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Antiques and Fine Art Auctions Blog

Skinner expert appraisers and auctioneers discuss antiques, fine art, and collectibles. Keep up on market trends and get collecting tips from antiques experts. Discover the stories behind the art and antiques Skinner offers at auction.

The Story behind the Exhibit: Paint, Pattern and People at Winterthur

Winterthur Museum Garden and Library

Exterior of Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library

Paint, Pattern and People: Furniture of Southeastern Pennsylvania, 1725–1850 is much more than just an exhibit on antique furniture. The well-documented objects chosen for the upcoming exhibition at Winterthur give us a window into people’s lives in an area that was home to incredible cultural diversity.

Skinner spoke with Wendy A. Cooper, the Lois F. and Henry S. McNeil Senior Curator of Furniture, and Lisa Minardi, Assistant Curator of Furniture for the Southeastern Pennsylvania Furniture Project, about what it was like to put together this fabulous exhibition, which opens on April 2, 2011 in Winterthur, Delaware.

Skinner: Why did you choose Southeastern Pennsylvania as the focus for the exhibit?

Wendy: Southeastern Pennsylvania had not been closely examined to understand the exact places where objects had been made. Our approach was to look at well-documented objects—either we know who made them, or we know very firmly who owned them. We wanted to look holistically at the region and its peoples  to debunk the myth that the area was entirely Pennsylvania German.

Lisa:  A lot of people have persisted in thinking that, but in fact, Pennsylvania was the most culturally diverse of the 13 colonies.

Skinner: Who were these diverse groups of people?

Lisa: The first section of the exhibition is all about People, both English and German-speaking. Then it’s further divided by religious groups: Quakers, Presbyterians, and the different German groups including smaller sectarian groups like the Moravians and the Schwenkfelders.

Skinner: Does each group have a certain aesthetic or ornamental style?

Wendy: Our perspective has been that it is risky and also probably not true to say, “Oh, these are Quaker objects.” We may know that something is an object owned by a Quaker or made by a Quaker, but identifying where things were made or owned reveals localisms.

Lisa: Exactly. It’s hard to say there’s a “Mennonite aesthetic” because we’re finding that the Mennonites had some very colorful painted furniture in Bucks County, and then in Lancaster County we see Mennonites who were making very different-looking objects.

Skinner: It sounds like the region of Southeastern Pennsylvania where someone lived dictated style perhaps more than his or her cultural heritage. What are the other sections of the exhibit about?

Lisa: After People, we look at the localisms of painted, inlaid, and carved decoration: the Paint and Pattern. The third section is on Families, where we’re looking at pieces with very specific provenance. The final section of the show is on Makers. There we look at the craftsmen, and we have a number of signed pieces.

Winterthur Curators Wendy Cooper and Lisa Minardi

Wendy Cooper and Lisa Minardi prepping a Moravian cabinetmaker’s tombstone for a photograph

Skinner: How did you choose the items for this exhibit?

Wendy: We went to probably 250 places, from private collections to museums, and we only chose things to which we could attach people, and hence a place. In the future, a lot of the things that we’ve been able to document will become touchstone pieces that will help relate a piece with no history to a specific area within the region.

Skinner: It sounds like a fabulous show! What else is there for New Englanders to do in the Winterthur area when we come down to visit?

Wendy: You should plan a long weekend. There are so many other places within a 50-60 mile radius of Winterthur. There’s Longwood Gardens, the Brandywine River Museum, the Delaware Art Museum, and the Philadelphia Art Museum with wonderful collections that complement what you will see at Winterthur.

Skinner: Thanks Wendy and Lisa. Take a virtual tour of the exhibit, or leave a comment below if you’re planning to see Paint, Pattern & People at Winterthur.

Does Signed Jewelry Matter?

Here’s my advice that I gave in the talk: If you’re going to buy signed Cartier or signed Tiffany, you should buy unusual things. I’m talking about fine jewelry pieces that were done on a smaller run and that are not mass-produced. I think the unfortunate trend is that some collectors forget to really look at the piece and just buy a signature. Also, it’s important to make sure that the signature is correct.

The Unusual History of a Six-foot-tall Doulton Lambeth Vase

Have you ever stood next to a vase that’s taller than you are? Standing nearly six foot four inches in height, this Doulton faience baluster vase, with its painted dahlias among bamboo and exotic foliage, is certainly an eye stopper. The Royal Doulton Company is one of the most renowned manufacturers of table, ornamental and collectible wares dating back to 1815, and this antique vase was decorated by Florence Lewis, one of the Lambeth studio’s most highly acclaimed artists.

5 Expert Insights: Quality Materials

No one will argue that quality matters in buying and selling antiques and art objects. The trouble is, the characteristics that make one piece quality and another piece mediocre are often subtle. Skinner experts and appraisers offer their insights, stemming from years of experience, into what kinds of materials mean quality. Let’s take a look at how to recognize quality in jade, wine, Native American art, furniture, and metal sculpture.

The Charles Bulfinch Church: A Treasure in our Backyard

I have always been drawn to the quiet aesthetic of New England. Just down the road from Skinner’s Marlborough, Massachusetts auction gallery sits a national treasure. The Fifth Meeting House of the Unitarian First Church of Christ was designed by Charles Bulfinch in 1816. Although he is most known for his design of the State House in Boston, many view the Lancaster church as his crowning achievement.

Skinner Discovery Auction to Feature Estate Jewelry, Silver and Native American Art

MARLBOROUGH, Mass. – March 3, 2011 – Skinner, Inc. will host a Discovery auction on March 16th and 17th in its Marlborough gallery. The sale will feature estate jewelry, silver and Native American and Ethnographic Art, as well as furniture, decorative arts, paintings, prints, sculptures, pottery and much more.

The sale kicks off on Wednesday, March 16th at 2 p.m. with Session I. Offerings of estate jewelry include period, vintage and collectible pieces to suit every style and budget.… Read More

Skinner Jewelry Auction to Feature Cartier Diamond Ring

Boston, Ma – March 2, 2011 On Tuesday, March 15th, 2011 at 10:00 am, Skinner Inc. will conduct a sale of fine jewelry in its Boston gallery at 63 Park Plaza. The one day auction of over 700 lots will include antique, period and contemporary jewelry from famous makers such as Tiffany & Co, Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels, Bulgari and David Webb.

Highlighting the auction is an important 7.16 carat pear-shaped diamond ring, mounted in platinum by Cartier, accompanied by a GIA report stating the diamond is D color and VVS1 clarity.… Read More

Make Do and Mend: An Antiques Appraiser's Busman's Holiday

As an antiques auctioneer & appraiser, when I travel for pleasure, it’s nearly impossible to refrain from taking in the material culture, art and history of new surroundings. A recent brief 2-day visit to Iceland on the way to Great Britain included a stop at the National Museum of Iceland.

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