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Meet the Experts: Cara Elmslie, Director of Discovery Auctions

Mixing Casual Country with More Formal Styles to Create Your Own Aesthetic

Cara Elmslie

Cara Elmslie, Director of Discovery Auctions

Experts work behind the scenes every day at Skinner to put together auctions full of unique, important, and beautiful fine art and antiques. Cara Elmslie joined Skinner in 2011 as head of the Discovery department, where she handles over a thousand lots of material every single month. This week the Discovery auction is featuring Country Americana and Jewelry, two of our most popular offerings.

What excites you most about the March Discovery Auction?

What I really love about this sale is the huge variety of beautiful things: from the painted pine furniture to the more formal Chippendale and Queen Anne-style pieces.

In setting up the preview, I had a good time selecting objects and arranging them in a way that really shows you don’t need to have just one single style in your home. You can choose your favorite pieces and mix them up to create your own aesthetic. Country and formal styles can and do go together.

What attracts people to Discovery auctions?

People love a treasure hunt, and that’s what you get when you come to a Skinner Discovery auction. Country Americana is highlighted in our monthly Discovery auction three times each year, and we had such a variety of great inventory waiting for this sale. Both Country Americana and Jewelry are very popular collecting areas in New England, and it’s exciting to have them both featured in a Discovery sale in the same month.

We have over 1,600 lots in this week’s sale. With such a huge stock of art and antiques to browse through, there’s definitely going to be something for everyone. I overheard one woman who was browsing the preview say, “Oh look—these are the dishes we grew up with!”

Discovery Auction | Estate of Susan Parrish | Federal Pine Dressing Table

Decorated Federal Pine Dressing Table from the Estate of Susan Parrish

Tell us a little more about the Country Americana offered in Discovery auctions.

The Country Americana style is very much a part of New England culture. This month, we’re offering more than 100 lots  from the estate of Susan Parrish, a very well-respected collector and  dealer in American antique furniture and textiles.

People travel here from all over the country to find good values. Obviously the New England style is more prevalent here but it is still popular elsewhere. One dealer we spoke with recently moved from Arizona, where he said the painted furniture, the “shabby-chic” look, is popular with the younger generation eager to reduce their carbon footprint by buying recycled furniture.

However, in the midwest and southwest, Country Americana is harder to come by. At Skinner, we find authentic, local antiques made in New Hampshire, Massachusetts or other parts of New England every day. If it isn’t a period piece, it’s a well-crafted, handmade reproduction in a similar style.

Discovery auction | Wool Indian Trade Blankets

Wool Indian trade blankets from the Estate of Susan Parrish

What are your favorite lots in the auction?

I have many! To start, I love the textiles from the Susan Parrish Estate, especially the wool Indian trade blankets, and the hand-stitched quilts amaze me. A beautiful example is lot 1208, an Amish piece with a subtle, hand-stitched motif. The elaborate stitching combined with simple fabric piecing and subdued color choices really epitomizes the aesthetic of the sale.

Discovery Auction | Greenhouse

White-painted Glazed Iron Rolling Greenhouse

Several pieces of furniture demonstrate this aesthetic quite beautifully. Lot 1113, a Federal pine dressing table also from the Parrish Estate, is a feminine vanity that mixes a painted country style with graceful details. I love the simple, elegant style of Lot 1072, a pine tavern table. The table is almost modern in the way the legs taper, yet the piece clearly has age and history. On the more formal side, lot 522 is a Queen Anne cherry drop-leaf table, and I love the subtlety of the pad feet.

Then there are the unusual, wonderful things you’d have trouble finding again, like lot 886, a small rolling terrarium. You could park it in your yard or on your patio, and I’m sure it would function just like a larger greenhouse. I would love to own it.

If you can’t make it out to Marlborough, Massachusetts for the auction, you can browse the preview from home on our Facebook page, or visit the online auction catalogue to preview and bid.

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