art, however, reached Russia in the 18th century when Peter the Great “Westernized” the country.
Over time, four great schools of Russian lacquerware arose in villages near Moscow, each developing a distinct style based on specific traditions and techniques.

Russian lacquer snuffbox, circa 1860, its hinged lid finely painted with scene of a family at the market, the interior in faux tortoise shell. Lukutin mark beneath the Imperial Warrant. This item was acquired by the consignor from the noted exhibition, “Russian Lacquer Art From Two Centuries,” Museum For Lacquer Art, Münster, Germany, 1996. Sold for $1,200 + buyer’s premium in 2013. Images courtesy of Jackson’s Auction and LiveAuctioneers

The earliest, dating from 1795, produced lacquered, papier-mâché visors for army helmets, as well as lacquered snuffboxes. When inherited by Piotr Lukutin, this workshop also produced papier-mâché match boxes and cigar cases, typically depicting sentimental scenes of Russian life.
Preparation was extensive, generally taking an average of six weeks. Yet boiling these lightweight, handcrafted boxes in linseed oil, then oven-drying, priming, polishing, and lacquering them, made them not only durable but also impervious to water.

Russian lacquered covered box, Fedoskino, depicts a Snow Girl from a Russian fairy tale, hand-painted. Realized $300 + buyer’s premium in 2010. Image courtesy of DuMouchelles and LiveAuctioneers

When Lukutin’s workshop closed in 1904, its craftsmen continued independently under the name of their village, Fedoskino. “Fedoskinos,” created with successive layers of thin oil paint, agleam with mother-of-pearl, metallic powders, or gold-leaf underlay, are famed for their detail, visual depth, and luminescence. Many portray realistic scenes of rustic landscapes or peasants dancing, fetching water or assembling tree-bark shoes. Others depict famous personalities, miniature reproductions of classic paintings, or favorite fairy tales, like Father Frost and the Maiden, The Frog Princess, and Ruslan and Ludmila. “Fedoskino” typically appears at the center or left lower margin of these miniatures. Artists’ signatures, rendered in complementary shades, appear to the right.

A rare, very fine, highly detailed icon “Praise the Lord From the Heavens,” Central Russian, Palekh, circa 1800. Image courtesy of Hargesheimer Kunstauktionen Düsseldorf and LiveAuctioneers

After the 1917 Revolution, Russian authorities widely suppressed religious expression, so craftsmen of Palekh, a village long recognized for its superb Russian Orthodox icons, applied their extraordinary skills to lacquered boxes instead. Like their icons, “Palekhs” feature brilliant, egg-based tempera images against dark, solid grounds, enhanced by fine gold or silver leaf ornamentation.

Russian Palekh lacquer box, signed Alexei Vatagin (1881-1947), dated 1926 and N 1838. Realized $1,800 + buyer’s premium in 2018. Image courtesy Soulis Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Many portray popular folk songs, legends, ballets, operas and poems with images of elongated, icon-like figures. Others feature traditional images, like fierce Cossacks atop majestic steeds, spirited “troikas,” or three-horse teams, pulling sledges through the snow; or unfolding folk narratives like “The Tale of the Humpback Pony.” More contemporary Palekhs depict dramatic scenes of Soviet life , the USSR emblem or portraits of Joseph Stalin. Many are signed in fine gold script.

Agitlak papier-mache Palekh miniature box, tempera on varnished papier-mache depicting scenes of Soviet life with portrait of Joseph Stalin and USSR emblem. Realized $24,000 + buyer’s premium in 2014. Image courtesy of Shapiro Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Some describe Palekh miniatures as “small miracles,” owing to their fine workmanship and illustrious lineage.
Craftsmen in nearby Kholui also originally made icons before venturing into lacquer boxes. While their boxes feature egg-based tempera images embellished with gold-leaf highlight, their designs are more realistic, less nuanced, and bolder. In addition, “Kholui” palettes feature employ reds, yellows, browns, and orange against bright, dramatic, swirled backgrounds.
Kholui lacquer boxes often depict ancient cathedrals, churches, convents, monasteries, or the architectural glories of historical cities like Suzdal or Yaroslavl. Many, celebrating the joys of nature, depict local landscapes, like the springtime floods along Kholui’s picturesque river, the Teza. Some are more fanciful and portray sweeping oral epic poems or beloved fairy tales like “Seven Semeons” or “Scarlet Flower.” Others depict traditional Russian customs, like greeting guests with loaves of bread and loaves of salt.

