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.
The Coast & the Sea: Marine and Maritime Art in America by Linda S. Ferber (New-York Historical Society, in association with D Giles Limited, 2014, 104 pp., hardbound, $29.95).
This book, a joy to hold, opens to a shape that feels right for looking at wide horizons. It celebrates the maritime collection of paintings and artifacts in the New-York Historical Society and includes concise and engaging explanatory historical commentary by Linda S. Ferber, vice president and senior art historian at the society.
Ferber moves us from painting to painting while she tells the stories behind the art with our eyes firmly fixed on the historical milieu surrounding the waterfront and marine scenes. We encounter portraits of ship captains (including one by Rembrandt Peale of Stephen Decatur and one of James Gordon Bennett Jr.) and families, detailed waterfront scenes that enable us almost to smell the wharfs, vistas of New York harbor, famous mercantile ships and warships, early American scenes along the Hudson River, and some artifacts that relate to the stories surrounding each painting, such as whales’ teeth, a silver presentation soup tureen, and a spyglass, among other objects and scenes.
Fishing in a Catboat in Great South Bay brought a smile and admiration for the mastery of artist Junius Brutus Stearns (1810-1885). This painting of men and women line fishing under a single sail includes an obviously seasick passenger and records the joy of the other men and the women, dressed in overcoats over suits and gowns, as they pull in their catch. Turning the page, we encounter two paintings by Jasper Francis Cropsey (1823-1900) depicting Castle Garden, New York, the smaller of which was inscribed to Jenny Lind by the artist and is a daytime view. The other on the facing page is with a rising full moon—a dramatic and accurate painting of that famous southernmost point of Manhattan in 1859.
The book makes history come more alive, as we read Ferber’s explanations. She shares her intricate knowledge of New York’s history with an artistic eye, and we can place things in context with her well-researched, clearly written explanations. Her segues seem to me particularly enchanting. I chose part of one page to exemplify the many in her essay:
“Colman paints into the sun, bathing the scene in a golden afternoon glow, conferring an aura of nostalgia that co-opts historical landmarks into picturesque touring destinations. Fort Lafayette was later demolished to make way for the Brooklyn anchorage of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.
“Francis Augustus Silva would also circumnavigate the maze of interconnected waterways in and around the harbor to find the subjects for his luminous waterscapes. In New York Harbor, 1880, Silva transforms the busy port into a romantic vista by portraying the expanse of water radiant with sunset’s glow…a husky tugboat steams toward us in a businesslike fashion; its homely profile is in sharp contrast to the graceful vessels nearby. Three sloops and a schooner coming into port at twilight are poised on the shining water like birds in a line of flight that recedes into the distance, drawing our eye to the luminous twilight and the open waters beyond and the poetry of empty spaces.
“Perhaps they might be sailing away into the romantic alternative universe of De Haas’s Tropical Sunset at Sea, existing in another twilight in another harbor at the other end of the world….”
The endnotes offer some further background details, and there is a bibliography and an index, so this informative and charming addition to your maritime/marine library should slip into its berth easily.
Incidentally, this book is published on the occasion of the traveling exhibition The Coast & the Sea: Marine and Maritime Art in America, which is at the Society of the Four Arts in Palm Beach, Florida, through March 9. From there it travels to the Baker Museum in Naples, Florida, April 19-July 6, and to the New York State Museum in Albany, October 2015-February 2016.
A Simpler Way of Life: Old Farmhouses of New York & New England by William Morgan (Norfleet Press, 2013, 216 pp., hardbound, $49.50).
The 19 farmhouses featured in this book date mostly from the late 18th and early to mid-19th century. They reflect “a variety of styles, materials, and aspirations.” Full-color photos by Trevor Tondro show period furnishings and architectural details harmoniously blending with modern conveniences and contemporary art and decorations. Text accompanying the illustrations gives the history of each house and tells a bit about its current occupants.
William Morgan points out in his introduction that “these are not fancy houses and none are museums.” His lovely book is “a tribute to a band of artists, writers, designers, would-be farmers, antique dealers, and people who just love old houses. They have preserved the spirit of many generations of workers of the soil, and, in so doing, have bequeathed us a very special legacy.”
Beauty’s Legacy: Gilded Age Portraits in America, edited by Barbara Dayer Gallati, with a contribution by Valerie Steele (New-York Historical Society, in association with D Giles Limited, 2013, 184 pp., hardbound, $49.95).
