These are brief reviews of books recently sent to us. We have included ordering information for publishers that accept mail, phone, or on-line orders. For other publishers, your local bookstore or mail-order house is the place to look.
A Handsome Cupboard of Plate: Early American Silver in the Cahn Collection by Deborah Dependahl Waters (John Adamson in association with the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, 2012, 120 pp., hardbound, $39.95).
The work of 17th- and 18th-century American “goldsmiths,” as the craftsmen who worked primarily in silver called themselves, reflected “the ethnic, religious, and political diversity of colonial America.” The silver in the collection of Paul and Elissa Cahn, assembled over 30 years, reflects that diverse culture. This catalog was published for the traveling exhibition of the Cahns’ silver by the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, where it is on view through March 24. (The exhibit then moves on to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Missouri; the Missouri History Museum in St. Louis; and the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum in Williamsburg, Virginia.)
The exhibition features more than 50 pieces of silver, and the catalog highlights 38 of them with full descriptions, including maker, dates, marks, provenance, inscriptions, size, publications, exhibitions, and a history of the piece. They are organized by place—Boston, New York, or Philadelphia—and the photographs are large enough to show details. The 1768 Van Wyck waiter by Myer Myers is given a foldout page to display it at full size. There are plenty of notes and references, an index, and a well-written introduction to the collection that discusses makers, forms, styles, and marks.
Tales of an Art Dealer: The History of Vose Galleries Boston by Robert C. Vose Jr. (Robert C. Vose III, 2012, 366 pp., hardbound, $65 plus S/H from Robert C. Vose III, [www.talesofanartdealer.com]).
When Joseph Vose (1793-1873) announced to family members his desire to become an art supplies dealer in Providence, Rhode Island, one of them suggested that “he might have a better chance of making a living by manufacturing crutches for lame ducks.” That anecdote is one of many told in this memoir by Robert Vose Jr., the great-grandson of Joseph Vose. Robert Vose Jr., who died in 1998, retired from Vose Galleries in 1985 after 54 years with the firm. He spent ten years working on his memoir. Family members, gallery staff, and friends compiled and edited the text, and his son Robert C. Vose III has now published it.
In 1841 Joseph Vose did buy an art supplies firm in Providence, and in 1850 his son Seth (1831-1910) joined the firm. Seth Vose began selling paintings in addition to selling art materials and frames. Among his clients was Martin Johnson Heade. Vose Jr. writes, “Grandfather sold Heade his brushes, paint, canvas, and stretchers, and then sold the finished product for a commission!” By 1897, Vose Galleries had relocated to Boston, and Seth Vose soon became known as an astute art dealer. Now managed by the fifth generation of the Vose family, Vose Galleries is the oldest family-owned art gallery in America.
In the preface, Robert D. Hale mentions Robert Vose Jr.’s love of telling stories and “his genuine enthusiasm for life and for what he and his family accomplished in the art world.” Hale writes that Vose “is quick to praise and give credit, but does not shy away from shining bright lights into dark corners.”
Vose’s descriptions of people are often unflattering. For example, two dealers from a rival firm “were completely lacking in conscience”; artist John Whorf was “an unusually handsome man, with a rather risqué sense of humor and absolutely no conscience at all”; a certain private dealer had “an excellent eye, but too much fondness for alcohol”; and a well-known New England auctioneer was someone “whose scruples we had never admired.”
Vose writes of deals that succeeded and of deals that fell through. He tells stories of artists and collectors who were honest and trustworthy, and others who were not. He admits making mistakes, and he writes with great pride of leading the firm out of debt. He recounts tales of robberies, forgeries, and betrayals, and of unexpected finds, great kindnesses, and smart choices. It adds up to a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at the art world.
Norman Rockwell’s America by Judy Goffman Cutler, Laurence S. Cutler, and the National Museum of American Illustration with the Birmingham Museum of Art (American Civilization Foundation, 2012, 256 pp., softbound, $35 plus S/H from National Museum of American Illustration, [www.americanillustration.org] or  851-8949).
Norman Rockwell is one of the most recognizable American artists of the 20th century, and his iconic illustrative artwork remains indelibly etched in the memory of many Americans. Even those too young to have bought the magazines that featured his work are part of the public who recognizes his work. The National Museum of American Illustration in Newport, Rhode Island, has championed illustrators such as Rockwell as professional artists. Norman Rockwell’s work epitomized American illustrative art in the 20th century. His prolific output helped make him a “ubiquitous artist,” so it is not surprising that the exhibition Norman Rockwell’s America broke attendance records at four museums in the U.S. and in London before closing in January at the Birmingham (Alabama) Museum of Art.