Russian hand-painted lacquer box, “Bread & Salt,” depicting a woman in kokoshnik [traditional Russian headdress] offering traditional welcome of loaf of bread and cup of salt. Made in Kholui, artist-signed and dated “Rozova 2012.” Image courtesy of Auctions at Showplace and LiveAuctioneers

Mystera was once an icon-making village, too. But unlike Fedoskino, Kholui, and Palekh boxes, their designs were decorated only the lids. Some are edged in lacy gold or silver and depict fine, floral bouquets. Others portray villages, fields, or forests (replete with faraway blue and lilac-hued hills and dales), romantically melting into pale, egg-based tempera pink, blue, gold, or ivory backgrounds.
Other “Mysteras” depict seasonal fairs, festivities, or traditional Russian activities like mushroom or berry-picking. More dynamic examples commemorate historic events or heroic battles. Others feature colorful fantasies inspired by Russian songs, legends, fairy tales, and literary works like Pushkin’s “Tale of the Golden Cockerel” and “The Snow Queen” by Hans Christian Andersen.
Antique Russian lacquer boxes are prized not only for their beauty and exquisite craftsmanship but also for the passion and national pride their images evoke. Because each box is a handmade artwork, collecting opportunities are endless, and the potential discovery of a new addition to one’s collection is always just around the corner.

Luxurious decoratives lead Aug. 21 Inspired Interiors auction

Beautiful European ceramics, impressive antique furniture, modern decorative art and colorful Murano glass are among the unique treasures entered in Jasper52’s August 21 Inspired Interiors Decorative Arts Auction.

19th century Swedish Gotheburg gilt armchair with griffin-form supports. Estimate $4,000-$5,000

View the auction here.

Learn more about the auction on Auction Central News.

Pennsylvania needlework: a stitch in time

Examples of 18th and 19th century Pennsylvania needlework – samplers, show towels, still life floral depictions, aprons and bibs, state seals and more – are marvelous expressions of American folk art. Some are so finely detailed, it’s hard to believe they were wrought by young girls barely in their teens, some even younger.

Rare Pennsylvania cross-stitch needlework sampler signed “Lucinda Clark” and dated 1853. Depicts a red house surrounded by a fence and trees. Contemporary frame. Very good condition. Framed size: 22¾” x 20.” Est. $600-$800, sold for $325 at an auction held Nov. 3, 2012 by Morphy Auctions

“The enduring appeal of Pennsylvania textile arts stems from its long and rich needlework tradition,” said Will Kimbrough, Vice President and Department Head of Americana and Fine & Decorative Arts at Jeffrey S. Evans & Associates in Mt. Crawford, Virginia. “This tradition is represented by any number of iconic pieces from varying regions, time periods, and styles – from the band samplers of Colonial Philadelphia, to the silk-embroidered pictures and memorials popular in the Federal period, to the pictorially exuberant compositions of Mary Tidball’s school operating at the western edge of the state in the mid-19th century.”

Kimbrough added, “This deep Pennsylvania needlework tradition is undoubtedly linked with the strong Quaker and Moravian influence in the early settlement of the state. The vast majority of this needlework was produced in schools, and the Quaker and Moravian emphasis on education led to the widespread establishment of affordable educational opportunities for men and woman alike in the early period.”

Diminutive Pennsylvania needlework pictorial sampler, silk on linen, “R.L” initials above a flower basket flanked by birds and hearts, all within a delicate rosebud border. Early wood frame with early or original backing board. Second quarter 19th century. 5¾” x 5¾” sight. Est. $100-$200, sold for $120 at an auction held Nov. 13, 2016 by Jeffrey S. Evans & Associates in Mt. Crawford, Va.

The standard curriculum for girls in these schools, in both the English and Germanic models, included needlework as a core component of a young woman’s education. “Accordingly, more schoolgirl needlework from Pennsylvania survives in comparison with that produced in other states.”

