Dan Ostermiller’s animalia sculpture ripples with dynamic flair

Rabbits are a favorite subject matter for Dan Ostermiller and his signed 2002 bronze of a rabbit, titled ‘R.B.,’ 17/20, realized $4,250 plus the buyer’s premium in June 2024 at Neal Auction Company.

NEW YORK — Those who merely admire Dan Ostermiller’s sculptures of animals for their attention to detail and hyperrealism only see half the picture. Instead, he invites his viewers to look beyond how the animal is represented and what emotions or concepts he might be conveying.

Sculpting for more than three decades, Ostermiller (b. 1956-) began his work with a strong foundation learning taxidermy from his father, who was one of the largest commercial taxidermists in the country. While he learned much about animals, he wanted to express his creative side. At about age 20, he began his career in fine art by sculpting animals in their natural habitats and showing off their character.

In the tradition of the French animaliers of the 19th century such as Antoine-Louis Barye and Rosa Bonheur, Ostermiller makes animals the focus of his work, not as man’s sidekick or prey object. He imbues his dynamic sculptures of animals with character and personality, creating highly expressive works of art.

Dan Ostermiller’s 1994 bronze, 'Cat with Ball,' 3/20, realized $2,000 plus the buyer’s premium at Austin Auction Gallery in May 2023.
Dan Ostermiller’s 1994 bronze, 'Cat with Ball,' realized $2,000 plus the buyer’s premium in May 2023. Image courtesy of Austin Auction Gallery and LiveAuctioneers.

Of his taxidermy background, he told Auction Central News, “I like that it helped me learn a lot about animals and it brought me into a lot of areas to be around wildlife, but I didn’t like that there really wasn’t creativity, and I’ve always been a creative person.”

Informing his sculptures are his travels to photograph and study animals in their native habitats before sculpting them. “I think you have to have an intimate knowledge of the animals … and that’s why I’ve always wanted to be out with the animals, whether it’s Africa, Antarctica, Alaska, or around my own animals like my dogs and my pet rabbits,” he said. “The more you get to learn them and observe them, the more you can pick up on not just their character but also their similarities to our own character.” He seeks to capture those elements in his sculptures to make them more relatable to audiences and have a work of art speak to them.

Dan Ostermiller’s bronze, 'A Good Hare Day,' depicting a group of rabbits on a log, made $5,000 plus the buyer’s premium at Hunt and Peck Estate Services, Inc. in November 2022.
Dan Ostermiller’s bronze 'A Good Hare Day,' depicting a group of rabbits on a log, made $5,000 plus the buyer’s premium in November 2022. Image courtesy of Hunt and Peck Estate Services, Inc. and LiveAuctioneers.

His subjects — whether a fluffle of rabbits playing, an impressive eagle with outstretched wings in flight soaring over a Western landscape, or elephants practicing their fighting skills — are accurately and expertly rendered in a way that evinces his mastery of artistic principles such as composition, scale and line. The sculptures also offer glimpses into the animals’ personalities, as if he were able to freeze his subject in a slice-of-life moment.

Ostermiller’s sculptures are highly prized by collectors and have a strong following on the auction market. “Dan Ostermiller’s work is immediately identifiable. His bears and rabbits are very sought after and have a wonderful tactile appearance,” said Kevin Doyle, managing director and partner at Jackson Hole Art Auction in Jackson, Wyoming. “Many of his works provide the viewer with joy and calm.”

Dan Ostermiller’s bronzes like “Nightlife,” edition 3/20, 2006, typically sell within or above their auction estimates. This work, estimated at $3,000-$5,000, earned $3,750 plus the buyer’s premium in May 2024 at Freeman’s Hindman.
Dan Ostermiller’s bronzes such as 'Nightlife,' dating to 2006, typically sell within or above their auction estimates. This work, estimated at $3,000-$5,000, earned $3,750 plus the buyer’s premium in May 2024. Image courtesy of Freeman’s Hindman and LiveAuctioneers.

Both his large-scale outdoor installations and smaller sculptures, well suited for display by private collectors, exude personality and charm. The artist conveys the majesty of his subjects, as in a monumental eagle in flight in Winged Rapture, a 108in-tall bronze that sold just above its high estimate at $35,000 plus the buyer’s premium in February 2022 at Jackson Hole Art Auction. “This impressive monumental bronze, standing nine feet tall, features a bird of prey in flight. Ostermiller used a very striking composition, having it extend vertically from wingtip to wingtip,” Doyle said. “There are so many bronzes of eagles in flight, which all seem to look the same. Dan’s mastery in the composition gives it a totem-like significance. The small edition of only 12 makes it that more desirable. Who wouldn’t want this statement piece on their property?”

The auction market for the artist has been pretty strong in recent years, Doyle explained. “As long as the estimates are reasonable, bidders will compete. Dan has a very strong collector base and his works trade on the private market for much higher prices, so public auction can be a great opportunity, especially if the piece is coming from an estate liquidation. But of course it only takes two bidders to set the market!”

Depicting an eagle in flight is 'Winged Rapture,' a bronze, edition 7/12, by Dan Ostermiller that attained $35,000 plus the buyer’s premium in February 2022 at Jackson Hole Art Auction.
Depicting an eagle in flight is 'Winged Rapture,' a bronze by Dan Ostermiller that attained $35,000 plus the buyer’s premium in February 2022. Image courtesy of Jackson Hole Art Auction and LiveAuctioneers.

Bigger is not always better but when it comes to Ostermiller’s art, his large-scale works often bring top dollar. A bronze portrait of an owl perched on a pole, titled The Prophet, measuring 75in tall, achieved $16,000 plus the buyer’s premium in September 2023 at the National Museum of Wildlife Art.

Ostermiller says that his style is constantly evolving and he often goes back and forth between a looser, more impressionistic style to a tighter composition. “That’s the fun thing about being an artist is the evolution that you go through. I think if I didn’t evolve, I would be incredibly bored. I am always wanting to challenge my creativity and looking for a different way to say it in a way nobody else has. That’s the fun part of what I do,” he said. “A lot of those ones where I do multiples, I leave a little looser just because I think it gives them more action but then I will go back to making them a bit more tight because I think it needs it. It depends on the sculpture, the subject matter, and what I am trying to accomplish.”

Dan Ostermiller’s bronze portrait of an owl in ‘The Prophet’ achieved $16,000 plus the buyer’s premium in September 2023 at National Museum of Wildlife Art.
Dan Ostermiller’s bronze portrait of an owl in ‘The Prophet’ achieved $16,000 plus the buyer’s premium in September 2023. Image courtesy of National Museum of Wildlife Art and LiveAuctioneers.

Among his multiples where he cites he had adopted a looser style is a small bronze, A Good Hare Day, depicting a group of rabbits or hares on a log, measuring 6 by 16 by 7in. It brought $5,000 plus the buyer’s premium at Hunt and Peck Estate Services in November 2022. In works such as this, which feature several animals, he adds dramatically to the expressive nature of the sculpture, showing the bonds between the animals.

A notable example of a singular composition is his bronze Oblivious, depicting a bear sleeping on a tree trunk. The 19-by-12-by-8.5in sculpture of a bear oblivious to the chance that the tree that might break under his weight or possible danger nearby, went out at $5,000 plus the buyer’s premium at Altermann Galleries & Auctioneers in September 2020. A larger version of Oblivious,126in tall, is mounted outside the Stark Museum of Art in Orange, Texas.

Attention to detail is a hallmark of his work, from the well-detailed muscles of a fierce predator or the angle an animal cocks its head to the way a cat positions his paw in Cat with Ball, a bronze that realized $2,000 plus the buyer’s premium at Austin Auction Gallery in May 2023.

Dan Ostermiller’s sculptures typically capture the energy and movement of animals, honed by years of careful observation. A notable exception is ‘Oblivious,’ portraying a bear sleeping on a tree trunk. The 19-by-12-by-8½- inch sculpture is perfectly balanced with the rounded back and haunches of the bear contrasted by the pointy branches of the tree. It went out at $5,000 plus the buyer’s premium at Altermann Galleries & Auctioneers in September 2020.
Dan Ostermiller’s sculptures typically capture the energy and movement of animals, honed by years of careful observation. A notable exception is ‘Oblivious,’ portraying a bear sleeping on a tree trunk. The 19-by-12-by-8½- inch sculpture is perfectly balanced, with the rounded back and haunches of the bear contrasted by the pointy branches of the tree. It went out at $5,000 plus the buyer’s premium in September 2020. Image courtesy of Altermann Galleries & Auctioneers and LiveAuctioneers.

Art is highly subjective, and Ostermiller says he tries to make people happy when they view his sculptures but leaves any possible narratives up to the viewer’s imagination. “I try and bring out a certain emotion, and most of the time it’s a happy emotion because I’m a happy guy, so it definitely reflects in my sculpture,” he said. “I like people to kind of make up their own mind about what they like about my work and not necessarily do a narrative or come up with a ‘This is what it’s all about.’ I’d rather have people relate to it on a personal level. I think when you do that, you can live with a piece of art a lot longer if it’s something that you live with and that and it makes you feel good.”

Rabbits are a favorite subject matter for Dan Ostermiller. His signed 2002 bronze of a rabbit, titled ‘R.B.’ and shown here from the back, realized $4,250 plus the buyer’s premium in June 2024. Image courtesy of Neal Auction Company and LiveAuctioneers.
Rabbits are a favorite subject matter for Dan Ostermiller. His signed 2002 bronze of a rabbit, titled ‘R.B.’ and shown here from the back, realized $4,250 plus the buyer’s premium in June 2024. Image courtesy of Neal Auction Company and LiveAuctioneers.