This catalog for that exhibition illustrates not only 52 original paintings on loan to the museum but 75 more, plus the 323 cover illustrations that Rockwell painted for the Saturday Evening Post from 1916 until 1963. It doesn’t stop there. A brief biography, primarily of his working years, documents his family life, his successes, and where he found inspiration for his work. A timeline highlights significant dates in Rockwell’s life alongside important events in history.
Fully illustrated in color, the artwork is as engaging as if seeing it on a magazine cover or on a wall. Each piece is described with its title, date, size, and medium. The published work is shown as well, if it was published. Not all of Rockwell’s renderings made it into print; often these were commentaries on important, controversial social issues. Most of Rockwell’s work is considered idealistic and tells America’s story—or the parts of it we’d like to hear. The book also compares aspects of Rockwell’s technique to that of artists such as J.C. Leyendecker and Rembrandt.
Norman Rockwell’s illustrations may continue to attract attention for many years. The catalog is difficult to put down. If you missed the exhibition, buy the catalog and enjoy seeing how Rockwell captured “the foibles, triumphs, and emotions of a place and time that not only speak to the particularity of that time, but also transcend it.”
Donald Ellis Gallery (Donald Ellis Gallery, 2012, 174 pp., hardbound, $45 plus S/H from Donald Ellis Gallery, [www.donaldellisgallery.com]).
For over 30 years, Donald Ellis has dealt with the potent items in the field of historical Native American cultures. With a great eye for authenticity (of form and of spirit), he has served museums, collectors, and researchers on an international scale. The satisfying items presented in this book can stand alone artistically or be studied as talismans of cultural heritage. Any way you look at them, they command respect. It is a great pleasure to view them in photographs as fine as these, although naturally it is far better to see them directly to appreciate fully their power. This book provides a catalog of items, carefully chosen and presented, that is worthy of Ellis’s prominent stature as a dealer.
The foreword, “Always Out of Time,” lends intellectual weight to the book as well. Author Alexander Provan reminds us to delve with pleasure into the philosophy of aesthetics by inviting us to see the links among these objects and their original cultures’ usages, collectors, artists, and expression (of spirit, essence, history). It can be as complex as Provan’s quote from an essay by philosopher Giorgio Agamben, which can lead you to hours of rumination. Or rather more simply, perhaps, you can begin with a history of an object and its owners, such as given in the first two paragraphs. Those introductory paragraphs pull you into the facets of origination, collection, artistic inspiration, and art history and end with: “While the mask is a product of this history, it never ceases to be completely sui generis, even as its status shifts over time—from Yup’ik fetish to modernist talisman, ethnographic relic to rarefied commodity. The mask is a register of the past but also a prism for understanding, defying, and looking beyond the present.”
If you are interested in the subject, there is a good bibliography in this handsomely produced 14½" x 11½" catalog.
Mid-Century Modern: Living with Mid-Century Modern Design by Judith Miller (Miller’s, 2012, 253 pp., hardbound, $39.99).
Judith Miller is a longtime, tireless cheerleader for antiques, especially for collectors. Her tour of the U.S. to promote this book has ended, and a bit belatedly we congratulate her embrace of what she calls “the most iconic designs” of this “enduring style.” This overview gives neophyte collectors what they need to start assessing the relationships among designers, industrial production, style variations by region, and price brackets for the things they most likely will find worth collecting. For someone who is serious about collecting studio crafts by lesser-known individuals, it is not as valuable a tool.
In various chapters and at the front of the book, Miller gives background information and cultural points worth considering, so new collectors can begin to understand the concepts—and their realizations—of what began as a perceived need for two major changes in daily life: clear-cut function (comfort, utility, simplicity) and a feeling of spaciousness (lack of frills but keeping tactile pleasure in materials). As is usual for Miller’s books, the format makes it easy to use. There are many color photos and a key for price brackets with most objects.
Before launching into those individual assessments, in a short, helpful chapter called “Interiors,” Miller pictures some iconic houses of the period, thus showing how the ceramics, lighting, furniture, glass, metals, fiberglass, and textiles look all together. Whether you seek to achieve the whole look or choose to add this international style to an innovative mixture, this book could help.
America’s Patriotic Holidays: An Illustrated History by John Wesley Thomas and Sandra Lynn Thomas (Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 2012, 192 pp., softbound, $29.99 from Schiffer Publishing, [www.schifferbooks.com] or  593-1777).
The authors celebrate America with more than 700 items that illustrate patriotic themes, including colorful postcards, photographs, lithographs, posters, illustrations, song sheets, bookmarks, magazine covers, political cartoons, and paintings. Key moments and events from U.S. history are discussed in the text, and the items highlight iconic patriotic
imagery inspired by these stories. Most of the items featured in the book are from the collection of the authors, who also feature the histories of popular patriotic songs and the history behind seven patriotic holidays.
Originally published in the April 2013 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2013 Maine Antique Digest