Kaitlyn Julian of Pook & Pook, Inc., in Downingtown, Pennsylvania, said we should thank devoted scholars for their curiosity and dedicated studies to the subject of samplers. “Important research has invigorated the market and compelled collectors to appreciate the historic context and intrinsic value of samplers,” Julian said. “In the past, samplers may have been seen as frivolous pursuits or old-fashioned crafts made by little girls, but research carried out over the past few decades has revealed the extent of the craft and, more importantly, connected collectors to the young women behind the craft.”

Large Pennsylvania schoolgirl needlework sampler by Sarah Ann Smith, age 10, circa 1825, the top register with a flower arrangement and pair of birds over a homily “Sarah Ann Smith/In the tenth year of my age/My mind was thus ingaged/While on this fLowing canvass stands/The Labour of my youthful hands,” frame size 21¾” x 22¾.” Est. $1,000-$1,500, sold for $750 at an auction held June 13, 2015 by Michaan’s Auctions.

The definitive reference book for samplers is Betty Ring’s Girlhood Embroidery: American Samplers and Pictorial Needlework, 1650-1850, published in 1993. As the body of knowledge on samplers deepened, especially in the 1990s after the publication of Ring’s book, auction values climbed. “We saw many important collections cross the auction block, like Joan Stephens’ collection in 1997 and Betty Ring’s collection later in 2012,” Julian pointed out.

She continued, “I believe a factor of the enduring popularity of samplers today is partly thanks to online genealogy websites. It is now easier than ever to connect yourself with the past. The lovely thing about samplers is that they contain the name and often location of the maker. These two pieces of information, when typed into a genealogy website, can connect you personally with the young lady who made the piece. From there, you may be able to determine who her teacher was, who her classmates were, what her family was like, and so forth. You can then begin to identify certain regional motifs taught by various school mistresses and appreciate the intricacies of design and differing skill levels among the students.’

Circa 1835 Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania needlework memorial embroidery of a young woman mourning over urn mounted on a plinth, signed “Work’d by Catherine Hall”, stitched top, “To my dear Farther Benjamin Hall who died in Pittsburgh, Pa July 1835,” silk, paint, cotton and wool on linen; later gilt composite frame, 16” x 13½” (sight). Est. $600-$900, sold for $550 at an auction held March 24, 2018 by Brunk Auctions.

“Visualizing a classroom, perhaps not unlike the one you were taught in, brings to mind these girls laboring over their work, trading stories, and being rewarded by their teacher. Making a personal connection like this can make a huge difference in how you engage with, enjoy, and value historic artifacts. Across generations and centuries, the common thread of human experience endures.”

Pennsylvania has produced an abundance of samplers, partly perhaps due to its rich early history as America’s melting pot. By the time of the Revolutionary War, Philadelphia was the world’s second-largest English-speaking city. Quakers, Moravians, Pennsylvania Dutch, and Mennonites all populated the state in the early 18th century, following William Penn’s dream of religious freedom. With each culture came new and different histories and traditions of needlework and embroidery. Quakers and Moravians both placed value in women’s education and as a result, Pennsylvania was one of the first colonies with schools for girls.

Rare Southeastern Pennsylvania Needlework Cotton Apron. Cross-stitch signature “I.S 1800”. Pictured in Journal of the Pennsylvania German Society, Vol. 22/1988/1, page 38. 25-1/2″l. x 31-3/4″w. Framed, 31-1/2″ x 37″ overall. Condition: Good with minor wear and stains. Est. $300-$500, sold for $950 at an auction held Dec. 3, 2016 by Conestoga Auction Company.

As for the demand for samplers and other expressions of Pennsylvania needlework, Will Kimbrough said the market for top-quality, fresh-to-the-market examples in excellent condition will continue to escalate over the next five years. “Additionally,” he added, “identified examples connected with specific schools and regions will continue to perform well. As is true with other segments of the market, more typical, less visually interesting pieces, and anything with distracting condition problems, will continue to decline in value.”

Kaitlyn Julian said, “With all the great scholarship on the subject, I believe that a continued interest in collecting samplers is here to stay. I don’t believe the market is as strong as it was twenty years ago, but interest remains high and the market now presents a chance for young collectors to build their own collection at reasonable prices. In order to maintain a strong market, it is crucial to establish an interest with the younger generations.”

Pennsylvania wool needlework, mid-19th century, 19½ x 13½” in a period frame. Some toning and very minor thread loss. Est. $500-$1,000, sold for $325 at an auction held Oct. 27, 2012 by Pook & Pook, Inc.

