Photography by Paul Rocheleau| from The Magazine ANTIQUES, December 2009. |
When you visit Janet and Lawrence Larose's New York dining room, you are surrounded by hundreds of objects designed by Christopher Dresser. They are artfully arranged on a series of shelves: teacups perch on lily-pad saucers; frogs leap around a bowl; butterflies flit across cloisonné skies; and cranes are buffeted by the stormy seas encircling a dozen teacups. Flanking the windows, dragons stalk through textile folds. Larry surveys the collection: "It just crept up on us," he says with a smile.
Over dinner, the story of this remarkable room unfolds. In fact, Larry, an attorney, and Janet, an attorney turned private art curator and consultant, started collecting with works by Hudson River school painters. Their walls display significant examples by, among others, Thomas Cole, Jasper Francis Cropsey, Martin Johnson Heade, and John Frederick Kensett. Early on they were also drawn to American arts and crafts furniture, by such makers as Gustav Stickley (see Fig. 6), and ceramics, including examples by the Rookwood Pottery, Grueby, and George Ohr (1857-1918). Dresser entered their lives in the mid-1990s, while they were on their annual trip to England to watch the to watch the races at Royal Ascot. Larry recalls that in the booth of the Victorian painting specialist Christopher Wood at London's Grosvenor House Art and Antiques Fair, he and Janet were both "struck by the shape and decoration of a ceramic vase that displayed a mix of cultures—oriental and Persian. Christopher explained that it was made around 1880 by the Watcombe pottery in Torquay, to a design by Christopher Dresser—a name that was new to us." They purchased the vase with the inkling that there was more to the story, and a day or two later acquired a copy of Stuart Durant's monograph on Dresser,1 which they read cover to cover on the flight home. "We were inspired by the diversity of Dresser's work" says Larry. "We got sucked in." Their journey had begun.