Whitehall Blog

Archive for July, 2012

More American Furniture

Saturday, July 28th, 2012

As promised, more American Federal Furniture!

Elizabeth lecturing in the entrance hall

Elizabeth begins a discussion of a Raleigh, North Carolina clock works as well as the many other fine pieces in the lateral entrance hall of Ayr Mount.

Elizabeth discusses the Duncan Phyfe attributed Music Room table

Elizabeth worked with the groups throughout the day discussing some of the unique qualities of carving and construction in the Phyfe workshop.  Here she is pointing out the so called acanthus leaves of Phyfe’s work, which tended towards a water leaf looseness of design, the long gentle leaves with a central vein and carving more like a stone sculptor than a wood carver.  These elegant, gently formed leaves lack the frenetic quality of his contemporaries working both in New York and elsewhere during the Federal period.

Another stunning federal tea table!

This was a particularly interesting table, attributed to either New York or Boston/Salem and acquired by Mr. Jenrette in a 1984 deaccession sale of pieces from the Columbus Museum of Art.  It is always intriguing to encounter such moves by museums–did they have a better (hard to believe) or did they decide to abandon the field of American Decorative Arts?  Anyway, I am pointing out several usual and one exceedingly unusual construction technique.  The screws inside the storage compartment sink through a central mahogany piece into a secondary block and possibly into the tops of the four exquisitely carved posts (no way to tell without removing one and measuring down).  What is unique is the very dark mahogany block used to make the curved front corners–obvious in this photo.  Curved parts were by this time made of multiple pieces of secondary wood cut into the desired form and had been so constructed since about 1770.  HOWEVER, this corner piece is Cuban or other fine, dense mahogany cut into the curve, glued on a long slant to the front piece of wood (white pine) and the whole is veneered as normal.  The maker must have had a couple of large blocks of mahogany too small for any constructive use–perhaps the ends of bedposts–and so he used this wonderful surface for his veneer base on this tricky corner.  The apron sides of white pine are dovetailed to this front piece, then veneered to match the front apron veneers.  Fascinating and perhaps a lead someday to the maker, but also perhaps just a “oner” using those handy mahogany scraps!

A magnificent Phyfe bed

Here I am having fun with the Phyfe attributed bed–almost certainly correct as the elegant water leaf/acanthus leaf carving is classic–simple stone sculpture like leaves on a graceful single vein.  Bill and Schatzie Crowther who oversee Ayr Mount went to the trouble of completely stripping the bed and photographing the clever construction which presages later 19th century construction–the bed bolts are completely hidden, lying laterally within deep railing channels and sinking into nuts buried deeply in the posts.  What an effort–and deeply appreciated by every student during the day!  And again let me give Cory Crowther a shout-out for all the photographs, which left all of us to work and study while he recorded us with nearly 150 photos.  I will share more in the days to come!

American Federal Furniture Seminar

Thursday, July 26th, 2012

We have just concluded our sold our seminar on American Federal Furniture and Its English and French Antecedents–what great fun and what a wonderful day at Richard Jennrette’s magnificently restored Ayr Mount plantation where we turned upside down and inside out the marvelous collection dominated by the work of Duncan Phyfe.  Elizabeth ended the first day of lectures and photo based examinations of the period, 1776-1830, with an introduction to the great Scottish born Duncan Phyfe, who, with Charles-Honore Lanuier, was the preeminent cabinetmaker of Federal New York City.  With the exception of the tragically short lived Lannuier, the Parisian cabinetmaker of federal New York, no other of the 200 cabinetmakers working in the city at that time could really hold a candle to the brilliance of Phyfe’s shop and his superb workers.  I had the pleasure of exploring Lannuier and Elizabeth prepared the class for the excitement of encountering dozens of Phyfe pieces at Ayr Mount.

The first photo is of us preparing to launch into the first day’s lectures–which covered seven intense hours of education.

The study begins!

Elizabeth waits patiently while dad launches into a bit of introductory history!


Neo-Classicism, our study unfolds

Elizabeth begins an exploration of the earliest beginnings of what in America will be the Federal Period–from revolution through the Articles of Confederation and finally the emergence of our constitutional government as it still, with minor modification, exists today.  She is exploring the international reach of the architectural and interior design revolution against the contorted if mystically beautiful designs of the rococo—the “new” classical period dominated by light forms, rectilinear designs,etc.  This was an evolutionary–nearly revolutionary–eruption based in large part on the discoveries at Pompeii and Herculaneum which brought to European and American eyes the delicacy of design during the Roman Empire, as well as the fanciful 1750-80′s drawings of Piranesi which were widely published and inspired near universal infatuation with the classical World.  At this point it had been two hundred years since the great Italian architect Palladio had reintroduced classical proportions and design to the Western world.  The intellectuals and leaders of America were no less enthralled with these new designs than were their contemporaries living in the “old world”–a world soon to see great advances from political freedom to industrialization and a rising middle/merchant class.