Verdura jewelry: The designs of a duke

Verdura’s most famed jewelry design might be the Maltese Cross cuff. A gold example with black enamel, cultured pearls, blue topaz, peridot, and full-cut diamonds of G-H-I color and VS clarity achieved $22,000 plus the buyer’s premium in December 2018. Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.

NEW YORK – Little girls are encouraged to dream of the day their prince will come, bearing lavish gifts of jewelry. The only gift that could top such a thing would be jewelry that is actually made by a prince. The great and the good of 20th-century Europe and America enjoyed something very close to that dream: Jewelry made by an honest-to-god, no-kidding duke.

Fulco Santostefano della Cerda, Duke of Verdura (1898-1978) created jewelry that graced the necks, ears, and limbs of the biggest names of his day – names such as Babe Paley, Diana Vreeland, Marjorie Merriweather Post, Marlene Dietrich, Joan Crawford, and Clare Booth Luce.

He was the protégé of Coco Chanel, the cousin of renowned Italian author and prince Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, and a friend of Cecil Beaton and Nancy Mitford. He designed the jewelry worn by Katharine Hepburn in the 1940 film The Philadelphia Story. He loaned his creations to Horst P. Horst for magazine fashion shoots.

He and Salvador Dalí collaborated on a collection of Surrealist jewelry that was shown at the Julien Levy Gallery in New York in 1941, and soon after at the Museum of Modern Art and other prominent US museums. In his final decade, Cartier wooed the duke, promising ‘total artistic license’ and a dedicated display window on Fifth Avenue; he said no.

And in 1975, Verdura fulfilled a commission for a silver rose, a gift for the Royal Opera House in London to memorialize the son of the librettist of Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier, for use in subsequent performances of that show.

This undated Verdura brooch unites two of the Sicilian jeweler’s favorite motifs: wings and bows. Comprising gold, platinum, and 36 round brilliant-cut diamonds, it realized $8,500 plus the buyer’s premium in May 2023. Image courtesy of Freeman’s Hindman and LiveAuctioneers.
This undated Verdura brooch unites two of the Sicilian jeweler’s favorite motifs: wings and bows. Comprising gold, platinum, and 36 round brilliant-cut diamonds, it realized $8,500 plus the buyer’s premium in May 2023. Image courtesy of Freeman’s Hindman and LiveAuctioneers.

Verdura, known as Fulco to his friends, did not aspire to a career as a jeweler. Like most European men of his era who received titles upon their birth or were destined to inherit them on the death of their father, he did not expect to do anything that resembled true toil. In his time, aristocrats who worked for pay were still seen by their peers as vulgar and even disgraceful.

This is not to say Verdura was idle, or a layabout. During World War I, the teenager joined the Italian army as a second lieutenant, fought at Caporetto, and was discharged after suffering a shoulder injury. But Verdura’s job, in essence, was to be gracious and charming, which he achieved in part through his talents for drawing, telling stories, and deploying a formidable intellect that won him the nickname ‘Le Petit Larousse roulant’, which roughly translates from French as ‘the walking dictionary’.

It was those very skills – the social graces that the high-born are expected to master, paired with a wealth of friends and contacts that compensated for his lack of actual wealth – which ensured his success as a jeweler, just as much as the vocational training he received from Chanel.

Another popular Verdura design was his heart-shape pieces. A Wrapped Heart brooch in 18K gold, platinum, pink spinel, and diamonds brought $30,000 plus the buyer’s premium in April 2018. Image courtesy of Freeman’s Hindman and LiveAuctioneers.
Another popular Verdura design was his heart-shape pieces. A Wrapped Heart brooch in 18K gold, platinum, pink spinel, and diamonds brought $30,000 plus the buyer’s premium in April 2018. Image courtesy of Freeman’s Hindman and LiveAuctioneers.

Verdura’s most consequential patrons were the American Broadway composer-songwriter Cole Porter and his wife Linda, who he met when the couple stopped in Palermo in 1919 while on their honeymoon. In the mid-1920s, Linda encouraged Verdura to head to Paris, and friends of hers offered to take him in.

Once there, Verdura’s cousin, Baron Ugo Oddo, arranged for him to meet Chanel, who had built up a roster of pliable European nobles by tempting them with steady paychecks. Chanel recognized the young man’s promise, and by 1934, Verdura had earned a job title to go with his inherited ones: the title of Chanel’s principal jewelry designer.

A Verdura Maltese Cross cuff in gold, black enamel, cultured pearls, blue topaz, peridot, and full-cut diamonds, shown in its box. It achieved $22,000 plus the buyer’s premium in December 2018. Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.
A Verdura Maltese Cross cuff in gold, black enamel, cultured pearls, blue topaz, peridot, and full-cut diamonds, shown in its box. It achieved $22,000 plus the buyer’s premium in December 2018. Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.

One of his earliest designs is also one of his most coveted and enduring: the Maltese cross cuff. “Verdura’s Maltese cross cuffs are iconic,” said Gina D’Onofrio, director of fine jewelry at Heritage Auctions in Dallas. “The Maltese cross motif speaks to the imagery of Verdura’s Sicilian childhood. His first pair, designed for Chanel, became her favorite pieces, and she was rarely photographed without them. Variations in hard stone and in gold have been made ever since, and Verdura collections are incomplete without them.” Heritage offered an example in December 2018 comprised of gold, black enamel, cultured pearls, blue topaz, peridot, and full-cut diamonds that sold for $22,000 plus the buyer’s premium.

These undated Verdura Night and Day studs, based on a set of cuff links originally designed for Cole Porter, sold for $3,000 plus the buyer’s premium in January 2021. The pair features 18K gold, enamel, and diamonds. Image courtesy of Hampton Estate Auction and LiveAuctioneers.
These undated Verdura Night and Day studs, based on a set of cuff links originally designed for Cole Porter, sold for $3,000 plus the buyer’s premium in January 2021. The pair features 18K gold, enamel, and diamonds. Image courtesy of Hampton Estate Auction and LiveAuctioneers.

Another triumph was initially designed for Cole Porter as a pair of cuff links inspired by Porter’s song Night and Day. One piece resembled the surface of the Earth, and the other depicted glittering stars in a midnight blue sky. A pair of Verdura Night and Day studs in 18K gold, diamonds, and enamel realized $3,000 plus the buyer’s premium in January 2021 at Hampton Estate Auction. Also, in April 2024, Julien’s sold the Night and Day dress set belonging to famed singer Tony Bennett (1926-2023), consisting of a pair of cuff links and four shirt studs still in their fitted Verdura case, for $15,000 plus the buyer’s premium against an estimate of $3,000-$5,000.

The Verdura Day and Night dress set belonging to singer Tony Bennett commanded $15,000 against an estimate of $3,000-$5,000 in April 2024. The set consisted of cuff links and four shirt studs and was offered in its fitted Verdura case. Image courtesy of Julien’s Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.
The Verdura Day and Night dress set belonging to singer Tony Bennett commanded $15,000 against an estimate of $3,000-$5,000 in April 2024. The set consisted of cuff links and four shirt studs and was offered in its fitted Verdura case. Image courtesy of Julien’s Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.

Verdura’s first big commission for Porter was a cigarette case to mark the 1936 Broadway premiere of his musical Red, Hot and Blue. Despite claiming that the duke’s name didn’t seem to rhyme with anything, Porter finally managed the feat in Let’s Face It!, a 1941 musical that included the song Farming, which featured the lyric:

Liz Whitney has, on her bin of manure, a

Clip designed by the Duke of Verdura.

Farming is so charming, they all say.

Verdura, ever the diplomat, does not appear to have said anything in public about Porter’s stinky little shout-out. The Sicilian also mustered enough self-control to serve the Duchess of Windsor as a client, though he was a monarchist down to the marrow of his bones. Again, the social graces acquired in childhood helped him meet his commercial goals as a grown man.

A signed pair of 18K gold Verdura dangling earrings in his Byzantine style, graced with fancy-cut amethysts and circular-cut pink tourmalines, secured $3,000 plus the buyer’s premium in June 2023. Image courtesy of Rago Arts and Auction Center and LiveAuctioneers.
A signed pair of 18K gold Verdura dangling earrings in his Byzantine style, graced with fancy-cut amethysts and circular-cut pink tourmalines, sold for $3,000 plus the buyer’s premium in June 2023. Image courtesy of Rago Arts and Auction Center and LiveAuctioneers.

He also remained curious and interested in the world, eagerly soaking up new influences. A show of Byzantine art that he saw in 1931 clearly made a lasting impact, Exhibit A being a signed pair of 18K gold Verdura dangling earrings boasting fancy-cut amethysts and circular-cut pink tourmalines. Offered at Rago Arts and Auction Center in June 2023, the pair secured $3,000 plus the buyer’s premium.

These striking shell-form 18K gold Verdura ear clips in carved, dyed green chalcedony and festooned with round-cut amethysts hammered for $22,000 against an estimate of $5,000-$7,000 in May 2023. Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.
These striking shell-form 18K gold Verdura ear clips in carved, dyed green chalcedony and festooned with round-cut amethysts hammered for $22,000 against an estimate of $5,000-$7,000 in May 2023. Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.

