Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Hutton Wilkinson: More is More Tony Duquette

Become a subscriber and a follower by April 10th for a chance to win a signed copy.

Last year, my middle daughter and I were lucky enough to be included in a dinner party with Ruthie and Hutton Wilkinson, at Dawnridge, Tony and Beegel’s (Elizabeth) iconic home in Beverly Hills.  It is the definitive, jaw dropping creation of all time, mixing disparate materials, from high to low, in such complete harmony, it is impossible for me to conceive or describe how and why such magic emerges. John Galliano describes it, in his forward, as: “Hollywood, Narnia, and Oz combined—bewitching, intoxicating and utterly ahead of its time.”

Tony Duquette displayed an astonishing depth in multiple genres-- costume design (Tony Award), jewelry design (Duchess of Windsor), interior design, furniture design, painting, sculpture and set design. The French gave him the first solo American exhibit at the Louvre, for his mid-century aesthetic, which was neo baroque, rather than the spare international modernism, prevailing at the time.

Model for a pair of French ballet costumes, his own vision for two encrusted under-sea courtiers
From his exhibit at the Louvre in 1951

To say Tony was prolific is an understatement. Considering how much of his work survives is a testimony, to what could have only been intense productivity. Years ago, I naively asked my Aunts who Tony Duquette was, and they would uniformly say: “He does a lot of artistic things, and he has had terrible luck with fires.” However, even the fires moved his creation, and the spectacular phoenix motif sculptures and decorations, contribute greatly to his oeuvre. Hutton observed humorously, regarding Tony’s excessive nature, that: “He was the only man that could spend $999 in a .99 cent store.”

The Tony Duquette collection found at Saks Fifth Avenue and on 1st dibs, is one of a kind, fantabulous "art jewelry", seen on the couture runways, and red carpets. It is so breathtakingly beautiful, I am guilty of rotating various pieces  on my screen saver. See below, and you'll get it:

Ruby, Sapphire, Diamond, Emerald and Pearl in 18K Gold, $126,000

So, get those fingers typing and buy Hutton’s latest book on Tony, or enter our contest, to win a signed copy, by becoming followers and subscribers to our new blog. The great news is that Hutton is finally selling faux versions of his stylish jewelry on the Home Shopping Network.  We are already piling them on! 

HSN Hutton Wilkinson $69.95

Windfall/Spring Fever

Liz prose, Viive photography, Benji styles

Violet, my miniature long haired Daschund, and I have been in dire need of exercise, since the glaciers have receded from North Carolina. Flowers have unpredictably blossomed instantly beneath shrinking ice.  We are in full Daffodil, Forsythia, Weeping Cherry, and Tulip Magnolia flaunt--spring is so sudden and spectacular in the South. During my walk with Violet, I spied neighborhood gardeners hauling off gigantic branches from our recent windstorm. Our windfall arrangements will give you some great ideas for an Easter Brunch!!

A container with enough heft to hold larger, unwieldy branches is the only prerequisite; otherwise, they will fall over. I used a heavy glass hurricane lantern.

It is necessary to lay the branches on the ground according to type and to cut the base in quarters so they can take up the water.

Starting with the largest, magnolia branches first, I added enough to make a simple airy arrangement that could stand on its own. For a softer effect, I added some weeping cherry branches, and a wild blossom from the edge of my woods. A few sprigs of neighborly quince completed this bright, un-florist-like arrangement. 

Inspired by Charles Masson, and the images in his classic:  The Flowers of La Grenouille, we wanted a large, un-tortured statement. For the front door, we took a bucket and sat it inside a large cachepot, and filled it with water. Again, starting with the largest branches we balanced the flowers to create an open, festive welcome.

Charles Masson's Flowers of La Grenouille, Inspiration

Our interpretation

Not wanting to waste a single morsel of our windfall, we broke up some of the smaller branches and tucked them into a collection of blue and white antique ceramics on the mantle. 

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Collection of Thomas A. Gray

Auction: March 29, 2010  10:00 A.M. Salem Academy and College Fine Arts Center * 601 Church Street, Winston-Salem,
North Carolina 27101 

This important Auction represents a fraction of Tom Gray's collection after, literally, 52 years of accumulation--he started at age 8, but doesn't want you to do the Math.

Lot # 0518, Antique R.J. Reynolds toy tobacco truck, cast metal, aluminum, and wood, given to Thomas Gray by his grandfather in 1952

A great deal of his family collection will always represent their generous donations to The Museum of South Eastern Decorative Arts, and The Toy Museum in Old Salem, a working historical museum in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. This pastoral setting, and scholarly locale—has been Tom’s life work.

Lot # 0229, Camel pull toy, felted wool, and wood with metal wheels, Sonneberg area, Germany, c. 1870.

The collection is largely American, from New England, Pennsylvania and the Southern U.S.  (1630-1830), and will sell significantly over high estimates, as there are many rare, documented, and coveted collectibles. Major collectors and museums will be bidding, so it will be fantastic fun for Winston-Salem to witness avid bidders competing to obtain the long standing oeuvre of a beloved connoisseur.  

Lot # 0145, Chippendale desk and bookcase, cherry with pine secondary, Colchester area, Connecticut, c. 1785-1795

This Colchester Connecticut Chippendale desk and bookcase is highly desirable, according to Tom, as it retains most of its original finish. We asked him why he had left the light cleaning to the lower desk, and his decision was based on the fact that the previous owners had maintained it in that condition for the past 100 years, adding to the unique history. The # 1 priority for collectors is to ferret out the best examples within their genre with original finish and minimal repairs. 

