The first sale each year for Garth’s Auctions in Delaware, Ohio, tends to be not only a mixed affair but also a mouthful. Described by the company as offering “American Antiques and European & Asian Furniture & Decorative Arts,” the January 14 event included all the above, but the day belonged largely to the American side of things. That’s not surprising, considering that country antiques and Americana are still the company’s strong suit.
Even so, the top lot of the day wasn’t what most bidders might have expected. It certainly wasn’t a stereotypical piece of Americana. Trophy Wives by Terry Rodgers (b. 1947), a large oil painting of nude men and women at a pool party, sold within estimates for $10,800 (includes buyer’s premium).
A resident of Columbus, Ohio, Rodgers is known for his oversize works of nudes. Trophy Wives probably comes from an earlier series of paintings, since it featured a few overweight, middle-aged men surrounded by numerous younger, slenderer females. More current works pictured on the artist’s website tend to portray seminude and nude young women and men in party settings, although the subject matter can vary.
According to that website, “Rodgers’s current work focuses on portraying contemporary body politics. His rendering of an imaginary leisure life stands as an iconic vision of the tensions and confusions endemic to today’s society. These images are not snapshots or slices of life, but rather a compression and dissection of our rampant imaginations and mediated influences. The seductive and marvelous glamour of the outer world jars against the vulnerability and delicacy of our inner and private selves.”
However one describes the work, it deviates from the type of material Garth’s has traditionally handled. While the auction house hasn’t abandoned painted country furniture for contemporary paintings of nudes, Trophy Wives suggests a willingness to accept a broader spectrum of material. The painting wasn’t an isolated case. The company’s annual Thanksgiving sale in November started with more than 100 lots of artwork that included a number of abstract pieces.
Then again, there’s more to the story of Trophy Wives. It wasn’t originally intended to be sold at the auction house. Amelia Jeffers, president of Garth’s, said the consignment came from a collector in Columbus, Ohio, who had acquired the painting ten to 15 years ago at a gallery show. When Jeffers first saw the work, she immediately knew it was a better fit at Selkirk, Garth’s sister auction house in St. Louis.
The painting was shipped to St. Louis, where it was offered at the auction on September 24, 2016, estimated at $15,000/20,000. “It drew no bids,” said Jeffers. “We bring it back, put it in the very next Garth’s auction.” The estimate was lowered to $8000/12,000, and the painting sold.
“It was so interesting to me,” Jeffers added. “Sometimes we think we know the salesroom, but at the end of the day all you need are two people looking.”
The European and Asian material in the auction played a relatively minor role during the sale, highlighted by a Continental image of the Crucifixion that realized $3360 against a conservative estimate of $400/800. In watercolor and gilt on vellum, the work had portrait medallions of the 12 disciples surrounding the main image.
Jeffers noted that Tom Porter, former owner of Garth’s, used to say there are two things auctioneers can’t sell—religion and politics. That has changed. “We’ve had other religious artifacts over the past few years that have done very well,” she noted. “Jeff [Jeffers, CEO of Garth’s] always says we’re not running the same business we bought. It’s a totally different business, both Garth’s and the industry itself.”
One thing hasn’t changed over the years—the demand for Americana and paint at Garth’s. The best of the American furniture was a country pewter cupboard in pine with old red paint, 1830s-40s, 94" x 49½" x 16½" , that sold for $3720. The simple one-piece form had an open top with shelves, all over a narrow, plank door.
“Paint is so strong,” said Jeffers. Buyers were clearly seeing red, not just on the pewter cupboard but also on an American hutch table in pine, the base and underside of the top having worn, old red paint. Dating to the mid-19th century, the piece sold for $2520, more than four times its upper estimate.
“It’s a form that people like. When they were made, they were so functional,” she added. “It’s a popular form because of that flexibility.”
Brown furniture, which has seen a slight uptick at Garth’s, continued to do well. Leading the way was a Hepplewhite chest of drawers in cherry with inlay, western Pennsylvania origin, late 18th or early 19th century, that realized $2400.
“My goodness, that’s a happy day. It’s not often right now you’re seeing brown furniture go so well,” Jeffers noted. “This had a great look, great figure. The inlay was fun. It was just a good country piece of furniture. Western Pennsylvania is always hot with us, too. It falls right into our sweet spot.”
Among the other material in the auction were quilts, led by a Diamond in the Square pattern in rust, green, and blue-gray. From Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, and dating to 1920-40, it sold for $2160.
“The quilt market, I was thrilled,” said Jeffers. The quilts did well overall, considering that textiles have been less than robust in recent years. The slow turnaround might have something to do with ease of handling.
“I think it goes back to this whole concept of heavy versus not heavy. Heavy and bulky and hard to move, it’s definitely impacting value. Quilts are not any of that,” Jeffers said.Physical characteristics are not the only considerations; eye appeal is also coming into play. “You can get a great pop of color in a room and great design and artistry in a room without breaking your back or having to move a four-foot by eight-foot painting,” she added.
Coverlets were also offered. “That’s a little more of an academic market,” Jeffers noted. “There is some condition, color, design, but I don’t think that’s a market that translates as readily as quilts.” Coverlet buyers still tend to be a scholarly bunch, with much of their interest on makers and regions.
Also of note were a number of pieces of Bennington pottery, one of which was a set, a washbowl and pitcher, 1849-58, in the Alternate Rib pattern and having deep blue and green accents that realized $1800.
The auction had more passed lots than is normally the case at Garth’s. “If they want it, they want it. If they don’t, they don’t,” said Jeffers. Freezing rain in the forecast didn’t help, but conditions turned out OK, and there was a large crowd in the showroom. In the end, weather wasn’t a factor.
For more information, contact Garth’s at (740) 362-4771 or visit the website (www.garths.com).
Originally published in the April 2017 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2017 Maine Antique Digest - See more at: https://www.maineantiquedigest.com/stories/american-antiques-and-european-and-asian-furniture-and-decorative-arts/6225#sthash.bvTxQ6ri.dpuf