‘Boasting’ is a key word here. Verdura did not design his treasures to be worn by shrinking violets, even those pieces that looked like genuine violets. “Verdura’s designs appeal to a demographic that appreciates unconventional and artistic design,” D’Onofrio said. “His designs are sculptural and bold, predominantly in yellow gold set with opulent color. With that, they appeal to a confident wearer that prefers to make a statement.”

These 18K yellow and white gold, diamond, and yellow beryl earrings, a variation on Verdura’s pieces showcasing bows, also represent another trend of his era: they are in fact ear clips, as pierced ears were not then dominant. This set, centered on oval-shape heliodor beryls that together weigh 25.15 carats, went for $13,000 plus the buyer’s premium in May 2022. Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.
These 18K yellow and white gold, diamond, and yellow beryl earrings, a variation on Verdura’s pieces showcasing bows, also represent another trend of his era: they are in fact ear clips, as pierced ears were not then dominant. This set, centered on oval-shape heliodor beryls that together weigh 25.15 carats, went for $13,000 plus the buyer’s premium in May 2022. Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.

Heritage had a particularly bold Verdura piece in May 2021. The duke decorated the vibrantly orange lion’s paw shell base (which he might have harvested himself, as he was known to gather shells from the beaches of Fire Island and Newport, Rhode Island) with 18K gold, diamonds, and sapphires. It achieved $45,000 plus the buyer’s premium against an estimate of $20,000-$30,000.

It’s unclear if Verdura personally harvested the lion’s paw shell that became the base of this brooch, but he transformed it into a true jewel with 18K gold, sapphire cabochons, and 1.55 carats of full-cut diamonds. It won $45,000 plus the buyer’s premium in May 2021. Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.
It’s unclear if Verdura personally harvested the lion’s paw shell that became the base of this brooch, but he transformed it into a true jewel with 18K gold, sapphire cabochons, and 1.55 carats of full-cut diamonds. It won $45,000 plus the buyer’s premium in May 2021. Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.

“The scale of the brooch, encrusted with sapphires, combined with the double entendre of ‘lion’s paw’ and shell made this piece particularly engaging,” D’Onofrio said. “Each seashell brooch was unique, but Paulette Goddard was photographed by Horst wearing a similar Lion’s paw brooch in 1941, which would have certainly raised the profile of this piece.”

This Verdura cuff bracelet in carved, banded agate decorated with a single round cabochon garnet complemented with an antique gold element and blue and white enamel is unsigned, but it came to auction with a Verdura box and a copy of a Verdura receipt. Estimated at $7,000-$9,000, it sold for $15,000 plus the buyer’s premium in September 2021. Image courtesy of Freeman’s Hindman and LiveAuctioneers.
This Verdura cuff bracelet in carved, banded agate decorated with a single round cabochon garnet complemented with an antique gold element and blue and white enamel is unsigned, but it came to auction with a Verdura box and a copy of a Verdura receipt. Estimated at $7,000-$9,000, it sold for $15,000 plus the buyer’s premium in September 2021. Image courtesy of Freeman’s Hindman and LiveAuctioneers.

Verdura designed for the white-hot stars of his day, but his creations have outlasted the fame of his clients to find favor with new generations of collectors. “Fashions come and go, but Verdura is more about timeless designs,” said April Matteini, vice president and associate director of Freeman’s Hindman’s jewelry and watches department, adding, “the pieces that we sell with great success are yellow gold, happy designs, which are perfect for day and day to night.”

A Verdura Sunburst cuff bracelet in gold, with peridots, cultured pearls, and round brilliant-cut diamonds surrounding an oval cabochon pink tourmaline on a black enamel sunburst, earned $35,000 plus the buyer’s premium in September 2021. Image courtesy of Freeman’s Hindman and LiveAuctioneers.
A Verdura Sunburst cuff bracelet in gold, with peridots, cultured pearls, and round brilliant-cut diamonds surrounding an oval cabochon pink tourmaline on a black enamel sunburst, earned $35,000 plus the buyer’s premium in September 2021. Image courtesy of Freeman’s Hindman and LiveAuctioneers.

Verdura’s company has outlasted him as well, surviving under the stewardship of the Landrigan family, which has released faithful reproductions and reimaginings of the duke’s designs. But vintage Verdura definitely enjoys a boost from having been so prominently adored by legendary people, even if an individual piece does not trace its provenance to one.

“I find simply the idea of the brand’s high-profile clientele is enough to boost desirability,” said Matteini. “The continuity of design, with subtle changes to be clear, is part of the draw of the brand. I rarely estimate a piece of Verdura for sale from an ‘unpopular’ collection or collection that does not have ‘the look’.”

But even those who are too young to know or care who first wore a piece of vintage Verdura jewelry are vulnerable to the spell it casts. Its magic is so powerful that it overcomes any resistance that daughters might have to donning pieces cherished by their mothers and grandmothers. “The joyous juxtaposition of color that is often found in the pieces is ageless. I often see multiple generations of women in the same family collecting Verdura,” said Matteini. “New collectors are drawn to the name and fall in love with the designs and wearability.”

Bid Smart Recap: Summertime Fun

A Borden’s ice cream porcelain double-sided neon sign achieved $27,000 plus the buyer’s premium in March 2022. Image courtesy of Rockabilly Auction Company and LiveAuctioneers.

NEW YORK – Some celebrate the arrival of summer on June 21, the official date of the summer solstice. For others, it doesn’t truly start until the kids are out of school, or when they open their summer house, or when they plant their bare feet on a beach.

Regardless of when it starts, summer has its own ineffable magic that sets it apart. This collection of Bid Smart stories captures its pleasures.

A Borden’s ice cream porcelain double-sided neon sign achieved $27,000 plus the buyer’s premium in March 2022. Image courtesy of Rockabilly Auction Company and LiveAuctioneers.
A Borden’s ice cream porcelain double-sided neon sign achieved $27,000 plus the buyer’s premium in March 2022. Image courtesy of Rockabilly Auction Company and LiveAuctioneers.

Ice cream is available year-round, but something about summer makes it sweeter. The market for ice cream memorabilia, which takes the form of signage, posters, and scoops, will never melt away.

A Phantom Whizzer motorized bicycle sold for $4,750 plus the buyer’s premium in October 2020. Photo courtesy of Dan Morphy Auctions and LiveAuctioneers
A Schwinn Phantom Whizzer motorized bicycle sold for $4,750 plus the buyer’s premium in October 2020. Photo courtesy of Dan Morphy Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.

The notion of spending a gloriously unsupervised childhood summer outdoors, tearing around on a Schwinn bike with friends, appeals to all ages. Nostalgia for seemingly simpler times powers demand for these colorful symbols of freedom.

An associated circa-1915 pair of rattan rocker armchairs attributed to Heywood Wakefield brought $2,600 plus the buyer’s premium in October 2019. Image courtesy of Rago Arts and Auction Center and LiveAuctioneers.
An associated circa-1915 pair of rattan rocker armchairs attributed to Heywood Wakefield brought $2,600 plus the buyer’s premium in October 2019. Image courtesy of Rago Arts and Auction Center and LiveAuctioneers.

Wicker furniture makes the heat more inviting, and adds elegance to sunrooms, porches, and patios. Pieces range from rockers to chaise longues to full suites of chairs, sofas, and matching low tables.

This pair of Walter Lamb for Brown Jordan chaise lounges went out at $6,500 in February 2019. Photo courtesy of Clars Auction Gallery and LiveAuctioneers.
This pair of Walter Lamb for Brown Jordan chaise lounges went out at $6,500 in February 2019. Photo courtesy of Clars Auction Gallery and LiveAuctioneers.

The furnishings bearing the Brown Jordan brand name have helped blur the boundaries between the indoors and the outdoors since 1946. Collectors continue to clamor for vintage examples.

This Style B half-sheet movie poster for ‘Casablanca’ made $45,000 plus the buyer’s premium in April 2018. Photo courtesy of Heritage Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.
This Style B half-sheet movie poster for ‘Casablanca’ made $45,000 plus the buyer’s premium in April 2018. Photo courtesy of Heritage Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.

Hollywood mastered the trick of luring summer revelers inside with the promise of air-conditioning, popcorn, cold soda, and blockbuster films. Designed to be ephemeral, movie posters are massively popular souvenirs of the silver screen, capable of commanding six figures.

A custom-made hoverboard used for effects shots in ‘Back to the Future: Part II’ achieved $70,000 plus the buyer’s premium in December 2022. Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.
A custom-made hoverboard used for effects shots in ‘Back to the Future: Part II’ achieved $70,000 plus the buyer’s premium in December 2022. Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.

Scarcer than posters are movie props made and used on-screen in pop-culture classics. The chance to own a literal piece of a favorite film provokes bidders to pledge hefty sums at auction.

Snap Wyatt’s circa-1945 banner ‘Freaks Alive’, measuring 100½ by 342in, sold for $9,500 in November 2018. Image courtesy of Potter & Potter Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.
Snap Wyatt’s circa-1945 banner ‘Freaks Alive’, measuring 100½ by 342in, sold for $9,500 in November 2018. Image courtesy of Potter & Potter Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.

Deliberately lurid in every possible way, circus sideshow banners continue to turn heads. The sideshow is long gone, and some of its most touted attractions, such as tattooed people, have become commonplace, but the surviving banners are lauded as works of 20th-century folk art.

