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Cap-ital Idea | The Bottle Cap Art of Rick Ladd

Rick Ladd Bottle Cap Chair and Footstool, Bottle caps, painted wood,   glass, metal, Brooklyn, New York, 1990 (Lot 1130, Estimate: $600-800)

Rick Ladd Bottle Cap Chair and Footstool, Bottle caps, painted wood, glass, metal, Brooklyn, New York, 1990 (Lot 1130, Estimate: $600-800)

The Elaine Rush collection online auction, from November 30 to December 16, represents a rich range of 20th century design and decorative art style and categories. One group of objects, a bottle-cap chest of drawers, mirror and chair, perfectly sums up Rush’s exuberant spirit and fearless collecting style.

Elaine Rush had already been collecting on the frontiers of folk art for years when the bottle-cap creations caught her adventurous eye. These pieces are the ultimate expression of a quirky craft that many trace back to the 1930s.

Early bottle-cap creations were mostly small items such as chains, baskets, picture frames and whimsical table-top figurines. Full-size furniture such as the pieces in the Rush collection are later, and much less common.

Do-over, with a purpose

Recycling, adaptive re-use, re-purposing: the catchwords may change, but the practice is a very old one.  It’s much employed by artists and artisans, and perhaps nowhere more effectively than in the creation of what is variously called folk art, found art, tramp art, scavenger art and outsider art.

However they are categorized, the bottle-cap pieces in the Elaine Rush collection are prime examples of making something striking, fun and funky from what most people would throw away: dilapidated furniture and used bottle caps.

Rick Ladd Bottle Cap Chest of Drawers, Bottle caps, painted wood,   mirrors, Brooklyn, New York, 1991 (Lot 1133, Estimate: $1,500-2,500)

Rick Ladd Bottle Cap Chest of Drawers, Bottle caps, painted wood, mirrors, Brooklyn, New York, 1991 (Lot 1133, Estimate: $1,500-2,500)

Origins and originals

Jane Prentiss, Skinner’s Director of 20th Century Design, observes that growing awareness and appreciation of bottle-cap creations is part of the trend towards greater collecting interest in outsider art in general, going back to the 1970s and 80s.

She notes that Andy Warhol, who famously remarked that “Art is what you can get away with”, played an important role in this increased attention. Prentiss states that “Warhol’s perspective and interest in outsider art has opened up designers’ and collectors’ eyes to experimenting with found objects and non-traditional materials.”

Rush’s pieces of bottle-cap furniture are notable on several counts; they are large, complex and functional.  And, unlike most examples of folk art, the name of the maker of the chest and chair is known.

They are the work of Rick Ladd, holder of fine arts degrees from the Art Institute of Chicago and Pratt Institute. Rush, then living in New York, became acquainted with the Brooklyn-based Ladd. She admired his work, which appealed to her love of rich texture, attention to detail, and venturesome aesthetic ideas.

Rick Ladd Bottle Cap Frame  (Lot 1137, Estimate $100-150)

Rick Ladd Bottle Cap Frame (Lot 1137, Estimate $100-150)

In exchange for her support and encouragement, Rush acquired the two pieces that are among her personal favorites in her extensive collection. An especially interesting feature is the group of color photographs, attached to the back of the chest of drawers, that shows the steps in its transformation from castoff to creative expression.

To cap it off

Ladd has written that “My bottle cap furniture came as a result of much time and invention and a strong desire to transform my existing conventional furniture into a new, fantastic sculptural form… my personal expression as a celebration of life.”

The Elaine Rush collection in its entirety represents the same spirit: a capacity to see the extraordinary in the everyday, the artistic potential in the overlooked. The auction will be conducted on-line from November 30 to December 16. All lots may be viewed through the online catalog and in person at Skinner’s Boston gallery on December 14 from 12PM to 8PM and December 15 from 8AM to 10AM.

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