September 25, 2009 | One of the things I admire about Electra Havemeyer Webb was her instinctive sense that the cultural designations of high-, low-, and middlebrow were silly. I do not mean to suggest that Webb was a prophet of late twentieth-century multiculturalism or that she could have argued for the relative merits of a beautifully carved duck decoy vis à vis a fine Degas. She couldn't, and she wouldn't have seen the point. For her, the decoy and the painting were both objects of astonishment and delight, but she knew that while the latter was justly praised, the former was likely to be overlooked. Thus the long journey to establish her multibuilding Shelburne Museum with its irreverent assemblage of the overlooked—decoys, hatboxes, tools, rowdy circus ephemera, ceramics, glass canes, and everything else that struck her as important and in need of rescue, including some really big items such as a lighthouse and a side-paddle-wheel steamer.
Several months ago I was discussing Electra Webb and the resilience of the Shelburne with my friend Tom Armstrong, former director of the Whitney Museum. That talk resulted in a plan to take eight artists up to the museum to see what they each made of the collections. We did just that with the, to me, astonishing and delightful results you can read about in Eleanor Gustafson's article, "The present learns from the past."
August 10, 2009 | We have grouped a promiscuous array of things in this issue under the broad umbrella of "folk art": schoolgirl drawings, trench art, manufactured advertising signs, as well as objects more conventionally agreed upon as "folky," such as carved walking sticks and weather vanes.
While it is common to worry about the vagueness of the term folk art, I am inclined to enjoy its dodgy ambiguity. Folk artists operate outside the rules of the academy and, most important, apart from the market forces that drive fine art. The way in which they work behind the back of "great" art gives their work the freedom that draws us in and grants us a certain liberty too. I know how I am supposed to think and feel about the sublimity of nature in a Hudson River school landscape; I don't have that certainty when I run across the large carved dog's head in Allan and Penny Katz's living room. Sometimes it's a thrill to be on your own just as that carver undoubtedly was.
July 17, 2009 | While withholding its authentic treasures for serious seekers, New Mexico, the Land of Enchantment, makes nostalgia bordering on kitsch easily available. Fortunately, when we embarked on our own West by Southwest migration in this issue we had the benefit of some clear-eyed guidance from Laura Beach, who comes from Santa Fe, and Frederick Turner, who has lived there for thirty years and written widely about American culture and landscape.
You need guides like these to capture the many senses of a place that has hosted major Native American settlements for two thousand years, Spanish settlements for over four hundred years, and only became a state less than a century ago.
Beach's guide to Santa Fe's galleries indicates a vibrant current scene where the ragged conjunctions of Spanish, Native American, and contemporary art have made that city the second largest art market in the country. Her article on the Juan José Prada house now owned by Nedra and Richard Matteucci, who live there with a collection of several centuries of art inspired by the region, is a nice example of how the local dynamic keeps artists and collectors moving forward.
June 24, 2009 | Like many visitors who enjoy unfamiliar cities I like to make my own discoveries. Guides cannot take me where I want to go because their job is to spoil the surprise of a chance encounter. Getting lost in Milwaukee, for instance, once brought me to a Greek Orthodox church by Frank Lloyd Wright on the city's edge. Vienna on foot turned up a well-stocked hat store with a thrilling indifference to any known fashion. You can still find botanicas and deep fried calzone in the Brooklyn that lies beyond the fashionable neighborhoods of Park Slope and Cobble Hill, but it is news to no one that it is hard to be a walker in the city these days if regional flavor is what you are after. Most downtowns have streets so dull there is no point in strolling them unless nationally franchised chains are your idea of a big adventure.
Luckily antiques shops survive and do their part to distinguish their cities and towns by reflecting the personalities of their owners and providing a local experienc…» More
May 8, 2009 | I sometimes stop during the day here and look back at early issues of ANTIQUES. Recently I have been dipping into articles from the 1920s when a passion for rescuing our cultural past from the march of progress swept through the country. The opening of the Metropolitan Museum of Art's American Wing in 1924 was only one sign of a new enthusiasm for things American. The beginning of this magazine two years earlier was another. Both the museum and Antiques were for the most part free of the prevailing boosterism that led one enthusiast to declare, "Americana is not a hobby, it is a creed." Still, there was a fascinating consensus back then about what was authentically American in the past and what was not.
by Émile Jacques Ruhlmann (1879-1933), 1926. Macassar ebony, amaranth, and ivory. Metropolitan Museum of Art. By Cynthia Drayton» View All