Detail of a maquette, or original poster art, for a Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Combined Circus poster, rendered between the 1910s and the 1930s. Ink and pencil marginal notes state this gouache on paper mounted on poster board was the basis for 16-sheet, nine-sheet, one-sheet, and one-half-sheet posters. The artwork earned $950 plus the buyer’s premium in July 2023. Image courtesy of Potter & Potter Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.
Detail of a maquette, or original poster art, for a Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Combined Circus poster, rendered between the 1910s and the 1930s. Ink and pencil marginal notes state this gouache on paper mounted on poster board was the basis for 16-sheet, nine-sheet, one-sheet, and one-half-sheet posters. The artwork earned $950 plus the buyer’s premium in July 2023. Image courtesy of Potter & Potter Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.

Once upon a time, not long ago, as many as 200 traveling circuses criss-crossed the US, and the undisputed king of them all was Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey. Vintage circus posters, which once lured children of all ages to the Big Top, now represent the excitement and the fun of a bygone era.

José Formoso Reyes reimagined the Nantucket basket

José Formoso Reyes is credited with inventing the Nantucket friendship basket form, which is still widely appreciated today. This example achieved $7,500 plus the buyer’s premium in June 2020. Image courtesy of Jeffrey S. Evans & Associates and LiveAuctioneers.

NEW YORK — Since the 1800s, baskets have been handwoven on the island of Nantucket, which lies about 30 miles off the coast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts. It’s a long way from the Philippines, but in 1945, Philippines-born José Formoso Reyes (1902-1980) and his Massachusetts-born wife, Mary Ham, came to visit her family on Nantucket after Reyes completed his service with the US Army. They loved the island so much that they never left, and ultimately became part of its history.

When Reyes had trouble finding work as a teacher, he took jobs painting houses and repairing woven cane seats, relying on the weaving skills he had learned in his homeland. The tradition of open woven baskets named for Nantucket’s lightships was already well established when Reyes embraced it, but he would make it his own.

This basket by José Formoso Reyes, made circa 1959, features two whale finials on its lid. It earned $5,000 plus the buyer’s premium in April 2022. Image courtesy of Rafael Osona Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.
This basket by José Formoso Reyes, made circa 1959, features two whale finials on its lid. It earned $5,000 plus the buyer’s premium in April 2022. Image courtesy of Rafael Osona Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.

Renowned second-generation basket-maker Mitchell Ray helped Reyes get started, sharing some of his basket molds. By the summer of 1948, Reyes had launched a business selling his ‘friendship basket’ purses. They soon found favor, priced at a few hundred dollars apiece.

His competitors were few when he began his career — just nine other artisans were active on the island then — but Reyes’ success would be shared by all. Demand for his baskets had the happy effect of boosting interest in traditional Nantucket open-form lightship baskets.

“Another local craftsman, Charlie Sayle and his wife, suggested adding the ornamentation of his basket tops with an ivory whale or seagull. José became well known for his innovative style and unique designs in basket weaving,” according to the Nantucket Historical Association’s online biography of Reyes.

“Reyes is the man credited with creating the friendship basket form, and one of the most talented of a group of very adept basket makers,” said Andrew Davis, auctioneer and owner of Casco Bay Auctions in Freeport, Maine.

Side and top views of a José Formoso Reyes Nantucket friendship basket that achieved $7,500 plus the buyer’s premium in June 2020. Image courtesy of Jeffrey S. Evans & Associates and LiveAuctioneers.
Side and top views of a José Formoso Reyes Nantucket friendship basket that achieved $7,500 plus the buyer’s premium against an estimate of $500-$800 in June 2020. Image courtesy of Jeffrey S. Evans & Associates and LiveAuctioneers.

Reyes’ baskets were prized during his lifetime and remain highly collectible. At auction, they typically sell above estimate in the $5,000 to $8,000 range. One that he made in 1967 took $7,500 plus the buyer’s premium in June 2020 at Jeffrey S. Evans & Associates. This oblong example had a hinged cover with a seagull decoration.

“The market has remained relatively consistent for the past decade or so, with prices consistently high for his baskets. The earlier baskets are more desirable,” Davis said, noting that buyers like baskets graced with whales or seagulls, motifs that Reyes used equally often.

A signed 1960 José Reyes Nantucket purse secured $6,500 plus the buyer’s premium in September 2021. Image courtesy of William Smith Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.
A signed 1960 José Reyes Nantucket purse secured $6,500 plus the buyer’s premium in September 2021. Image courtesy of William Smith Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.

A signed Nantucket purse crowned with a spread-winged seagull, which Reyes made in 1960, brought $6,500 plus the buyer’s premium at William Smith Auctions in September 2021. Also oblong in shape, this basket looks similar to the one sold at Jeffrey Evans & Associates.

While each basket was handmade, and Reyes sometimes worked freehand, he wove them on forms that gave them a similar appearance and construction, and his swing handles are nearly identical. Different-size blocks in his studio allowed him to make baskets that nested in one another.

Reyes made more than 5,000 baskets in his lifetime. Most demanded two full days of work, or 16 hours apiece.

This José Formoso Reyes Nantucket Friendship basket, which has an ivory seagull mounted against an ebony base, sold for $5,750 plus the buyer’s premium in March 2021. Image courtesy of Casco Bay Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.
This José Formoso Reyes Nantucket Friendship basket, which has an ivory seagull mounted against an ebony base, sold for $5,750 plus the buyer’s premium in March 2021. Image courtesy of Casco Bay Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.

The artist’s early examples are coveted, as they date to the time when he was experimenting with techniques and looks. One such basket, sporting an ivory seagull finial mounted against an ebony base on the lid instead of a white ivory base, realized $5,750 plus the buyer’s premium at Casco Bay Auctions in March 2021.

“This basket, dated 1956, is an early example of the friendship basket, and the whalebone seagull mounted on an ebony base is unusual amongst his baskets. This particular example was also in nearly perfect condition,” Davis said.

A commissioned José Formoso Reyes Nantucket basket, decorated with whales on its sides, sold for $5,500 plus the buyer’s premium in January 2023. Image courtesy of New England Auctions - Fred Giampietro and LiveAuctioneers.
A commissioned José Formoso Reyes Nantucket basket, decorated with whales on its sides, sold for $5,500 plus the buyer’s premium in January 2023. Image courtesy of New England Auctions - Fred Giampietro and LiveAuctioneers.

Another Reyes standout is a special commission that had three applied ebony whales on its sides, each carved to fit the contours of the basket and attached to it with small screws. It realized $5,500 plus the buyer’s premium in January 2023 at New England Auctions – Fred Giampietro.

Still another Reyes basket with unusual features, matching a carved ivory finial with an ebony base, took $3,300 plus the buyer’s premium at Casco Bay Auction. “This basket was in very good condition and had a whalebone dedication plaque on the inside [to Andrea P. Irvine], which is only seen on a handful of his baskets,” Davis said.

This José Formoso Reyes basket, having a carved ivory finial on an ebony base, sold for $3,300 plus the buyer’s premium in August 2023. Image courtesy of Casco Bay Auction and LiveAuctioneers.
This José Formoso Reyes basket, having a carved ivory finial on an ebony base, sold for $3,300 plus the buyer’s premium in August 2023. Image courtesy of Casco Bay Auction and LiveAuctioneers.

Usually, Reyes baskets feature a single finial on the lid, but a circa-1959 creation boasted two in the forms of an adult whale accompanied by a baby whale. Both were carved in ivory by fellow Nantucket artisan Charlie Sayle, who was known for his scrimshaw. This basket earned $5,000 plus the buyer’s premium in April 2022 at Rafael Osona Auctions.

According to an interview with Reyes on YouTube, in which he discussed his process and the unique characteristics of Nantucket lightship and friendship baskets, he recruited local artists to carve finials and decorations, including Sayle.

In that video interview, Reyes explained what makes Nantucket baskets special. Most baskets have woven bottoms, made with the same rattan used on the sidewalls, but Nantucket baskets feature a wooden base.

“I’m so glad in a way that I helped revive a craft in Nantucket that is very valuable,” he said. “It’s really a Nantucket basket, because there is no basket in the world that has a bottom like this.”

There’s no masking the appeal of Beau Dick’s art

This Bella Coola Sun Mask by Beau Dick, dating to 1986, lit up the auction block in December 2023 when it achieved CA$15,000 ($10,900) plus the buyer’s premium. Image courtesy of First Arts Premiers Inc. and LiveAuctioneers.

NEW YORK — The late Kwakwa̱ka̱ʼwakw artist Beau Dick (1955-2017) combined tradition with innovation to create some of the most appealing carved and painted ceremonial objects and masks.

Among First Nations Northwest Coast artists, Dick was revered and noted for his versatile artistic techniques as well as his activism and his work as a community leader. He spent most of his life in Alert Bay in British Columbia, Canada and learned carving as a young child.

Understanding his art requires recognizing how deeply his heritage affected him. “He was a titan, and his legacy extends beyond his remarkable talent in carving to his profound activism and advocacy. He leveraged his artistic stardom to advocate for Indigenous rights and environmental protection,” said Nadine Di Monte, executive director and specialist at First Arts Premiers Inc., based in Toronto, Canada. “He was deeply involved in all facets of his Kwakwa̱ka̱ʼwakw culture and dedicated himself to the study, revival, and preservation of its rich traditions, including dancing and storytelling, in addition to carving.”