Sixty-five portraits from the holdings of the New-York Historical Society are featured in this examination of society portraiture in the Gilded Age. The book accompanies an exhibit of the same name that is on view at the New-York Historical Society in New York City through March 9. As guest curator Barbara Dayer Gallati points out, “In Gilded Age New York, having one’s portrait painted by a fashionable artist…was a rite of passage, one that could affirm the sitter’s social status or perhaps stake a claim to a status that was not entirely secure.” The patrons who sat for these portraits “recognized that the paintings they commissioned were, in fact, cultural capital, valuable embodiments of how they wished to be seen and remembered.”
Text by Barbara Dayer Gallati accompanying full-color images of the portraits includes biographical information on the artists and the subjects. In two separate essays Gallati explores the role of portraiture in the Gilded Age and examines the critical reception of 1890’s loan exhibitions of portraits. Valerie Steele, chief curator and director of the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, contributes an essay on fashion and cosmetics in the Gilded Age. This well-researched volume adds to our understanding of the “aspirations, agendas, and tastes” of a small but powerful segment of late 19th-century society.
Liquidating an Estate: How to Sell a Lifetime of Stuff, Make Some Cash, and Live to Tell About It by Martin Codina (Krause Publications, 2013, 287 pp., softbound, $18.99 from KP Books, [www.krausebooks.com] or  864-2579).
Martin Codina has been running in-house public estate sales in California for 17 years. He wrote this book as a guide to “respectfully selling the countless objects” that are left behind after death, divorce, or relocation. While acknowledging that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to estate liquidation, Codina recommends a three-tiered strategy: (1) find an advocate such as an appraiser or a friend in the antiques business who can help you understand what in the estate has high value; (2) consign the highest value items to auction; and (3) engage an estate liquidator to sell the rest.
Codina strongly recommends taking adequate time to research what the house contains and all the various options for selling it, pointing out that “the way to irreversibly deduct value from an estate is to take away time by acting with haste.” One chapter offers tips to those who insist on conducting their own estate sales. Another chapter offers a sample letter that children can send to parents to encourage them to clarify their wishes about what should be done with their personal property after they are gone (and to urge them before they die to tend to their “secrets,” i.e., anything that might be distressing or embarrassing to other family members). The final chapter includes a list of questions to ask estate liquidators before deciding which one to hire. Included throughout the book are anecdotes from Codina’s years as an estate liquidator. Packed with advice and information that is presented clearly, this book will be useful to anyone faced with having to clear out a home.
Oriental Rugs: An Illustrated Lexicon of Motifs, Materials, and Origins by Peter F. Stone (Tuttle Publishing, 2013, 322 pp., hardbound, $49.95 plus S/H from Tuttle Publishing, [www.tuttlepublishing.com] or  526-2778).
Dictionaries are seductive and, if well illustrated and researched, invaluable resources. This one, published by Tuttle, long a preeminent publisher of books on Asian arts, literature, history, and their interrelationships with traditions of the East and West, is a gem.
Fully researched by Peter F. Stone, a master of rug repair and collecting, this wonderfully illustrated (full-color) dictionary will suit any rug aficionado to a T. Obviously, it is meant for dealers, collectors, weavers, and researchers (including students). I enjoyed dipping into it, reading whatever grabbed my eye at the moment, and then discovering interconnections.
You will find definitions and explanations covering just about any imaginable thing to do with Oriental (and some other types of handwoven) rugs. The terminology is succinct and clear, and the few typographical errors are minor and easily overlooked in light of the value of having a real book at hand to seek answers. Yes, the Internet is a wonderful resource, but a book is handy and quick with this format, and you receive Stone’s insights.
For example, “Albania. Since World War II, a source of contemporary, very well-made pile rugs with Persian designs.” Another example, “flamskäv, flamskavnad (Swedish). ‘Flemish weave.’ A type of highly prized Scandinavian tapestry woven on a vertical loom. These may include complex and curvilinear images. See ‘rya rugs.’” (This entry has a cushion cover from a Sotheby’s auction to illustrate.) Or “reggam. A reggam is a male weaver of pile rugs on commission for wealthy tribal families in Tunisia and Algeria. Rugs woven by a reggam are highly prized. Designs are traditional. The practice of the reggam has virtually ended, and women produce contemporary weavings in these countries.”
There is nearly encyclopedic knowledge on the subject of handwoven rugs between these covers, from weave structures and dyes to all those names along the silk route.
Originally published in the March 2014 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2014 Maine Antique Digest