Lot # 0253, NC Chippendale cellaret, walnut with yellow pine secondary, single-board walnut top with astragal line inlay, attributed to Micajah Wilkes, c. 1780-1795

A cellaret is a moveable bar, with compartments for holding bottles of wine and other spirits.  Cellarets were constructed with sturdy, yet decorative, locks, implying the underlying value of its contents.

Lot # 0286, Oak leaf tin sconce, York County, Pennsylvania, 19th century

The "light devices" collection, the best private collection of its kind in the world, consists of several tole and tin, black finish lanterns, chandeliers, and sconces, dating mostly from the 19th century.

Lot # 0102, Westerwald “GR” jug, commemorating King George, German, 1730

The German salt-ware, royal commemorative jugs took Tom 35 years to assemble, and are very rare--ranging from 1690-1703, created for the British market.

Lot # 0029, Jeremiah Theus portrait “Amarinthia Elliott”, Charleston, South Carolina 1740

On a fun note, this portrait of a very homely girl, was purchased from Jim Williams, the Savannah antiques dealer (made even more famous by John Berendt in his novel Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil) was sold to Tom from his prison “office.” We hate to be hard on a 7 year old, but would not have paid $21,000.00 to look at that "only a Mother could love" painting. However she's going off at $30,000.  Her little brother is hanging in The Gibbs Museum in Charleston. Tom said: “They wanted her and I wanted him”—possibly they will be reunited.  

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Training your eye—and your wallet: Liz

         Perusing online auctions is an obsessive practice for those of us consumed with the confluence of style and price! Auction prices are an excellent baseline from which to gauge the price you are willing to pay for a desired object.  Our motto is: “shop relentlessly--buy once.”  I use Artfact, which consolidates multiple live auctions and has a watchlist feature, which is free with registration. The free feature doesn’t give every result, but you can subscribe for complete records.

This set of four Italian Bronze –Frame parlor chairs were auctioned by Eldred’s in East Dennis, Massachusetts in June of 2009, and were estimated to sell within the $500-$700 range. Returning to my watchlist I was seized with buyers remorse. They realized a price of $115.

This endearing wooden wall box would have been an ideal Christmas gift for my eldest daughter’s apartment’s entryway, as a key holder or mail box. More remorse! It was estimated to go for $50 to $100 and I think I bid $80 for it. It realized $138, a price I would have been completely willing to pay, as it fulfills my gift criteria. Gifts should radiate your love and affection for the beneficiary; they should be as special as the person it is intended for-- personal, and unique. Its size was very functional as well, at 13”h x 11”w x 5 ½” deep. Although my daughter doesn’t go by her first name (Sarah) it was once very thoughtfully carved and stenciled for a beloved child. Alas! Auctions have an emotional component, yet the prices are fantastic and the fare unique.


Matched pair with pierced windows and enameled scrolling lotus design on blue ground, borders of ruyi heads and lappets, mouth-rim gilt and interior glazed white, stamped with red seal mark on base. Slight wear to gilt and half-inch hairline to interior rim of one stand. H. 28.0 cm / 11.0 in. Shipping: $45.00 plus insurance. Estimate: $500-900.

This pair of hat stands would have converted beautifully into lamps. A conical shaped shade would have been a wonderful reference to their original function, but at a conversion price increasing the cost to upwards of $1,000, I’m not crying over this loss, considering their size. But…in the perfect spot, they would be the equivalent of the perfect stylish, little evening clutch.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

High Point, North Carolina

High Point, North Carolina is an elusive, and surreal locale. It is loaded with trash and treasure, and has endured some thorny transitions. The recent painful shift of furniture manufacturing to Asia, was cataclysmic. Yes, prices declined, but scale, finish, and style, were “lost in translation” for many years. Some of the savvier boutique companies, started exporting containers from the antique fairs in Europe, along with renowned restoration experts, guiding production processes.  To our complete elation, new collections emerged completely indistinguishable from their antique inspirations.

Elm, marble and brass bistro serving cabinet, re-produced from a cafe in Paris

Wonderful, quirky pieces from the Paris Flea Market were identical, down to the paint drips, and without the terrible excesses of “over distressing” that ironically made furniture appear artificial.

CFC Reclaimed Lumber Spanish Console

Today, a good reproduction looks old because smart designers have started using old wood, water based finishes, and traditional scaling.

Barclay Butera Bel Air Bench

The giant “McMansion,” baronial pieces that are simply offensive, are auspiciously fading.  We have observed, over the years, that upholstery trends mimic footwear design. Sofas and chairs have morphed from clunky Steve Madden’s to sleek Manolo Blahnik’s.

Alex Papachristidis and Milly de Cabrol with screens by Hudson Furniture and Arteriors Home, from April 2010 Elle DECOR

Mid-century modern aesthetic is everywhere, and makes wonderful eclectic accents. The most important paradigm shift traces its origins from the conventional downside-up model. Boutique designers became almost curatorial in their devotion to authenticity, with double-digit sales increases in the face of drastic losses experienced by the big, brand name manufacturers.

From Carlton Varney’s Houses in my Heart, Joan Crawford’s New York living room

The old guard’s motto of: “Never underestimate the bad taste of the American public,” has been trumped by the value that:  good-taste is not subjective. It exists as one end of the spectrum within every genre, and the public is voting with their wallets!