This first day carefully explored the basic range of the period as well as the influence of English and French design both on each other and on America.

Day two found, as noted, all 26 students at Ayr Mount where we divided into two groups, each exploring half of the collection in the morning, the second half in the afternoon.  I did half of the collection and Elizabeth explored half of the collection.  Here are some great photos made by Cory Crowther of the Ayr Mount staff showing our  various furniture explorations.

Elizabeth with a New York sideboard

Elizabeth has their rapt attention as she shows how curved surfaces were created after 1770 by gluing up scrap secondary woods into pieces suitable to cutting shaped surfaces which were then veneered with fine woods–simply opening any curved drawer or door made after 1770 reveals this “brick like” construction technique.

Exploring a table original to Ayr Mount

One of a pair of tables that by family tradition have been in Ayr Mount since its construction is explored by me–I am noting the glue blocked bottom of the hidden games pieces compartment located under the swivel top.  English trained cabinetmakers employed this technique while Lannuier and other French tradition cabinetmakers nailed the bottoms tightly to the bottom edges of their pieces.  Finding secondary woods closely associated with New York makers, I have suggested that the Kirkland family undoubtedly acquired these tables, as so many southerners did, from a major northern maker accustomed to “exporting” to the south as well as many other countries in our hemisphere.

More photos and commentary coming tomorrow!



Silver Seminar a Great Success!

Monday, July 23rd, 2012

Today concluded 14 hours of classroom lectures and hands on silver examination led by national experts peter and Rod Tinkler of the Silver Vault, Barrington, Illinois.  Judging by the intense interest of twenty appraisers, dealers and collectors from as far as Washington State, it was a resounding success.  Included are a few photos of the days with a bit of the fun thrown in–but read the notes on “Serena Williams” (really Selma Paul, ISA from Atlanta).

Course Work Book

Peter on silversmithing and the properties of silver

Rod with a beer and the group outdoors at Crook’s Corner, one of Chapel Hill’s most famous restaurants

"Serena" Selma holds the Wembledon trophy (sort of really!!!!)

What Selma is holding is the same trophy that every winner of the women’s Wembledon has won since the inception of the tournament–an Electrotype copy of a Renaissance salver at the Louvre (don’t ask, it’s a Victorian ladies’ concept!).  Each year the winner holds up an electrotype by Elkington just exactly like this one–and takes home a solid silver electrotype shrunk down by 40% ( to save money one supposes!).

Electrotyping or Electroforming was a major topic of the seminar and I will return to it one day soon–a fascinating area rife with genuine reproductions and modern fakes.

Tomorrow we turn to American Federal Furniture for two days, and Elizabeth and I will be lecturing and leading a hands-on exploration of the brilliant Ayr Mount collection.

Timeless Arundel

Wednesday, July 11th, 2012

One of our favorite towns in England–hard choice between Lacock and here–is Arundel on the coast not far from Brighton.  We have now purchased a staggering 260 items–some sets so the quantity is much greater–and tomorrow will see us finishing up and driving to Heathrow.  Today was an incredible day of moody atmospheres from sparkling sun to deluges of torrential rain.  The first photo is of Arundel from the road to the sea across corn fields about 8:30 in the evening with another storm rolling in.

Arundel from the corn field!

Arundel is Catholic–cathedral is Victorian Gothic on left side of photo and Norfolk’s castle–extensively reconstructed in Victorian era as a “true castle” of the Victorian imagination is on right.  Both Arundel and Norfolk were beheaded after their plotings to restore Catholicism–but the titles were then restored and Elizabeth I even protected the children (I think the wives were also beheaded but not sure–should have googled a bit before writing this!).

Arundel has been a popular destination for tourists for several hundred years and the next photo is of dear Queen Mary, wife of George V, grandmother of Elizabeth II, emerging from an antiques shop in 1928 on the High Street in Arundel–interestingly the shop is still an antiques shop, but not the same owners.  Queen Mary was notorious for avid collecting with a great reluctance to pay for the goodies–thought her subjects would want to give them to her as it was such an honor to have her patronage!  Most of the dealers we know prefer payment–and always have!

Queen Mary emerges from an antiques shop

Today we bough some delightful pieces from the same shop!  One is a maker signed little Pond yacht (guaranteed to sail” and made about 1910) and the other shared here is a fabulous Cornish farm table of elm, ash on aprons and orchard cherry legs–a real English country jewel!  The top is tow boards and you may be able to detect the “w” grain pattern distinctive only to elm among the ring porous woods (come next year to our wood identification course if this seems interesting!).