Dick’s artwork drew inspiration from his culture’s potlatch tradition — a ceremonial gift-giving event that emphasized wealth redistribution to strengthen community bonds. “The Kwakwa̱ka̱ʼwakw potlatches have consistently been lauded for their theatricality. Historically, masks were essential in ceremonial dances, designed to come alive in the firelight through the dance, capturing the essence of spirits or other living beings,” Di Monte said.

Beau Dick’s visually stunning circa-1998 Hamat’sa Bear Headdress earned CA$15,000 ($10,900) plus the buyer’s premium in December 2023. Image courtesy of First Arts Premiers Inc. and LiveAuctioneers.
Beau Dick’s visually stunning circa-1998 Hamat’sa Bear Headdress earned CA$15,000 ($10,900) plus the buyer’s premium in December 2023. Image courtesy of First Arts Premiers Inc. and LiveAuctioneers.

“What distinguishes Dick’s masks is their profound ability to capture the drama and animation of the Kwakwa̱ka̱ʼwakw potlatches, even as inanimate objects,” she said. “With their enhanced realism and emotive power, Dick’s masks not only amplify the originally intended effect of a mask – to embody and animate the being it represents – but also to transform and innovate the artistic tradition from which they stem.”

His masks are prized, typically selling well above their estimates, and have seen a surge of interest in the secondary market in recent years. “As collectors and institutions increasingly prioritize ethically sourced Northwest Coast art, the value and demand for works by artists like Beau Dick have notably increased,” said Di Monte. “His depictions of more ‘monstrous’ figures, such as Ba̱k’wa̱s (Bookwus, or the Wild Man of the Woods) and Dzunuḵ’wa (the Wild Woman of the Woods), are particularly popular.”

A new world auction record for Beau Dick was set in June 2024 with the sale of this Ba̱k’wa̱s (Bookwus) Mask with Articulated Skeletal Figure, dating to 2008. It attained CA$60,000 ($43,600) plus the buyer’s premium. Image courtesy of First Arts Premiers Inc. and LiveAuctioneers.
A new world auction record for Beau Dick was set in June 2024 with the sale of this Ba̱k’wa̱s (Bookwus) Mask with Articulated Skeletal Figure, dating to 2008. It attained CA$60,000 ($43,600) plus the buyer’s premium. Image courtesy of First Arts Premiers Inc. and LiveAuctioneers.

The June 2024 auction at First Arts Premiers Inc established a new world auction record for the artist with the sale of a 2008 mask, Ba̱k’wa̱s (Bookwus) Mask with Articulated Skeletal Figure. It secured CA$60,000 ($43,600) plus the buyer’s premium.

“This record-setting sale underscores the profound artistic significance of the work. Dick’s masterful design, which includes a macabre skeletal figure that recalls the Kwakwa̱ka̱ʼwakw tradition of puppetry, elevates the mask,” she said.

“The untamed hair and extended eyebrow hairs, alongside the deep, almost blood-like red hues accented with black, amplify its dramatic presence, making it a quintessential embodiment of the spirit it represents,” Di Monte continued. “This convergence of tradition, innovation, and visual impact solidifies its status as a highly coveted work.”

A Kwakwaka'wakw Pookmis cedar and fur mask by Beau Dick, depicting a sea spirit, soared above its $2,000-$3,000 estimate to bring $19,350 plus the buyer’s premium in November 2023. Image courtesy of Artemis Gallery and LiveAuctioneers.
A Kwakwaka'wakw Pookmis cedar and fur mask by Beau Dick, depicting a sea spirit, soared above its $2,000-$3,000 estimate to bring $19,350 plus the buyer’s premium in November 2023. Image courtesy of Artemis Gallery and LiveAuctioneers.

Even Dick’s seemingly ‘tame’ masks are finding favor with buyers as these works clearly demonstrate his talent and the regard he had for his community’s traditions. A circa-2000 Kwakwaka’wakw Pookmis Mask in cedar and fur soundly beat its $2,000-$3,000 estimate to bring $19,350 plus the buyer’s premium in November 2023 at Artemis Gallery.

The mask portrays the sea spirit Pookmis, aka Pookoobs, representing a drowned whaler or the Wild Man of the Sea, who has dog fur for hair. “The stylized visage features a furrowed brow, a curved, beak-like nose, layered gills along the cheeks, and dramatic, pouting lips that extend forward,” according to Artemis Gallery, which explained in its catalog description that Pookmis is associated with healing or resurrection, and known to the Haida as Gagiid, and to the Tlingit as Land Otter.

Dick also was moved by influences beyond his regional heritage, ranging from Western artists such as Caravaggio to fellow indigenous artists. An early example of his work, a 1986 Bella Coola Sun Mask, lit up the auction block in December 2023 when it realized CA$15,000 ($10,900) plus the buyer’s premium at First Arts Premiers Inc.

Another view of Beau Dick’s 1986 Bella Coola Sun Mask, which achieved CA$15,000 ($10,900) plus the buyer’s premium in December 2023. Image courtesy of First Arts Premiers Inc. and LiveAuctioneers.
Another view of Beau Dick’s 1986 Bella Coola Sun Mask, which achieved CA$15,000 ($10,900) plus the buyer’s premium in December 2023. Image courtesy of First Arts Premiers Inc. and LiveAuctioneers.

This mask is a fine example of him stepping outside of Kwakwa̱ka̱ʼwakw artistic traditions to interact with the Nuxalk (Bella Coola) art style. “Dick pays homage to the Snuxus, the Nuxalk Nation’s shared crest, which represents Alhkw’ntam (the Creator) in the center, from which the Four Carpenters radiate with their hands held up,” Di Monte said.

Notable on several fronts is a headdress with cedar bark and vivid acrylic paint decoration, made circa 1998. Titled Hamat’sa Bear Headdress, it took CA$15,000 ($10,900) plus the buyer’s premium in December 2023 at First Arts Premiers Inc.

Beau Dick’s circa-1998 Hamat’sa Bear Headdress, here shown from a head-on perspective, earned CA$15,000 ($10,900) plus the buyer’s premium in December 2023. Image courtesy of First Arts Premiers Inc. and LiveAuctioneers.
Beau Dick’s circa-1998 Hamat’sa Bear Headdress, here shown from a head-on perspective, earned CA$15,000 ($10,900) plus the buyer’s premium in December 2023. Image courtesy of First Arts Premiers Inc. and LiveAuctioneers.

“Traditionally, the Hamat’sa Bear is positioned at the entrances of ceremonial halls, and sometimes elevated on roofs or platforms, and it serves a critical role in greeting guests, many from distant villages, who may be unfamiliar with the host village’s protocols,” Di Monte said. “It symbolizes the sacredness of the ceremonies within, demanding full attention and respect from all attendees. Moreover, its significance is further amplified by Beau Dick’s personal connection to the Hamat’sa Society, as he was an initiated Hamat’sa dancer himself.”

Viewed outside their ceremonial context, many of the artist’s pieces hold up as contemporary art objects. A polychrome painted Tanis Mask in cedar, dating to 1991, which realized $10,000 plus the buyer’s premium in June 2020 at MBA Seattle Auction, is among the best of those that represent a merger between tradition and artistry.

“One aspect of his modern reinterpretation involves the way he engages with the dual roles of his artworks. It’s important to note that Beau Dick carved both for ceremonial and commercial purposes, with masks and other works often serving dual functions,” Di Monte said.

Beau Dick’s 1991 polychrome painted cedar Tanis Mask made $10,000 plus the buyer’s premium in June 2020. Image courtesy of MBA Seattle Auction and LiveAuctioneers.
Beau Dick’s 1991 polychrome painted cedar Tanis Mask made $10,000 plus the buyer’s premium in June 2020. Image courtesy of MBA Seattle Auction and LiveAuctioneers.

“This interchanging of roles should not be viewed as a perversion or conflict, but as a seamless integration of his art’s cultural and economic dimensions,” she added. “Beau Dick’s craftings of works that could and did fulfill both ceremonial and commercial functions was a radical reclamation of cultural heritage as well as a pathway to economic empowerment.”

Contemporary collectors strive to obtain a deeper understanding of these works and actively look for ethically sourced indigenous art and objects. As this movement grows, the appeal of Beau Dick’s art grows along with it.

Wilhelm Kåge, Scandinavian ceramics master

A grouping of three large Wilhelm Kåge Argenta platters or chargers brought $3,000 plus the buyer’s premium in October 2020. Image courtesy of Palm Beach Modern Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.

NEW YORK — The ceramics market has been strong of late, and in particular, Scandinavian ceramics have performed markedly well. Yet many pieces, including those by Wilhelm Kåge, can still be had for reasonable sums.

Kåge (1889-1960) first had a career in advertising and poster design in his native Sweden , which led to his work being exhibited in local galleries. His appealing poster designs caught the attention of the Gustavsberg porcelain factory, which hired him as its artistic director in 1917 to beautify its dinnerware and ceramics.

Argenta wares by Wilhelm Kåge are often priced affordably and “undervalued,” according to auctioneer Richard Wright. This Argenta footed decanter with sublime decoration of a goddess riding a fish was a bargain at $1,600 plus the buyer’s premium in April 2022. Image courtesy of Zikorn Arts & History Objects and LiveAuctioneers.
Argenta wares by Wilhelm Kåge are often priced affordably and “undervalued,” according to auctioneer Richard Wright. This Argenta footed decanter with sublime decoration of a goddess riding a fish was a bargain at $1,600 plus the buyer’s premium in April 2022. Image courtesy of Zikorn Arts & History Objects and LiveAuctioneers.

