A table at the Old Jail Arts Center in Albany, Texas caught my eye. It’s always nice when museums feature decorative arts, but its especially nice when museums of this size include furniture.
The round inlaid center table with a classical form features prominently our first president. I assumed being in this small town Texas museum the George Washington table could be Texas-made. A docent confirmed it probably was, but there remains a chance we could find out it isn’t.
With that in mind, I found it curious George Washington would be featured on a table made in Texas. Of course Texas is as much a part of America as anywhere else, but if the table was made circa 1876 as the label suggests, it wasn’t so long ago that the Lone Star State was a Republic. It became the Republic of Texas in 1836 and was admitted to the Union in 1845.
Reading a little about Texas history (and admittedly a little can be dangerous), it doesn’t seem the state had the independent spirit like it had today (thinking of the petition for succession that followed Barack Obama’s election). It looks like Texas entered the Union by request.
Then there was the matter of the Civil War. After Confederate defeat, Texas was readmitted to the Union in 1870.
So here just a half dozen years later we arrive at 1876, the United States Centennial. There was a big exhibition in Philadelphia, but I imagine wounds from the hard-fought war would have been pretty deep. The Texas State Capitol, completed in 1888, includes the words “Republic of Texas” ingrained into the floor of the rotunda.
It’s fair to ask just how much reverence there would have been in Texas, circa 1876, for George Washington. With a little history in mind, did someone in Texas create this table with the image of George Washington positioned prominently in the center?
One thing I recall is learning at a furniture forum at Winterthur that much early furniture featuring American eagles was actually made outside of Philadelphia. The eagles were most often placed on the furniture by craftsmen and their customers wanting to show allegiance to the new nation. They are rarely found on Philadelphia pieces.
Perhaps George Washington’s prominence on the table was to show Texas’s allegiance to the U.S. Or they could have just gotten caught up in the Centennial celebrations.
But it doesn’t appear Texas was represented at the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition, which makes this well-crafted table all the more puzzling. Maybe it’s one skilled craftsman’s wish that the Lone Star State had been there.
There are still more questions than answers here. I look forward to finding out more.
It occurred to me a while back that perhaps the reason the proliferation of shows on television about antiques have generally coincided with a down market is because of the focus on the price. For them to be appreciated and appreciate, antiques need to be something you want to own, not something you want to sell.
As they should be.
I’ve been wondering for some time whether the tide will turn for some time. Aside from television, many factors are working against it. Boomers are downsizing, meaning the supply is going up and demand going down. Electronic gadgets continue to take up more of our spare time (and so we’re spending more time virtually and less on material objects). More shopping is being done online, which favors new items over old.
But if television can be a style influencer, it could help usher in the return of a more classical, formal style. The big one here is PBS’s Downton Abbey. No, the average person can’t live in a big manor, but formal furnishings are readily available for prices comparable to new items of similar quality. A second show, Netflix’ House of Cards, features American period furnishings like those in Washington buildings. As the economy rebounds, national pride could be on the rise, and so an interest in historical furnishings could increase.
There is some indication this is already happening. Browsing through my email yesterday I opened an email from the online retailer Gilt. A phrase in the subject caught my attention: American Federal Style. These were for the most part not antiques, but new furniture and other items made in styles from the 18th and early 19th century. Included were a three section over-mantle mirror, a high boy, a print of George Washington, plus lots of crystal and silver. Oddly original items offered include period newspapers.
It may be disconcerting if the manufacturers beat the antiques industry to the punch. But wanting the look may be the entry drug into wanting the real thing.
A rare writing desk and examples of early Texas pottery are included in a recent donation of early Texas decorative art items to the Bayou Bend Collection in Houston. That’s according to the Houston Chronicle, Maine Antiques Digest and other sources. The gifts were donated by Houston-born sixth generation Texan William J. Hill.
Created by Austin cabinetmaker Adolph Kempen, the Houston Chronicle called the circa-1975 desk the most significant portion of the donation. It is one of only few such desks documented by Kempen, who migrated to that city from Germany via Galveston a few years before crafting the desk. It appeared on Antiques Roadshow on July 2, 2012 where it was appraised at as much as $12,000.
Bayou Bend Curator Michael K. Brown told reporters the pottery gift dramatically expands the museum’s early Texas pottery collection.
The desk is featured about six minutes into the program. Click to watch.
This Sunday we made it to Houston for the latest edition of the Houston Antiques Dealer’s Association (HADA) Show. The show does a very good job of creating an upscale environment without the use of papered walls. Most items are of the traditional antique variety, with the addition of vintage handbags, jewelry. Few other items are outside the traditional definition of antique, something 1oo years old or more. Furniture seems to be slowly making a comeback, and the amount displayed here and at other shows seems to be on the rise. Local dealers displaying at the show are required to be members of the association. The next HADA show will be in March, 2013.
The Philadelphia Museum of Art recently agreed to purchase a mahogany dressing table that has been on loan to the Museum for 36 years. Made in Philadelphia in the late 1760s or early 1770s, the table is the mate to the museum’s monumental high chest, which was donated in 1957 by Amy Howe Steel Greenough. The dynamic carved decoration on both the high chest and the dressing table depicts a scene from Aesop’s fable of “The Fox and the Grapes” on their central drawers. The museum says the impressive proportions of these remarkable examples of 18th-century craftsmanship echo the architectural framework of the bedchamber for which they were made. and epitomize the elegance and sophistication that distinguish Philadelphia furniture as the finest produced in British colonial North America.