Killer Tri-Color Sails on Small Pond Yacht

The marvelous two board top table!

Grain close up is next!

Elm top detail

Finally, for those of you who know and love Chapel Hill, a photo of a delightful lady filled with the Holy Spirit and wishing everyone she encountered a “blessed” day–I thought for a moment I was home, but then looked up at the Castle–definitely not good old Gimghoul Castle in Chapel Hill!!!!!!!!!

Arundel or Chapel Hill--the world is the same!

Her hat says something like Praise Jesus, as does her outfit,  and she was truly filled with joy.  And only a bit crazy–but that makes the whole world interesting.

Now to bed and continuing to read Patricia Owens’ new novel and great read:  Sy’s Gift.  Pat has a fantastic ear for the South and the book is a real page turner.





From West Coast to Southeast Coast in a Day!

Tuesday, July 10th, 2012

Of course, this is all about travel in England, as we are talking 200 miles, not 3,500 miles like the USA!  Last night we left the Cotswold/Bath environs after a great night is our favorite village of Lacock, just east of Bath and south of Chippenham–an exquisite town owned entirely by The National Trust.  Our favorite hotel has been an Inn for 500 years and some days seems little changed, with exceptional food, a resident ghost, and until a week ago our favorite black lab Ben who only 15 years ago ate my shoes as a puppy–he had to be put down.  As his loving owner said, it is the sad responsibility we all accept when we bring an animal into our lives–we owe them care for as long as they are healthy, and a loving end when nothing more can be done to make them comfortable. Still a bit teary about the news though, and with a darling 11 year old pug I know that time will once again visit our home also.

The first picture is just a fun look at a source buried deep in an unknown working class town where we have been buying for 30 years–the little building where “smalls” are on offer!

Bits of Victorian Staffordshire and Brass Candlesticks

Today as we drove across the South coast on the A35 we noticed a sign warning of a road closure–sure enough about 30 minutes later as we were laughing about the “out of date sign” the road closure signs appeared–the road had washed out due to the torrential rains here today.  So after much dithering we followed our noses and then the signs–we were still sure we knew a better route, but in the end our route and the sign-posted detour were the same–an incredible, awe inspiring drive along the coast where the Olympic Torch Relay will pass in two days from now!  Here is a long range and telephoto view of just one spot where we drove up a path to the top of a hill for an even more dramatic view.  We agreed that future trips will include this meandering detour with a bit of time for village exploration and perhaps putting our toes in the water.  Enjoy the views and add them to your next trip!

We are now tucked into our hotel in Arundel and tomorrow will work through 200,000 sq. ft. of antiques in retired mushroom growing quonset huts!!!!!!!!!!!  And we will check out a beloved source for over 30 years in Aurndel.  More tomorrow!

From France to England

Monday, July 9th, 2012

Lots of fun photos to share and the funny end to our easy travels!  We managed to schedule our trip from France to UK on the second busiest travel day in France–the start of summer vacation for the half of France that goes in July (the other half goes in August, except for those who get 8 weeks paid vacation who also left with us!).  Smooth to airport; smooth to print boarding passes; then 2 hours on marble floors to check the bags because Delta and Air France in their wisdom gave half of their employees four weeks vacation starting just as tens of thousands descended upon the airport!  Then 40 minutes for French customs to stamp everyone’s passport–again only three workers left out of the usual 12–then fast through screening because that is not considered very important in France (except the terminal has a man with a machine gun every few hundred feet throughout the terminals.  Arrived in London to find 30 workers processing at immigration so that took only 40 minutes for hundreds and hundreds of people.  We did hear that there were five hour waits earlier in the summer at Heathrow and that the government stepped in and through every worker into the situation for the rest of the summer.

Oh well–the buying continues to be a blast!  Here are a few more goodies to give an idea of how hard we work to find things.

These chairs have amazing, deep and rich carving–walnut–mid-19th century in the broad proportions of period chairs–with the tapestry undoubtedly removed and put onto 18th century chairs!  And peak behind them at the lovely modernism purple chairs–all in the same dealer’s space along with a kitchen sink and other choice items, and all covered in the grime of an open-air warehouse!  We are of course thrilled with the fauteuils.

c. 1830 Cherry Draw Leaf Table

This is a simply wonderful draw leaf table that opens to seat 16-18 people–the dark openings in the apron are the runners on right and left and the center opening is the drop down leg for when the table is opened.  This assure a sturdy surface, unusual in early draw leaf tables.  This table has a central drawer and original scalloped apron (often simple aprons have been scalloped later to make sitting easier with chairs rather than benches–draw leaf tables, however never used benches, only chairs.  And the cabriole legs are original and the first one we have had with the cloven feet of Pan!  Take a look at this next detail shot.