“He’s incredibly historically important. He helped Gustavsberg maintain a very high level of artistic integrity, and set up the company for a really spectacular postwar period,” said Richard Wright, CEO of Rago/Wright. “The majority of his career is before or during World War II … a very different kind of world and aesthetic than we can relate to now.”

Kåge made more somber designs in the years following World War I and leading up to World War II. In contrast to his bold and optimistic postwar ceramics, Kåge’s decorations were restrained, and his designs were practical. Early on, he created dinnerware sets before moving into figural works and artful pieces. Praktika, one of his 1930s tableware lines for Gustavsberg, was designed to be stackable for the target demographic of working-class families.

Sterling silver inlay detail from one in a grouping of three large Wilhelm Kåge Argenta platters or chargers, which sold for $3,000 plus the buyer’s premium in October 2020. Image courtesy of Palm Beach Modern Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.
Sterling silver inlay detail from one in a grouping of three large Wilhelm Kåge Argenta platters or chargers, which sold for $3,000 plus the buyer’s premium in October 2020. Image courtesy of Palm Beach Modern Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.

His Argenta series, which debuted in the 1930s and was produced until the 1970s, was one of his biggest commercial successes. Collectors today can easily find good examples to acquire. The Argenta line’s most distinctive feature is its bright blue-green glaze, which is often accented with Art Deco-style images of women, animals, and flowers in sterling silver inlay.

“I think his aesthetic is a reflection of the time that he was in — a more restrained sort of palette, and that’s what you see with Argenta,” Wright said. “Within a very restrained palette, he does come up with an incredible number of designs.”

New buyers looking to build a collection of Kåge’s ceramics would do well to start with his Argenta pieces, as most cost around $1,000. “I always like to call out things that are relative bargains. For anybody who is drawn to it [Argenta], it is very undervalued. A vast majority of it sells very low,” Wright said.

Pictured are another enchanting Art Deco sterling silver inlay detail as well as a maker’s mark from a grouping of three large Wilhelm Kåge Argenta platters or chargers. Offered together, they brought $3,000 plus the buyer’s premium in October 2020. Image courtesy of Palm Beach Modern Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.
Pictured are another enchanting Art Deco sterling silver inlay detail as well as a maker’s mark from a grouping of three large Wilhelm Kåge Argenta platters or chargers. Offered together, they brought $3,000 plus the buyer’s premium in October 2020. Image courtesy of Palm Beach Modern Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.

Proving this point, a grouping of three large Argenta platters or chargers, finely executed and with interesting provenance to boot, sold within its $3,000-$5,000 estimate for $3,000 plus the buyer’s premium at Palm Beach Modern Auctions in October 2020. Decorated with silver inlay of semi-nude women, the chargers were originally commissioned for the Swedish royal family, and were displayed in the royal palace in the 1930s.

Regarding the auction market for Kåge’s ceramics, Wright said that while Kåge is not a market leader, his works sell consistently and at fair prices. Kåge’s Farsta series, which was introduced at the Stockholm Exhibition in 1930, may have been in keeping with a more restrained style of decoration, but his ability to add texture and surface decoration to pieces is evident. This line was named for the Farstalandet region near the Gustavsberg factory, although the clay came from southern Sweden and is noted for its high iron levels.

This Wilhelm Kåge Farsta vase in a pleasing shade of blue earned €2,200 ($2,370) plus the buyer’s premium in October 2021. Image courtesy of Piasa and LiveAuctioneers.
This Wilhelm Kåge Farsta vase in a pleasing shade of blue earned €2,200 ($2,370) plus the buyer’s premium in October 2021. Image courtesy of Piasa and LiveAuctioneers.

“His most valuable work is his Farsta series — inventive and magical forms and textures and glazes that were produced in an incredible variety,” Wright said. “I don’t know the ultimate number of the designs he did, but there are a lot of different shapes, and they are not super expensive.”

Kåge was perhaps at his best when he paired patterned, textured surfaces with glazed and unglazed surfaces. “I love them,” Wright said, adding, “I think they are very cool, and honestly, somewhat quirky.”

This circa-1956 Farsta Spirea vase by Wilhem Kåge has overall patterning and texture. Standing 12 ¾in tall, it more than doubled its $3,000-$5,000 estimate to attain $14,000 plus the buyer’s premium in June 2021. Image courtesy of Wright and LiveAuctioneers.
This circa-1956 Farsta Spirea vase by Wilhem Kåge has overall patterning and texture. Standing 12 ¾in tall, it more than doubled its $3,000-$5,000 estimate to attain $14,000 plus the buyer’s premium in June 2021. Image courtesy of Wright and LiveAuctioneers.

While Kåge’s between-wars and World War II-era pieces may have been more restrained, by the late 1940s and early 1950s, he was more explorative and kept refining his techniques. Even after he officially retired as Gustavsberg’s artistic director in 1949, he kept designing. A circa-1956 Fasta Spirea vase achieved $14,000 plus the buyer’s premium at Wright in June 2021, a sum well above its $3,000-$5,000 estimate. This 12 ¾-in tall vase not only boasted a fine overall patterned and textured surface, but was distinguished by its scale and its expressive nature.

Kåge’s highly artistic Farsta pieces tend to bring the highest prices for his work. His circa-1954 Farsta Dragonfish vase sported a surrealistic design, showing a fish turning into a vase. An example realized $9,500 plus the buyer’s premium in June 2022 at Wright.

This circa-1954 Farsta Dragonfish vase by Wilhelm Kåge reflects how the ceramicist was continually evolving his technique and style. The surrealist vase realized $9,500 plus the buyer’s premium in June 2022. Image courtesy of Wright and LiveAuctioneers.
This circa-1954 Farsta Dragonfish vase by Wilhelm Kåge reflects how the ceramicist was continually evolving his technique and style. The surrealist vase went for $9,500 plus the buyer’s premium in June 2022. Image courtesy of Wright and LiveAuctioneers.

Later and more utilitarian Kåge pieces can be acquired for just a few thousand dollars. A pair of circa-1960 Farsta footed bowls were a good buy at €2,000 ($2,155) plus the buyer’s premium in October 2020 at Piasa. At the same auction house one year later, a Farsta decorative vase in a pleasing shade of blue sold for €2,200 ($2,370) plus the buyer’s premium.

A pair of Farsta footed bowls by Wilhelm Kåge was a good buy at €2,000 ($2,155) plus the buyer’s premium in October 2020. Image courtesy of Piasa and LiveAuctioneers.
A pair of Farsta footed bowls by Wilhelm Kåge was a good buy at €2,000 ($2,155) plus the buyer’s premium in October 2020. Image courtesy of Piasa and LiveAuctioneers.

A master of color, Kåge often favored earthy tones and blues. His Argenta series was firmly focused on a shade of blue-green, but in his Farsta works, he played around with color combinations. One fruit of his experiments was a green mottled glazed funnel-form vase that had black, blue, and amber speckles, and a ridged base. It went out at $1,300 plus the buyer’s premium in May 2024 at Lion and Unicorn.

This mottled green Farsta vase by Wilhelm Kåge secured $1,300 plus the buyer’s premium in May 2024. Image courtesy of Lion and Unicorn and LiveAuctioneers.
This mottled green Farsta vase by Wilhelm Kåge secured $1,300 plus the buyer’s premium in May 2024. Image courtesy of Lion and Unicorn and LiveAuctioneers.

Kåge’s legacy as a ceramics artist lies in his inventive glazes, forms, and decoration. His collectibility is also far-ranging. From cutting-edge surrealist pieces to fully functional goods for the home, Kåge personally delivers on the venerable notion that there is something for everyone.

Barnum & Bailey circus posters preserve the thrill of the Big Top

This maquette, or original poster art, for a Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Combined Circus poster, was rendered between the 1910s and the 1930s. Ink and pencil marginal notes state this gouache on paper mounted on poster board was the basis for 16-sheet, nine-sheet, one-sheet, and one-half-sheet posters. The artwork earned $950 plus the buyer’s premium in July 2023. Image courtesy of Potter & Potter Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.

NEW YORK — The circus was, and remains, a multi-sensory spectacle that delights children of all ages. Trains allowed circuses to travel from town to town, and their arrival created an impromptu local holiday: residents gathered to watch the performers and the train cars make their way to the fairgrounds, where a Big Top and side attractions would be set up for a fleeting few days.

As many as 200 traveling circuses were once active in the United States, and the granddaddy of them all was Barnum & Bailey, which was launched in 1871, billed as ‘the Greatest Show on Earth’, and led by showman P.T. Barnum and James Anthony Bailey. The Ringling Bros. circus merged with Barnum & Bailey in 1917 to become Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey. The combined entity reigned until it closed in 2017 and reopened five years later in a revamped form that showcased human performers only.

Circus posters have become highly collectible pieces rich in nostalgia and evocative of fond childhood memories. Designed to be bold, colorful, and eye-catching, period RBB&B circus posters highlighted everything from the dizzying range of circus acts to individual performers.

While animal acts — particularly those featuring elephants and big cats — are no longer socially acceptable after charges of animal cruelty, they were part of circuses for years, and posters that show them are cherished by collectors.

This Barnum & Bailey circus poster from 1909 advertised Jupiter, the Balloon Horse. Estimated at $3,000-$6,000, the poster attained $26,000 plus the buyer’s premium in February 2023. Image courtesy of Freedom Auction Company and LiveAuctioneers.
This Barnum & Bailey circus poster from 1909 advertised Jupiter, the Balloon Horse. Estimated at $3,000-$6,000, the poster attained $26,000 plus the buyer’s premium in February 2023. Image courtesy of Freedom Auction Company and LiveAuctioneers.

