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Arts and Crafts, Fine Art, and 1950’s and Modern

Danielle Arnet | September 15th, 2013


John Lennon’s complete 1970 Bag One portfolio of 15 lithographs and carrying bag, from an edition of 300, went to a London buyer at $47,580 (est. $12,000/18,000). Treadway/Toomey photo.

This 7¼" high Arequipa Potteries vase, signed and numbered 283, has a green matte finish with two-color squeeze bag decoration. It sold for $12,200. Treadway/ Toomey photo.

Described as early and rare, this Gustav Stickley bed #600 is a heavy knock-down form with slatted head- and footboards supported with through-tenon and pull-peg construction. With original finish and from a known collection, it sold for $12,200. Treadway/Toomey photo.

Totally stumped by the Gaetano Pesce Nobody’s Perfect chair by Zero Designs, 2002, we marveled again at the $1159 result. Note the multiple openings and handwritten numbers on the 36½" high moss green polyurethane resin chair. The 82" wide Mastercraft sideboard with marble top (in back) sold for $976.

When John Toomey says that advanced collectors crave unusual accessories, he could be talking about this Aurora Studios/Michael Adams milk-can-form hammered copper lamp with mica shade and vented top. Estimated at $2000/3000, it sold for $5490. Treadway/Toomey photo.

Pewabic Pottery works were a sale highlight. This 8" x 8" hand-thrown vase covered in a multicolored iridescent metallic glaze fetched $6100. Treadway/Toomey photo.

Treadway/Toomey Galleries, Oak Park, Illinois

John Toomey sure knows how to start an auction. In Treadway/Toomey Galleries’ three-part “20th Century Art & Design” sale, held September 15 at Toomey’s gallery in Oak Park, Illinois, an 18½" high Grueby vase in an attenuated double-gourd form sold for $12,200 (including buyer’s premium). Technically, however, the vase was sold immediately after the auction to a New York buyer, but that first lot characterized an auction where the finest and best sold well, while lesser goods or the lots with unrealistic estimates languished.

In the Arts and Crafts segment, ceramics stood out with a 25-year Pewabic Pottery collection from Detroit leading the way. A 3" high bulbous vase with a long neck covered in a multicolored metallic glaze brought $2440. A larger vase, almost 10" high, in a bulbous shape with iridescent glaze and unusual feet fetched $6100, as did an 8" x 8" hand-thrown Pewabic vase with multicolored metallic glaze.

“The glazes and forms were unusual, and the market responded,” said Toomey. For the most part, the buyers were pottery collectors known to the house.

The catalog cover lot, a 7¼" high Arequipa Potteries vase with green matte glaze and squared decoration, sold for $12,200 to a New York buyer. A handsome Teco jardinière designed by W.J. Dodd, shape #86, had been carried in by a local consignor who wondered if the auction house wanted to sell it; it brought $9760.

On the furniture front, Toomey called a pair of Gustav Stickley Thornden armchairs (#1299A) “good early examples.” Signed, with replaced rush seats, original finish, and red decals, the pair brought $4270.

“Good Gustav Stickley did well,” he added.

“While support is not where it used to be,” he continued, “we saw strength in all areas” of the sale. Significantly, he saw “the beginning of dealer support, and that means the market may be improving.” When dealers start to buy, they have confidence in selling.

As for serious collectors who buy regardless of market trends, Toomey sees them going for “unusual accessories such as pottery. They already have the classics.”

Joe Stanfield of Toomey’s art department also spotted a trend. The fine art session, held immediately after the Arts and Crafts session (a Treadway/Toomey 20th-century auction is an all-day marathon), saw a complete John Lennon Bag One, 1970, sell to a London bidder for $47,580, after being fought over by “five to six international phone bidders,” according to Stanfield. Estimated at $12,000/18,000, Bag One comprised a double-
handled white vinyl portfolio, signed by Lennon, and 15 signed lithographs by the musician, 29¾" x 22¾", in an edition of 300.