She added, “As always with antiques, exceptional examples will continue to achieve exceptional prices. Samplers that consistently achieve high prices on the auction block include those which are easy to read, brightly colored and without stains or fading. Easy to read samplers with visual interest and intricately embroidered borders always catch the eye of collectors, especially those with balanced compositions and regional motifs. My favorite samplers include those with spectacularly detailed brick houses, boasting rows and rows of windows, a mansard roof, and a dog running in the front yard. Especially impressive are those which are marked with the age of the maker, including some as young as five or six.”

Atomic Age furnishings exude optimistic energy

NEW YORK – Through the Atomic Age, from the late 1940s through the 1960s, developing nuclear power, atomic science and the space race inspired out-of-this-world interior design. Its stylized, instantly recognizable cosmic shapes and motifs endowed utilitarian objects, large and small, with bursts of futuristic, optimistic, peacetime energy.

Millions of kitchens, against a background of steel cabinets and Formica countertops, boasted bright walls, ceramic coffee mugs and soap dispensers patterned with whizzing rockets or dynamic galaxy decorative touches. Others, inspired by structure of the atom, depicted orbiting atomic particles.

Sunbeam atomic clock with circular pink and gold glass face, marked, 16in. diameter. Realized $100 + buyer’s premium in 2005. Image courtesy of Rago Modern Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Drinking glasses, serving plates and Melamine dinnerware often featured colorful star bursts. Delicate, organic, spidery plant forms and amoeba-like free forms, reflecting strides in x-ray and microscope technologies, adorned place mats and table cloths. Boomerangs, another popular Atom Age motif, not only mirrored magnified bacteria. Used as stylized arrows, they symbolized directional energy fields, capturing movement.

1950s Modern upholstered screen covered with 1950s fabric printed with boomerangs and rectangles in red, blue-green and chartreuse on light gray ground, with steel legs. In as-found condition (stains and tear to fabric). 65¾in. x 58½in. Realized $125 + buyer’s premium in 2004. Image courtesy of Rago Modern Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Bold, aluminum, atomic-inspired lamps graced millions of homes across the country. Desk and ceiling “flying saucers,” which feature gently rounded metal domed shades, were not only popular, but easy on the eye. So were minimalistic floor models, perched precariously on spindly gooseneck, tripod or “cricket” brass legs. Pole tension lamps, whose adjustable cone-shaped shades created focused spots of light, were also great favorites.

Pierre Guariche brass and enameled metal table lamp with adjustable shade, 20in. x 10½in. Realized $1,100 + buyer’s premium in 2006. Image courtesy Rago Modern Auctions, LLP and LiveAuctioneers

In contrast, airy, light-hearted, “bubble” table and ceiling lamps offered warm, soft, diffuse – yet abundant – radiance. George Nelson, for example, coaxed their malleable steel-wire frames and translucent white plastic or sprayed resin into fanciful pear, globe, cigar and elliptical shapes. Gino Sarfatti designed bubble pendant lamps featuring transparent, richly textured, handcrafted Murano glass globes. Angelo Lelli created nickel-plated brass and steel ceiling lights whose radiating branches, tipped with frosted glass spheres, look, for all the world, like planets in orbit.

Angelo Lelli, Arredoluce Stella Chandelier, nickel-plated brass and steel, frosted glass, signed with manufacturer’s label, ‘Made in Italy Arredoluce Monza,’ circa 1950, 51in. diameter, 8½in. high. Realized $19, 000 + buyer’s premium in 2017. Image courtesy Cottone Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Three years after Russia’s earth-shattering launch of the Sputnik space satellite, the Sputnik chandelier reached the market. This opulent starburst creation, featuring central spheres with multiple radiating prongs fitted with glowing light fittings, was a favored décor of the day. So was the Sputnik-like dandelion sphere, whose myriad glass blossoms or spiked pinpoints of light evoke their namesake. These high-end, Atomic Age decorative statements were sculptures by day, supernovas by night.