Just one more French delight–can’t spoil the fun of showing everything–we made 95 separate purchases in France!

c. 1780 Normandy Walnut Buffet

Check out the depth of carving and the perfect reflection of the front apron in the side aprons.

And then on to England where at the first stop I creamed the lower front bumper of the nice rental car which had 335 miles on it when we picked it up at Heathrow–thank God for Master Card Insurance!  But at that first stop my disgust turned to delight when we found this chest, c. 1830 of rich oak crossbanded in mahogany with original wooden pulls, each inset with alternating engraved central inlays of mother of pearl.

This form is known as a caddy top as it mimics a tea caddy form popular in the 18th century with no moldings but these very severe top lines.  Notice also how not only is each drawer banded but the whole chest is banded so they creat wonderful reflections of each other.  And here is a close-up of the pulls and escutcheons:

Treen pulls with wooden escutcheons.

Treen (solid turned wooden items) pulls and turned wood escutcheons on this chest are also mahogany, playing on the banding of mahogany–quite the brilliant late Georgian country chest.

And lest you think we are only buying country items–remember these are a few of what as of tonight are 178 purchases–here is an 18th century George III mahogany chest we found today with original finish, original feet, original pulls!

And of course no trip is complete without finding Pub Signs–a real Whitehall specialty–and so far we have found 12!

Rare Image Pub Sign

While this sign has wear to the surface, it is a great rarity of design–a gathering of Royal Navy ships as viewed from the deck of another Man of War!  All of the best pub signs are completely handpainted one of a kind works of art–sometimes monogramed or signed by the painters.  The wooden surfaces survive about 50 years before they are repainted or heavily retouched–the side away from the weather may last much longer.  The fired enamel signs last virtually forever–we have found several of those on this trip as well.  On this sign there are two important bits of information–the ownership of the specific pub (Whitbread brewery) and the pub name, Hearts of Oak, describing the stout hearts of the sailors of the Royal Navy.  Sometimes for free houses–those not owned by a national beer group–one finds the town name and the pub name.

Time to collapse into bed in jolly old England–more perhaps tomorrow!

Exciting French Finds

Friday, July 6th, 2012

Today was another amazing day of finding some superb French antiques, including a brilliantly carved Normandy marriage armoire to go with the fantastic walnut one we found yesterday–will post some photos!  Today was also a great day for lighting, chandeliers, vases to create lamps, wall sconces, etc–fun fun fun.

Unless you think it is all glamor, here is one of the thousands of messy dives we work through!

Back Alley Stall, Paris Markets

Here is a detail of the armoire of walnut, 18th century, found in the left stall of the above photo–as found straight from a house and filthy, but what a scallop shell carved apron!

Scallop Shell Carved Armoire Apron

Old Mother Hubbard lost her garden shoes of cast stone and we bought them today!

Huge Cast Stone Shoe Planters, lost by Old Mother Hubbard no doubt!

And of course we do have to play a bit–here I am in front of Nespresso, our favorite New York and Paris afternoon coffee break for coffee over two scoops of ice cream covered with whipped cream and shaved chocolate–one of their many irresistible treats!

At Nespresso on the Champs Elysees

And of course Elizabeth gets to play too–trying out the electric runabout by Renault (6,000 euros)–a fun town car if you don not need windows, heat, etc!

Where's the door--its an additional option!

Tomorrow its off to the markets, then a night flight to London and into the Cotswolds on Sunday!





Charles X and American Federal Furniture?

Thursday, July 5th, 2012

Not really!  But the reign of Charles X after Louis XVIII is what we refer to as the restoration period, usually spelled in America and France as Restauration–and it is the style from which the American Empire, late in the Federal Period, derives.  Today Elizabeth and I were doing research at The Museum of Decorative Arts in Paris in preparation for this summer’s course, American Federalism exploring the English and French roots of our forms and styles of furniture.

The period of the Restauration immediately succeeding the fall of Napoleon I heralds a period first of predominant mahogany furniture, succeeded by an era enraptured with lighter woods, especially on the Continent.  We wanted to share this extravagant photo we took today of an 1827 bed created for one of the great French Exhibitions of their industrial and decorative might–Exhibitions held every eleven years through most of the nineteenth century.

Lit en nacelle

Made in 1827, this OTT bed was created by Francois Baudry (1791-1859)–it is made of square matched panels of burl ash inlaid primarily with mahogany.  Each panel is about 8″ x 8″ and creates a visual feast that is truly staggering.

We look forward to sharing more from this work today with those joining the course in just three weeks!