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Rago’s Design Auctions in June

Lita Solis-Cohen | June 8th, 2013

In a rare armadillo form for a glazed stoneware vessel for flower arrangement, this 1890 pot, 4¼" x 8½" x 3½", is signed “R.W. Martin + Bros.” for Robert W. Martin. It sold for $43,750 (est. $15,000/20,000).

George Ohr (1857-1918) made this 9¼" x 4¼" pot, with in-body twist and folded rim, and sponged on the ocher and red glazes. He stamped it “G.E. Ohr, Biloxi, MS” circa 1897. It sold for $47,500 (est. $20,000/ 30,000).

Gustave Baumann (1881-1971) carved and printed this 9¼" x 11" (image size) color woodblock print in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Framed and matted, Pelican Rookery has the artist’s chop mark and signature and is titled and numbered 3/120. It sold to an absentee bidder for $10,000 (est. $3000/5000).

Robert Turner (1913-2005) usually created series of related pots, inspired by various places and cultures. This 21¾" x 14" glazed stoneware vessel with applied elements is from his “Akan” series. (The Akan people are natives of Ghana and the Ivory Coast.) Made in Alfred, New York, it is incised “RT” and sold for $16,250 (est. $4500/6500), an auction record for the artist.

This 2½" x 7¾" enamel-decorated bowl is by Frederick H. Rhead (1880-1942) and Agnes Rhead (b. 1877). It has incised University City, Missouri, marks “UC/ AWL/ FHR/ 1911/ AR/ 1003” and a stylized landscape. It sold for $55,000 (est. $15,000/20,000).

Arthur Espenet Carpenter made this chess table and set in 1960 of walnut, bird’s-eye maple, rosewood, and bay. The 20" x 31" x 20" signed and dated table is incised “Espenet 6922” and sold for $22,500 (est. $9000/14,000).

Paul Evans created this Sculpture Front cabinet in 1970. The 36" x 94" x 24" welded and torch-cut polychrome steel and slate cabinet is signed “Paul Evans 6.6.70.” It had been purchased from the artist by the consignor and sold for $187,500 (est. $100,000/125,000). The interior has been restored, but the doors are first-rate Evans, and that is what counts.

This 54" x16" lantern by Tiffany Studios of leaded glass and bronze with three sockets was unmarked but sold on the phone for $27,500 (est. $5000/10,000).

Rago Arts & Auction Center, Lambertville, New Jersey

Photos courtesy Rago Arts & Auction Center

Rago held two days of sales of mostly American design on June 8 and 9 in Lambertville, New Jersey. Taken together, the Saturday and Sunday sessions of 992 lots totaled $5,677,436 (with buyers’ premiums). There were somewhat fewer lots than in past years, making for more attractive exhibitions, which can be viewed for the week up to and during the sales.

On Saturday the sales began with early 20th-century design and offered a broad range of ceramics, glass, furniture, and decorations. Collectors and the trade competed in the salesroom, on the phones, and on line. More than two dozen of the 353 on-line bidders were successful. Even more on-line bidders were winners the following day when 20th- and 21st-century design crossed the block. Though both days’ sales were smaller than usual, collectors found some good things for themselves. All of the top lots were sold to phone bidders, although there was plenty of bidding in the room from nearly 100 bidders who signed up for paddles.

Two phone bidders competed for a low bowl decorated on its inverted wide lip with a stylized enamel landscape by Frederick and Agnes Rhead when they worked in University City, Missouri, in 1911, and it sold for $55,000 (including buyer’s premium), more than double its $20,000 high estimate. A 9¼" high pot by George Ohr with a twist at the top of its body and a folded rim and covered with an unusual ocher and red sponged glaze, made in Biloxi, Mississippi, circa 1897, sold for $47,500—well in excess of its $30,000 high estimate. The Ohr market was strong; nearly every lot offered sold: glazed and unglazed, large and small, and even “burnt babies” that Ohr had rescued after the October 12, 1894, fire that burned his pottery (and most of downtown Biloxi) to the ground. A 2¾" x 3¾" burnt baby pitcher with a lobed rim sold for $1500 (est. $700/1000) to a phone bidder.

Two works by Martin Brothers of London, England brought fair prices. A 12½" tall stoneware bird-form tobacco jar sold for $43,750, and a rare armadillo-shaped flower holder, 8½" long, sold for the same price. The record for a Martin Brothers piece is £81,750 ($127,710, including buyer’s premium) paid for a 16½" high bird-form tobacco jar sold by Woolley & Wallis in Salisbury, England on June 19. An agent bought it for an American buyer.