Atomic-inspired table and wall clocks also made dramatic decorative statements. Though all essentially performed the same function, they differed in shape and style. Some bear flat conventional flat faces bright with random atomic motifs. Some, bearing numerous, slender, outstretched arms radiating from round, conventional, central clockworks, resemble cheery sunflowers or sunbursts. Ball wall clocks, which feature circular centers spiked by slender shafts tipped with brilliantly hued balls, indicate time by position rather than by number. Rare models, like George Nelson’s ovoid “Eyeball,” which resembles its name and his striking wooden, watermelon-shaped ones, are particularly desirable.

Bubble Lamp, George Nelson (1908–1986) for Herman Miller, Zeeland, Mich., 1960s
sprayed resin, steel, clear label, 18in. diameter x 16in. high. Realized $250 in 2015. Image courtesy of Toomey & Co. Auctioneers and LiveAuctioneers

During this era, designers also produced Atomic-Age inspired furniture. Some pieces, like Adrian Pearsall’s sculptured Gondola sofa, along with scores of anonymously designed coffee tables enhancing middle class living rooms, resemble boomerangs.

Others, rather than embodying atomic motifs, utilize exciting, postwar, state-of-the-art materials. Nelson’s whimsical Marshmallow sofa, for example, features comfy cushions “floating” atop tubular steel frames. Harry Bertoia’s nature-inspired, sculptural Diamond, Butterfly and Bird chairs are wrought from bent, welded, transparent steel wire grids.

Charles and Ray Eames, Side chairs, circa 1960, enameled steel wire, Naugahyde, model no. DKX-1, Herman Miller, retains manufacturer’s label. Realized $1,000 + buyer’s premium in 2013. Image courtesy of Los Angeles Modern Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Charles and Ray Eames’ sleek, curvy, stools, rockers and tables are fashioned from pliable plywood. These, as well as their celebrated, molded, Fiberglas chairs, realized in shades from neutral to vibrant, ultramodern orange, yellow and blues, have remained popular for decades.

Most Atomic Age pieces at auction, which were acquired from original users, were not only well used, but well loved. Today too, many appreciate their pleasing visual appeal infused with optimistic energy.

Jasper52 interiors sale Aug. 7 steeped in European panache

A substantial and wide-ranging auction titled Artful Interiors: Decorative Art & Furniture will be presented online Wednesday, Aug. 7, by Jasper52. Bidders will discover an array of decorative objects—antique to modern—to enhance their abode.

Pair of new German-made Art Deco-style armchairs in Macassar wood and piano lacquer, upholstered in high-quality gray fabric. Estimate: $7,000-$8,000. Jasper52 image

View the auction here.

Learn more about the auction on Auction Central News.

Getting hooked on folky rugs

NEW YORK – Hooked rugs have been described as the comfort food of antiques with collectors coveting them for their artistic qualities and homespun nature. Rug hooking dates back several centuries and ranges from simple rugs hooked out of fabric scraps by thrifty crafters or elegant designs.

Hooked rugs come in all sorts of designs from abstract and geometric to whimsical and floral. Karen Swager, decorative arts and textile specialist at Brunk Auctions in Asheville, N.C., says that elaborate floral wreaths and bouquets, farm scenes, cats and dogs are common motifs in the designs of hooked and sewn rugs.

A rare hooked and shirred floral rug, circa 1860-80, possibly Maine, made $25,000 in March 2010 at Brunk Auctions. Photo courtesy of Brunk Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

“Lions became a popular theme with hooked rugs due to the peddler Edward Sands Frost (1843-1894) who created an industry of stenciled rugs patterns,” she says. “There are few examples of people on 19th and early 20th century rugs. The most well-known hooked rugs with people were designed by James and Mercedes Hutchinson in the mid 20th century.”

Kimberly Smith Ivey, senior curator of textiles at Colonial Williamsburg Foundation in Williamsburg, Va., said rug-hooking techniques originated in North America, specifically Maine, and grew from their 19th century origins to become a national pastime. The Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum, part of Colonial Williamsburg, presents the 2018-20 exhibition “Folk Art Underfoot: American Hooked Rugs”  surveying the art of hooking and sewing rugs, featuring some 20 hooked and sewn rugs.

“By the early 19th century, sewn rug work was among the special sewing projects a young schoolgirl could create while attending one of the many day or boarding schools that specialized in sampler making, wool embroidery and other female accomplishments,” she said. Jan Whitlock, in her 2012 book American Sewn Rugs: Their History with Exceptional Examples, notes that 40 schools advertising rug work had been identified. Several schools as far south as Virginia also included rug work in their curriculum.