“The Museum has now realized its cherished dream of keeping ‘The Fox and the Grapes’ dressing table together with its companion high chest,” says Timothy Rub, the Museum’s George D. Widener Director and Chief Executive Officer. “The two anchor our galleries of early American art; and now that their future together is secure, we can continue to display and interpret them as superlative artistic achievements.”
The high chest was known to Museum curators early in the 20th century when it was borrowed from Mary Fell Howe for the 1924 exhibition Philadelphia Chippendale. Lauded for its stately presence, highly figured mahogany, abundant carved ornament, and the rare depiction of a narrative from one of Aesop’s fables, the high chest also generated curiosity about whether or not its companion piece—the dressing table—was still in existence. “The Fox and the Grapes” dressing table was soon discovered and made its debut in William MacPherson Hornor, Jr.’s 1935 publication The Blue Book of Philadelphia Furniture: William Penn to George Washington. Joseph Kindig, Jr., the preeminent York, Pennsylvania, furniture and gun dealer, purchased the dressing table from Miss Eliza Davids in the late 1930s. Though Kindig was an antiques dealer, the dressing table was not offered for sale. Instead, it remained in the Kindig’s private home. Mr. Kindig died in 1971, and soon thereafter a friend of the Museum alerted curators to the whereabouts of the coveted “Fox and Grapes” dressing table. The Kindigs agreed to lend the dressing table so it could be displayed next to its high chest in 1976 for Philadelphia: Three Centuries of American Art, the great survey celebrating American art exhibited at the Museum during the bicentennial year. The two looked superb together—each had found its accompaniment—and after the exhibition closed, the dressing table remained on loan to the Museum.
The purchase of the dressing table will be funded by gifts already received or to be solicited from generous individuals over the next several years as well as through funds raised by the deaccession and sale of less significant furniture in the Museum’s collection. The deaccessioned works of art include a Philadelphia easy chair dating to about 1755 that the Museum purchased in 1925 and two colonial side chairs that will be sold at the September Americana sale at Christie’s in New York. Ten pieces of American furniture, including a colonial Philadelphia high chest, dressing table, turret-topped card table, and tilt-top tea table as well as an 1829 painted chest of drawers from the Mahantango Valley, will be sold at Sotheby’s in New York in January.
Only two other high chest and dressing table sets with narrative carving are known to have been made. One of them survives together at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the other is separated, with the dressing table at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and only the base to the high chest surviving at the Diplomatic Reception Rooms of the United States Department of State in Washington, D.C.
“This acquisition affirms the preeminence of the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s collection of colonial Philadelphia furniture and its commitment to exhibiting and interpreting for its public the very best of colonial North America’s artistic achievements,” says Rub.
The Duncan Phyfe exhibit is now on view at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Previously at the Met in New York, MFAH is the second stop for the exhibit. Most of what was on view in New York is available in Houston, but there are a few changes. Most notably the comparison of Phyfe furniture to that by Meeks is absent. There are also some examples of Grecian Plain furniture by unknown makers owned by the Museum (and before that Ima Hogg) that I don’t believe were in New York. Continue Reading »
Antique and vintage furniture can offer such style value when compared to newly-produced retail products that it’s really remarkable. Take this sofa set designed by Peter Hvidt. The condition seems to be good. It’s versatile because its in two pieces, it’s not light in look and would fit perfectly into a small contemporary apartment. Finding something in all-original condition can be a challenge, but is an important factor to serious collectors, and can help preserve resell value. This pair is composed if teak and chrome and not only features original upholstery, but also spring cushions and labels. Continue Reading »
Once the staple of antiques shows, its hard to find an array of furniture today. While there have been some incidental reports of a pick-up in sales, its likely the second-hand and antique furniture markets will continue to mimic the furniture industry. There, even as housing rebounds, sales and stocks are way off.
A recent article on CNBC notes companies including La-Z-Boy and Ethan Allen are off big from their highs. While permits for new construction recently hit their highest level in four years, the article suggests that perhaps that its more speculation driving the recovery. Continue Reading »
After seeing American Vanguards at the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth and looking at all the expression and deconstruction, I didn’t expect to be able to relate it to a documentary about Charles and Ray Eames.
What does Mid-Century furniture have to do with early abstract expressionist painting anyway?
Charles Eames has historically overshadowed Ray, but she was the artist and colorist of the pair. According to the film, Ray studied at the Art Students League with abstract expressionist Hans Hofmann. Continue Reading »
If there ever was a time to furnish a big hotel with American scroll empire furniture, the time is now. Not that the style is any more in fashion than it ever was, in fact it seems the opposite. But there’s a certain charm in going against the grain.
At the Bedford Springs Hotel near the Maryland, Pennsylvania border, this style fits right in. American Empire is a French-inspired Neoclassical style of American furniture that gained its greatest popularity in the U.S. after 1810. The most elaborate furniture in this style was made around 1815-25, followed by the simpler late classical pillar and scroll style. Continue Reading »