Gustav Stickley furniture is a good buy these days. A circa 1901 two-door bookcase with mitered mullions and cathedral arches sold to the trade for $25,000 (est. $25,000/35,000). A circa 1905 leather-top Gustav Stickley lamp table (the best example of the form that Rago’s Arts and Crafts furniture specialist Jerry Cohen has seen in 30 years) sold for $11,250 (est. $7000/9000). A couple drove down from Boston to buy an Arts and Crafts clock for their Arts and Crafts house and said they were thrilled to get an unmarked tall-case clock cataloged as “Colonial circa 1910” for $4375 (est. $2500/3500).

In a separate session on June 8 (lots 300-381) called “Studio Pottery,” some 20th-century masters’ works in clay were offered. David Rago and his wife, Suzanne Perrault, are working hard to develop this market with the same passion they have for art pottery made 100 years earlier. They have met with some success. Sophisticated collectors know that this secondary market takes time to develop, and more of them are attending the sales and snapping up bargains. One collector came to buy Grueby and then discovered the work of Otto and Gertrud Natzler and bought seven Natzler bowls for prices ranging from $1000 to $6875. What a smart way to form an instant collection of the work of brilliant potters.

The star lot of this studio pottery section of the sale was a monumental footed vase with figures and faces by Edwin and Mary Scheier made in Green Valley, Arizona, in 1966. It sold on the phone for $21,250—an auction record for the artists—with competition from another phone bidder and an absentee bidder, who left a bid with the auctioneer.

Works from the collection of Henry P. Bauer (1951-2009) performed well. Trained in economics at Alfred University, he stayed in the area and opened a roofing and renovation business. The School of Art & Design at Alfred University in Alfred, New York, has been since 1943 a premier place to study the art of clay as pottery and sculpture. Bauer discovered the studio of Robert Turner, who was a teacher at Alfred, and this discovery led to Bauer’s longtime passion for collecting ceramics by artists associated with Alfred. He often bartered his work for their work. He bought works by Daniel Rhodes, Ron Reitz, Wayne Higby, John Gill, William Parry, Ted Randall, and Graham Marks, as well as from visiting artists at Alfred such as Peter Voulkos, who was, like Turner, a pioneer in abstract expressionism in clay. With his discerning eye, Bauer also bought from others, such as visiting potter Shoji Hamada, a Japanese master of clay in a more traditional vein. The sale set auction records for works by Turner as well as the Scheiers.

The total for Saturday’s session for studio pottery was $1,430,718 with 87% of the lots offered finding buyers and 10% of the sale going to on-line bidders. Overall on Saturday the total was $2,653,124. Rago keeps track of where on-line bids come from, and on Saturday they came from the U.S., Canada, Brazil, Venezuela, the U.K., France, Italy, the Netherlands, Germany, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Austria, Finland, Japan, and Australia. The sale included some European glass and ceramics.

The Sunday sale of 20th- and 21st-century design and furnishings brought in another $3,024,312. This section of the sale was 78% sold by lot.

Two works by Paul Evans performed well. A Sculpture Front horizontal cabinet of polychromed steel with a slate top sold for $187,500, and a vertical Sculpture Front cabinet by Evans of welded and torch-cut polychrome steel sold for $162,500—even though the interior has been rebuilt and stained a stunning grass green. The market will get a boost from a Paul Evans exhibition planned for March 2014 at the James A. Michener Art Museum in Doylestown, Pennsylvania.

The Conoid cross-legged desk by George Nakashima that sold for $68,750 was large at 72½" long and made of a dramatic choice of woods—bleached French olive ash for the top and a dark walnut base. The Conoid bench that sold for $35,000 was not quite as dramatic as the Conoid bench with spindles set several inches in from the back edge that brought $40,000 at Phillips the following Tuesday, June 11.

The Arthur Espenet Carpenter chess table that sold for $22,500 came complete with its chess pieces and was a collector’s item, as was the Wharton Esherick chair called Hammer Handle that brought a strong $21,250. The Esherick side chair with woven saddle leather back and seat was a relative bargain at $17,500.

Much of the furniture and lighting was bought by furnishers, interior decorators, or the trade. Furniture by Vladimir Kagan and by Philip and Kelvin LaVerne continued to sell within and over estimates. Harry Bertoia’s sculptures are still in demand. The pictures and captions give more details.

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

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