This early 20th century ice skating hooked rug sold for $7,000 in January 2019 at Brunk Auctions. Photo courtesy of Brunk Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Among notable areas known for hooked rugs is the distinct style of hooked rug that originated in Waldoboro, Maine, a shipbuilding community originally settled by German immigrants.

“The rugs are characterized by a deep pile that is clipped and sculptured creating a design that stands out from the background,” Smith Ivey said. “The finest Waldoboro rugs were crafted between 1860 and 1880 and were intended as decorative showpieces rather than floor coverings to be walked upon. Today, hooked rugs with raised motifs are referred to as Waldoboro-types, whether they are actually made in Waldoboro or not.”

Hooked rug attributed to Lucy Trask Barnard (1800-1896), Dixfield, Maine, circa 1850; wool and cotton on linen. Photo courtesy of the Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg/Joseph and Linda Caputo Collection

The most desirable rugs are ones that showcase the inventiveness and artistry of the maker, Swager says, noting that whimsical designs featuring animals are very sought after. In March 2010, Brunk Auctions sold the collection of prominent collector Tom Gray, including a number of fine hooked and sewn rugs. Among them was a bias shirred rug with a whimsical farm animal scene that hammered at $30,000.

“Some collectors also seek rugs made with a distinct technique. For example, bias shirring, where fabric strips are cut on the bias and stitched to the foundation lengthwise in the center of the strip, is one of the most time consuming and difficult techniques of rug making. This technique also allows for subtle shading and the incorporation of wavy designs that can enhance the artistry of the rug.”

A folk art pictorial hooked rug depicting a portrait of lamb amid geometric designs earned $10,000 in January 2017 at Hyde Park Country Auctions. Photo courtesy of Hyde Park Country Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Smith Ivey explains that designs for early sewn and hooked rugs echo motifs found in other home furnishings including woven rugs and quilts.

“Rug makers found inspiration in published sources as well as in the details of everyday life,” she says. “Houses, birds, floral arrangements, and animal motifs, especially household pets, were the most popular designs. During this period, house cats were a major family pet and the most popular design for hooked rugs. Geometric patterns, which are the easiest designs to draw and produce in a rug, are also common.”

She said four hooked rugs created by Lucy Trask Barnard (1800-1896) in Dixfield, Maine, between 1850 to 1860 are some of the best and most striking forms of hooked rug work for a number of reasons.

“First, it is rare to find a rug with a known maker. Four hooked rugs attributed to Lucy Barnard feature a large white house on a hill with attached outbuildings,” she said. “Her rugs display an unusual sophisticated awareness of perspective through the use of oversized flowers in the foreground and two-sided buildings. Landscapes such as these require greater skill and appear less frequently than floral and geometric patterns.”

Hooked rug, New England, 1875-1925, wool and cotton on burlap (jute). Photo courtesy of the Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg/Joseph and Linda Caputo Collection

Highly collectible today are Grenfell hooked mats, which became a cottage industry in Newfoundland and Labrador in the first half of the 20th century. Dr. William Grenfell established “the industrial” to help provide a source of income for the local women, Swager says. “Designs for the mats were inspired by regional scenes and animals. Polar bears, owls and winter landscapes are found on a number of Grenfell mats.”

While the market for hooked rugs has softened a bit in recent years, the best and most artistic examples continue to bring strong prices while the beginning collector still has the opportunity to enter the field at affordable prices.

Some of the attributes that collectors should consider, Smith Ivey says, include:

  • Condition: Does it have its original binding? Are the colors bright or faded?
  • Materials: Is it worked on burlap, which degrades easily and indicates a later date? Is it worked on cotton or linen, which are more stable ground fabrics and indicates an earlier date? Are there mixtures of fibers in the pile that create interesting textures?
  • Design: Is the design original to the maker, and if so, is it an important expression of American imagination and ingenuity? Is the pattern derived from a published design? Did the maker customize the publish pattern to express some of her personality?
  • Maker: Is the maker of the rug identified? Does the rug have a known provenance? Is it dated or signed in any way?
  • Technique: Is it hooked or is it an example of a sewn rug, such as yarn-sewn, bias shirred; chenille shirred, or patch? Are different hues of one color used to create a shading effect?