“The appeal was that this one was complete,” Stanfield told us. “You see prints from the suite separately, but this was all together.” It came from a Chicago collector who had it for some 30 years.

Acting on a tip from a Chicago-area collector about contemporary Korean artist Chun Kwang Young, Stanfield took a chance and added a 2001 triangular mixed-media work by the artist to the sale. Instinct paid off; Aggregation-01-NO14, consisting of blobs of crumpled Korean mulberry paper, sold for $34,160.

“It was outside of our comfort zone,” Stanfield admitted, “but we gave it a try.”

Twilight, a 30" x 40" oil on canvas by Dale William Nichols (1904-1995), signed and dated 1981, was another success. The spare rural scene featuring a red barn and trees in profile seeming to stretch skyward, with an excerpt from a Longfellow poem written in the artist’s hand on the back of the canvas, went to a Chicago collector at $42,700.

The art session was “like two different sales,” Stanfield observed. Artworks estimated at around $1000 struggled, but “there was a lot of interest in the fifteen thousand- to thirty-five thousand-dollar market.”

“Buyers want to see items and artists that are tried and true in the market,” he continued. “They want success across the board.”

This auction resulted in the highest amount Stanfield has experienced in the upper market, but the bottom languished. If you think about traditional entry into the market—buy what you can afford, then trade up—that rule no longer applies. Buyers want to start high.

“People are going after better and better lots,” he added. And they won’t settle for the untried. “The typical buyer is savvy; they’re more educated in what they buy,” he continued. And they’re on to current prices because they pay for the same auction results databases that experts use. Precious few “sleepers,” or undiscovered stars, exist.

Lisanne Dickson, head of Toomey Gallery’s modern design department, had her own take on her part of the sale. “Good pieces hold steady,” she noted. Her session of Art Deco, 1950’s, and modern objects followed the art segment and closed the event.

Buyers of Modernism tend to be clustered on both coasts, where competition is fierce. Asked if most consignments also came from the coasts, she replied that pieces come from everywhere, from Texas or Canada and all sorts of far-flung posts.

“Buyers want a concrete designer and maker,” she told us. It seems that experimental pieces and unknowns don’t cut it for buyers. On top of that, “People are less into chrome with glass.”

When it’s a topline signature piece, buyers know it, and they jump. That explains the $11,590 result on a pair of Pierre Jeanneret Committee armchairs designed for the Chandigarh High Court in India from the experimental modern city created by Le Corbusier in 1953 (est. $7000/9000).Two 35½" high teak Danish Modern Borge Mogensen cabinets by P. Lauritsen & Sons, circa 1958, one 27¾" wide and the other 54½" wide, brought “solid prices” at $7320.

“Spare Scandinavian design with fine details always does well,” Dickson added. For example, a set of six brass Hans-Agne Jakobsson votive table lamps with removable shades, each only 6¼" high, sold for $4270.

Even signature Italian glass, not exactly a barnburner of late, fared well when it was the best of its kind. For example, a Tomaso Buzzi Laguna vase for Venini, Murano, in pink and opaque white glass with applied gold leaf at the foot brought $6710. A 1950’s Venini opaque white glass tabletop trade sign, 3½" x 6½", with attached metal stand fetched $244; it was tabletop art in its own way.

Toomey’s gallery is not known for silver, but that may change, as specialist John Walcher was recently tapped to head a silver and decorative arts department. In this sale, a 12" high x 14" diameter zig-zag Murmansk .800 silver Memphis centerpiece by Ettore Sottsass sold for $5795. Other important silver pieces did not sell, perhaps because the gallery has yet to become known as a source for this category.

For readers who doubt that the market is changing, Lisanne Dickson had this observation. “Modernism is growing; I see more and more Arts and Crafts buyers are coming over to it. They’re incorporating pieces into their décor, or they’re decorating a second house or area of their house in modern. They like to mix it in.”

For more information, contact Toomey Galleries at (708) 383-5234 or Treadway at (513) 321-6742; Web site (

Originally published in the December 2013 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2013 Maine Antique Digest

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