Holding one of the highest prices on the LiveAuctioneers platform for the category is a Barnum & Bailey circus poster from 1909 that sports two images of Jupiter, the Balloon Horse, being held aloft by a large hot air balloon. Estimated at $3,000-$6,000, the poster attained $26,000 plus the buyer’s premium in February 2023 at Freedom Auction Company. Strobridge Litho Company, based in Cincinnati, Ohio, printed many choice circus posters, including this one.

Gabe Fajuri, co-founder of Potter & Potter Auctions in Chicago, said that while circus material is still prized, tastes have changed. “There has been an upswing in interest in sideshow and oddities, and perhaps a slight downswing in interest in more traditional circus material, like posters of equestrian acts and clowns,” he said. “That being said, the market for the rare or the scarce, in any category, remains vibrant.”

This circa-1910s poster for Barnum & Bailey’s ‘Greatest Show On Earth’ circus made $3,800 plus the buyer’s premium in April 2024. Image courtesy of Dan Morphy Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.
This circa-1910s poster for Barnum & Bailey’s ‘Greatest Show On Earth’ circus made $3,800 plus the buyer’s premium in April 2024. Image courtesy of Dan Morphy Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.

Circus posters fit into two broad varieties: those highlighting a specific performer or act, and those with group scenes, intended to convey the overwhelming magnitude of the circus and its offerings. The former is exemplified by an almost minimalist maquette, or piece of art on which a poster is based, for Ringling Bros Barnum & Bailey Combined Circus. Dating between the 1910s and 1930s, it draws its power from its bright colors and a single head of a roaring lion, positioned within the letter ‘C’.

Detail of a maquette, or original poster art, for a Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Combined Circus poster, rendered between the 1910s and the 1930s. Ink and pencil marginal notes state this gouache on paper mounted on poster board was the basis for 16-sheet, nine-sheet, one-sheet, and one-half-sheet posters. The artwork earned $950 plus the buyer’s premium in July 2023. Image courtesy of Potter & Potter Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.
Detail of a maquette, or original poster art, for a Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Combined Circus poster, rendered between the 1910s and the 1930s. Ink and pencil marginal notes state this gouache on paper mounted on poster board was the basis for 16-sheet, nine-sheet, one-sheet, and one-half-sheet posters. The artwork earned $950 plus the buyer’s premium in July 2023. Image courtesy of Potter & Potter Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.

This artwork was a workhorse, according to its ink and pencil marginal notes that state it was transformed into 16-sheet, nine-sheet, one-sheet, and one-half-sheet size versions of circus posters. The maquette earned $950 plus the buyer’s premium in July 2023 at Potter & Potter Auctions.

Reflecting the more-is-more philosophy of the second type of poster design was a circa-1910s image for Barnum & Bailey’s Greatest Show On Earth circus that is crowded with acrobats, equestrian acts, clowns, dancers, and bears. It made $3,800 plus the buyer’s premium in April 2024 at Dan Morphy Auctions.

Giving off Art Nouveau vibes is this 1903 poster that showcased ‘The Spectacle of the Balkis’, which made $10,000 plus the buyer’s premium in March 2023. Image courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries and LiveAuctioneers.
Giving off Art Nouveau vibes is this 1903 poster that showcased ‘The Spectacle of the Balkis’, which made $10,000 plus the buyer’s premium in March 2023. Image courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries and LiveAuctioneers.

An example of a poster that placed human performers in the foreground appeared in March 2023 at Swann Auction Galleries. Titled The Spectacle of the Balkis, it is fairly tame by circus poster standards, and is not action-packed or even all that eye-catching. The Art Nouveau-era image, printed in 1903, features several dozen young women dancing against a backdrop made to look like ancient Rome or Greece. Nonetheless, it sold well above its conservative $700-$1,000 estimate to earn $10,000 plus the buyer’s premium.

Besides its animal acts, another controversial aspect of circuses of the past were sideshows. So called because its tents were literally to one side of the main circus tent, or Big Top, sideshow headliners were performers with unmissably different physical appearances, such as conjoined twins, people who lacked limbs or had too many, and others born with unusual impairments. While the practice is considered repugnant today, circuses such as Barnum & Bailey hired these people to serve as objects of entertainment. Though some learned magic tricks, songs, dances, and other skills that qualified them as genuine performers, they were there first and foremost for patrons to gawk at.

This French 1880-1890s circus poster for Barnum & Bailey starred one of its most famous sideshow performers, Jo-Jo, The Dog Faced Boy. It earned $4,800 plus the buyer’s premium in July 2023. Image courtesy of Potter & Potter Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.
This French 1880-1890s circus poster for Barnum & Bailey starred one of its most famous sideshow performers, Jo-Jo, The Dog-Faced Boy. It earned $4,800 plus the buyer’s premium in July 2023. Image courtesy of Potter & Potter Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.

One of RBB&B’s most famous sideshow acts was the multilingual Russian performer Fedor Jeftichew (1868-1904), who had a medical condition, hypertrichosis, which caused him to sprout hair all over his body. He was best known by his stage name, Jo-Jo, the Dog-Faced Boy. A French poster featuring a bust portrait of Jeftichew, printed in the 1880s or 1890s in Paris and the only one of its kind Fajuri has seen, took $4,800 plus the buyer’s premium in July 2023 at Potter & Potter Auctions.

Acrobats have long been a favorite of circus audiences. The Flying Wallendas are likely the best-known acrobats, and members of the current generation of Wallendas have kept up the family tradition. A circa-1929 Ringling Bros Barnum & Bailey poster portraying seven Flying Wallendas on adjacent high wires sold for $700 plus the buyer’s premium in August 2023 at Freedom Auction Company.

A circa-1929 Ringling Bros Barnum & Bailey poster showcasing the Flying Wallendas family of acrobats brought $700 plus the buyer’s premium in August 2023. Image courtesy of Freedom Auction Company and LiveAuctioneers.
A circa-1929 Ringling Bros Barnum & Bailey poster showcasing the Flying Wallendas family of acrobats brought $700 plus the buyer’s premium in August 2023. Image courtesy of Freedom Auction Company and LiveAuctioneers.

Back in the early 1900s, one of the most famous acrobat-gymnasts was Lillian Leitzel (1892-1931). A 1920 poster titled Dainty Miss Leitzel, printed after Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey had merged, was devoted to her charms. The close-up portrait depicts her sitting coy and pretty, dressed in a tutu-like skirt and looking directly at the viewer. A fan rests near her feet, which are shod in black slippers.

Her story is a reminder that the circus poses real dangers to its stars. Leitzel died at age 39 when her equipment failed during a live performance, causing her to fall; she succumbed to her injuries two days later. An example of the Dainty Miss Leitzel poster brought $5,750 plus the buyer’s premium at Freedom Auction Company in February 2023.

Shortly after Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey merged, a ‘Dainty Miss Leitzel’ poster of acrobat Lillian Leitzel, declaring her the World’s Most Marvelous Lady Gymnast, was printed in 1920. This example brought $5,750 plus the buyer’s premium in February 2023. Image courtesy of Freedom Auction Company and LiveAuctioneers.
Shortly after Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey merged, a ‘Dainty Miss Leitzel’ poster of acrobat Lillian Leitzel, declaring her the World’s Most Marvelous Lady Gymnast, was printed in 1920. This example brought $5,750 plus the buyer’s premium in February 2023. Image courtesy of Freedom Auction Company and LiveAuctioneers.

In general, circus poster collectors care most about what act is advertised, how spectacular the image is, which company printed the poster, and what condition the poster is in. “There are many different factors that contribute to the desirability of a circus poster,” Fajuri said. “As with any collecting category, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” Some may be drawn to posters printed during their childhood, or those that name a specific performance venue.

Barnum & Bailey performed extensively in Europe, which means that its posters also appear in foreign-language versions. Commanding interest at auction was a French Barnum & Bailey Greatest Show on Earth poster, depicting its equestrian acts and subtitled Actes Equestres Merveilleux Executes Par Le Plus Grand Ecuyers Vivants (Marvelous Equestrian Deeds Performed by the Greatest Equestrian Living).

A French ‘Barnum & Bailey Greatest Show on Earth’ poster, featuring its equestrian acts, went out at $4,400 plus the buyer’s premium in February 2023. Image courtesy of Potter & Potter Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.
A French ‘Barnum & Bailey Greatest Show on Earth’ poster, featuring its equestrian acts, went out at $4,400 plus the buyer’s premium in February 2023. Image courtesy of Potter & Potter Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.

Its provenance made it even more valuable, as it came out of the collection of the magician-scholar Ricky Jay (1946-2018). The poster made $4,400 plus the buyer’s premium in February 2023 at Potter & Potter Auctions.

Fajuri said Barnum & Bailey circus posters that predate 1920, including both stone lithographs and broadsides, are the most sought-after, adding: “The bold colors, the action, and the nostalgic nature of these posters capture the attention of collectors just as they captured the eyes and minds of circus patrons in years gone by.”

Paul Stankard elevates the humble glass paperweight to poetry

This highly detailed botanical glass orb by Paul Stankard, featuring flowers, blueberries, a honeybee, and insects, realized $5,000 plus the buyer’s premium in December 2021. Image courtesy of Akiba Galleries and LiveAuctioneers.

