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Pandemic Picks: Skinner Appraisers and Staff Share Books, Films, and Audio

More than ever, books, films, and spoken word are sources of inspiration and enlightenment; they serve as connectors to humanity, bellwethers of our time, and glorious refuge. We asked Skinner appraisers and staff to share what they have been reading, watching, and listening to in 2020, choices that resonated, provided a new experience, escape, or reflection. What is more welcome as we look back on 2020, and ahead to a bright and hopeful 2021.

What we’re reading 

Where the Crawdads Sing

“This year more than ever I was looking to celebrate women who inspire others with their kindness, compassion, and bravery. Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens is a compelling who done it. You can’t help by cheer for this unlikely heroine.”

– Katie Banser-Whittle, New York Regional Director

Beyond Fabergé

“For most of us, Russian jewelry begins and ends with Fabergé . This recently published book is an engrossing survey of the other jewelers that made the court of Imperial Russia the envy of the world. The authors begin their journey with Catherine the Great’s reign and end with the Russian Revolution of 1917. It has over 600 images of some of the most beautiful jewelry in the world made for what was then the richest court in Europe.”

– Kaitlin Shinnick, Director of Fine Jewelry

Healing through the Dark Emotions

“A book that helped through the past year as it was difficult emotionally, physically, and mentally. As it has been a terrible time for everyone, maybe this book will also help others gain perspective and motivation to keep moving forward.”

– Julia Dry, Director of the Boston Gallery

Broken Glass

“The story unfolds how The Farnsworth House, one of America’s first truly Modern homes, came to be and the personalities who created it. The tension between the renowned Bauhaus architect Mies van der Rohe architect and formidable client Edith Farnsworth; not a match made in heaven.”

– Dan Ayer, Director of 20th Century Design

The White Road Journey into an Obsession

“Next up on my reading list is The White Road Journey into an Obsession.  I thoroughly enjoyed Edmund de Waal’s The Hare with the Amber Eyes. I look forward to what is described as part memoir, part history, part detective story (about porcelain) to wind-down a year like no other.”

– Kerry Shrives, Senior Vice President | Senior Appraiser

The Gaijin Cookbook

“While I am a reader, albeit a slow one and I do watch movies and videos, my great relaxation — especially during the pandemic — has been cooking. After an intense day of FaceTime and Zoom and phone calls and spreadsheets, nothing helps me “chill out” better than cooking! This year my son Cyrus bought me The Gaijin* Cookbook by Ivan Orkin and Chris Ying. The recipes are simple and have introduced to me new and delicious tastes, sensations and techniques. Try the dan dan noodles recipe, my new comfort food!”

– Karen Keane, Chief Executive Officer

*Gaijin means “foreigner” in Japanese

Visual Intelligence

Visual Intelligence, by lawyer and art historian Amy E. Herman, is a really interesting read, but I have not finished it yet! I heard the author speak at a virtual conference in November, and her presentation inspired me to read her book. Based on her course, ‘The Art of Perception,’ she explains how looking closely can teach us to see and help us communicate more effectively – in most every line of work and in relationships. She has taught this course to diverse groups from military intelligence officers to forest rangers, medical students, and Fortune 500 companies’ executives. This is not a dry book! In a conversational style, Herman demonstrates through real-life stories and hands-on exercises how to observe more closely and to overcome, or at least recognize, the biases in our observations.”

– Liz Haff, Specialist of Old Masters & 19th Century Art

Year of Wonders

“In fiction, Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks, a novel that takes place in 17th century rural England, during the Plague, a terrific read.”

Lawrence Kearney, Director of Fine Oriental Rugs & Carpets

Save me the Plums

“Ruth Reichl’s writing is always like a warm bowl of Veselka’s matzo ball soup; deeply satisfying, fortifying and not overtly cloying. Save Me the Plums fits snugly into Reichl’s roster of memoirs – at once enthralling, straightforward and fascinating, complete with personal recipes. The book follows Reichl during her tenure at Gourmet magazine exposing her highest highs and lowest lows, including the final days of shuttering the venerable publication and the tenacity of the city’s restaurant workers during 9/11. Reichl writes honestly of her vulnerabilities, her failures and her successes. It is at once a decadent feast of splendid indulgences and a witty account of one woman’s headfirst dive into uncharted territory. Save Me the Plums is a wonderful book to curl up with this winter by the fire with a stack including Comfort Me with Apples and Tender at the Bone.

– Anna Ward, Deputy Director of Fine Wines & Rare Spirits

What we’re watching

The Radium Girls

“Watch dial painters that took on big business. In the early 1920s, when the United States Radium Company employed young women they were told that radium was a household cure, with no harmful effects. Sickness and death ensued, and workers fought for their rights.”

– Jay Dowling, Director of Clocks, Watches & Scientific Instruments


“This is the story of  the gifted and often drunken Herman Mankiewicz played by Gary Oldman  writing the draft of the screenplay  which was to become the story used in Citizen Kane, Orson Well’s debut big movie. It is filmed in spectacular black and white with a great script and produced paying attention to period detail. All the legendary Hollywood characters are here contributing to this fascinating film-my favorite of the year.”

– Steve Fletcher, Director of American Furniture & Decorative Arts

The Crown

“I probably re-watched the first two seasons more times than I can count, looking at the details of the interiors, table settings and obviously the jewelry!”

– John Colasacco, Deputy Director of Fine Jewelry

My Octopus Teacher

My Octopus Teacher, documentary films a very quiet but awe-inspiring film that made me see what is missing in my little busy mind.”

– Su Kim, Specialist of Asian Works of Art

The Queen’s Gambit

“Despite my knowing not much more than the basics of chess, we found The Queen’s Gambit compelling, exciting, and stunningly 60s. A globe-trotting female chess prodigy plots a collision course with the best Cold War Russian players, all the while surrounded by the designer wallpaper! We watched the whole series (7 episodes) in two nights.”

– Chris Barber, Deputy Director of American Furniture & Decorative Arts

The Last Vermeer

“One of the things I’ve missed most in pandemic is movies on the big screen – this may make it to TV before I get to a theater, but one of the first I’d like to see is The Last Vermeer. With all the trappings of a traditional thriller but based around painting, forgery, treason, culture, morality, and as one reviewer put it, “the messiness of human nature”? – sounds perfect.”

– Kristina Harrison, Lead Designer

Absolute History

“Early into the pandemic I found a channel on YouTube called Absolute History that produces hour-long videos of fun, shocking and curious tales throughout history. I got hooked on their channel after watching their video “Victorian Killer Homes,” which discussed how the Victorians filled their homes with items that would eventually cause their untimely death. The channel tells stories in a fun and lively way and is filled with all kinds of topics, ranging from medieval interior design, to how nutmeg caused wars, or to the crazy way the telephone was created.”

– Penina Seigel, Marketing & Communications Specialist


Honeyland, is a visual elegy to the wildly stark life of beekeeper Hatidze Muratova. It’s not an easy 87 minutes – the documentary airdrops you straight into this quiet woman’s life of extreme beekeeping and hardship in the remote northern edges of Macedonia. I saw Honeyland on an airplane’s tiny smudgy screen back in February on what would be the last trip of the year and it was like falling through a portal to the other side of the world. Hatidze is a gentle and generous woman to follow – just wait for her laugh while she’s selling her honey at the Skopje fair.”

– Marie Keep, Managing Director

Hidden Figures

“Yes, I am one of those people who might miss the whole point of a movie because I’m noticing all the furniture, artwork, or decorations. Since the pandemic started, I have re-watched the 2016 movie Hidden Figures a few times (my daughters love it). It’s loosely based on a book of the same name and tells the story of three African American female mathematicians who worked at NASA during the Space Race of the 1960s. The set abounds with Mid-Century Modern, from the Eero Saarinen table and chairs to the Pyrex glass bowls. And since I’m hardly original, I Googled the ‘Hidden Figures set’ and came up with several interesting blogs and articles about it.”

– LaGina Austin, Director of Appraisal & Auction Services

What we’re listening to

Talking Politics

“I have a rather long daily commute to the office, so I always look forward to the weekly podcast in partnership with The London Review of Books, called Talking Politics. David Runciman and Helen Thompson, along with guest commentators and academics, provide in-depth and informative analysis on American politics and history, as well as British and European perspectives and topics. With the ongoing Brexit talks and the Presidential election providing much to listen to and enjoy.”

– Michael Evans, Director of American Indian & Tribal Art

100 Questions from that Psychiatrist’s Couch

“I passed the time stuck at home by trying to identify the amazing artworks used in the sets of television series like Billions on Showtime, Succession on HBO, and Riviera on Sundance. I also enjoyed following artist Damien Hirst’s entertaining Instagram stories, especially his “100 Questions from that Psychiatrist’s Couch” series.”

– Kate Leland, Specialist of Modern & Contemporary Art

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