NEW YORK – Paul Stankard’s (b. 1943-) path into studio glass was unusual in that he originally trained to make laboratory glass. He worked as a scientific glassblower for nine years before embracing his artistic passions.

Inspired by the stylized French Clichy paperweights made from the 1840 to the 1860s, but wanting to distinguish himself, he began creating glass paperweights in the mid-1960s. He incorporated elaborately crafted glass canes replicating native flowers, which were immediately lauded for being botanically correct.

An undated Paul Stankard glass botanical orb paperweight, dubbed ‘Fertile’, went out at $4,250 plus the buyer’s premium in July 2023. Image courtesy of Mark Lawson Antiques, Inc. and LiveAuctioneers.
An undated Paul Stankard glass botanical orb paperweight, dubbed ‘Fertile’, went out at $4,250 plus the buyer’s premium in July 2023. Image courtesy of Mark Lawson Antiques, Inc. and LiveAuctioneers.

He grew up in Massachusetts and later moved to New Jersey, and wherever he lived, he enjoyed walking in the woods. What he saw on those walks ultimately informed his designs in glass.

“I was trying to interpret the botanical characteristics of native flowers, and when I started to experiment with the floral paperweights, I reconnected with my childhood interest in flowers,” Stankard told Auction Central News in a phone interview.

This 1999 Paul Stankard piece, titled ‘Assemblage A5,’ made $16,000 plus the buyer’s premium in January 2020. Image courtesy of Rago Arts and Auction Center and LiveAuctioneers.
This 1999 Paul Stankard piece, titled ‘Assemblage A5,’ made $16,000 plus the buyer’s premium in January 2020. Image courtesy of Rago Arts and Auction Center and LiveAuctioneers.

As time passed, his work evolved into cube-like glass assemblages that Stankard called his botanical series, which featured individual glass flowers that floated as if they were in mid-air. Such was his skill that very few bubbles or lines of separation could be seen between his glass flowers and the clear glass surrounding each.

By the early 2000s, Stankard was exclusively creating large and intricate glass orbs with botanical designs that provided a 360 degree-view with uniform magnification. These orbs were entire microcosms, showcasing glass flowers along with root systems, insects, and hidden elements such as words and humanoid forms.

This 1997 rectangular botanical glass paperweight by Paul Stankard, titled ‘Botanical and Earth Spirit Weight,’ holds the top price for the artist on the LiveAuctioneers platform. It sold for $19,000 plus the buyer’s premium in January 2022. Image courtesy of Habatat Galleries and LiveAuctioneers.
This 1997 rectangular botanical glass paperweight by Paul Stankard, titled ‘Botanical and Earth Spirit Weight,’ holds the top price for the artist on the LiveAuctioneers platform. It sold for $19,000 plus the buyer’s premium in January 2022. Image courtesy of Habatat Galleries and LiveAuctioneers.

A fine example of his late 1990s rectangular paperweights is Botanical and Earth Spirit Weight, a 1997 creation that set a LiveAuctioneers platform record for the artist when it sold for $19,000 plus the buyer’s premium in January 2022 at Habatat Galleries. Not surprisingly, it was chosen for display in the Floating World exhibition at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York in 2004.

Audiences often require a magnifier to read the tiny words and spot the hidden figures in a Stankard. The artist said that focusing on delicacy and details helped his designs become believable and realistic, generating demand for his work. He sometimes spends weeks on a single large-scale piece, and at the age of 81, he is still completing about one orb per week.

Lurking within Paul Stankard’s 2002 ‘Damselfly and Bouquet Paperweight’ are a cluster of root people as well as his signature. The piece brought $5,500 plus the buyer’s premium in September 2022. Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.
Lurking within Paul Stankard’s 2002 ‘Damselfly and Bouquet Paperweight’ are a cluster of root people as well as his signature. The piece brought $5,500 plus the buyer’s premium in September 2022. Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.

While his larger cube assemblages are about eight inches tall, some are smaller. Earth Spirit and Insect Botanical Paperweight, dating to 2000, stands just under five inches tall and has a cobalt blue base. It earned $10,500 plus the buyer’s premium in September 2021 at Habitat Galleries.

Unlike most of his pieces featuring only clear glass, Paul Stankard’s ‘Earth Spirit and Insect Botanical Paperweight’ has a cobalt blue base. Standing just under five inches tall, it surpassed its $6,500-$7,500 estimate to take $10,500 plus the buyer’s premium in September 2021. Image courtesy of Habatat Galleries and LiveAuctioneers.
Unlike most of his pieces, which feature only clear glass, Paul Stankard’s ‘Earth Spirit and Insect Botanical Paperweight’ has a cobalt blue base. Standing just under five inches tall, it surpassed its $6,500-$7,500 estimate to take $10,500 plus the buyer’s premium in September 2021. Image courtesy of Habatat Galleries and LiveAuctioneers.

“My creative journey has always been very personal and intimate in the way I processed the techniques,” Stankard said. “I used to wonder if people saw the progress of my work, and lo and behold, they have.”

In the auction market, Stankards perform robustly, and the more intricate a piece is, the more it will bring. “The market is definitely strong, based upon the elaborateness of each work,” said Aaron Schey, vice-president of Habatat Galleries in Royal Oak, Michigan of the appetite for Stankard pieces.

He added, “Paul Stankard is a living legend known for his originality. He considers himself a poet, and his creativity is expressed through his artwork. He is able to create glass bees that look 100% real, and he is able to recreate any flower or botanical on the planet in his own vision and style.”

Among the many talents Paul Stankard possesses is an ability to create highly realistic bees in his glass art. One appears in an orb that realized $5,000 plus the buyer’s premium in December 2021. Image courtesy of Akiba Galleries and LiveAuctioneers.
Among the many talents Paul Stankard possesses is an ability to create highly realistic bees in his glass art. One appears in an orb that realized $5,000 plus the buyer’s premium in December 2021. Image courtesy of Akiba Galleries and LiveAuctioneers.

Alexander Anapolsky, co-owner of Akiba Galleries in Dania Beach, Florida, notes that Stankard uses lampworking and millefiori techniques to create lifelike depictions of flowers and insects.

“His attention to details is what separates him from the rest,” he said. “We’ve seen an increase in the demand for his paperweights. His pieces do not come up for auction often. They appeal not only to the high-end glass collectors, but also to new, young collectors. Given how colorful and intricate the work is, it fits into almost any home.”

The word ‘seeds’ appears upside down in the top left region of this highly detailed botanical glass orb by Paul Stankard, which realized $5,000 plus the buyer’s premium in December 2021. Image courtesy of Akiba Galleries and LiveAuctioneers.
The word ‘seeds’ appears upside down in the top left region of this highly detailed botanical glass orb by Paul Stankard, which realized $5,000 plus the buyer’s premium in December 2021. Image courtesy of Akiba Galleries and LiveAuctioneers.

Akiba Galleries has seen several of Stankard’s complex botanical glass orbs achieve strong sums, including one featuring flowers, blueberries, a honeybee, and insects, which realized $5,000 plus the buyer’s premium in December 2021. Eagle-eyed viewers will notice Stankard’s lampworked signature inside this piece, and words such as ‘seeds’, which is written on a glass branch.

An equally intricate orb is Damselfly and Bouquet Paperweight from 2002, featuring a pink morning glory, blueberries, orange and yellow flowers, and foliage. It made $5,500 plus the buyer’s premium at Heritage Auctions in September 2022.

Intricate designs such as Paul Stankard’s ‘Damselfly and Bouquet Paperweight’ from 2002 come in enough color variety to suit virtually any collector. It sold for $5,500 plus the buyer’s premium in September 2022. Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.
Intricate designs such as Paul Stankard’s ‘Damselfly and Bouquet Paperweight’ from 2002 come in enough color variety to suit virtually any collector. It sold for $5,500 plus the buyer’s premium in September 2022. Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.

On occasion, Stankard has worked with other artists, such as fellow New Jersey glassmaker Barry R. Sautner (1952-2009). One lavishly decorated paperweight they co-created in 1987 featured exterior engraving by Sautner of a branching tree that begins in one corner and spreads out around the cube.

Inside, Stankard’s lush botanical interpretations are showcased in pink and white flowers amid purple berries, foliage, and roots, complete with a pair of root spirits. The piece, estimated at $4,000-$6,000, sold for $10,000 plus the buyer’s premium in October 2021 at Jeffrey S. Evans & Associates.

An engraved and lampworked glass paperweight jointly made by Paul Stankard and Barry Sautner in 1987 secured $10,000 plus the buyer’s premium in October 2021. Image courtesy of Jeffrey S. Evans & Associates and LiveAuctioneers.
An engraved and lampworked glass paperweight jointly made by Paul Stankard and Barry Sautner in 1987 secured $10,000 plus the buyer’s premium in October 2021. Image courtesy of Jeffrey S. Evans & Associates and LiveAuctioneers.

Collectors hang onto their Stankards and even request custom works, as did Annie and Michael Belkin, who once owned more than 300 of his pieces. They donated about 60 to the Akron Art Museum in Ohio in 2015, and consigned a handful of others to auction. Annie’s Flower Garden Paperweight, dating to 2017, brought $8,250 plus the buyer’s premium in January 2022 at Habatat Galleries.

Paul Stankard made this yellow and purple-dominated orb on commission for longtime collectors Annie and Michael Belkin in 2017. ‘Annie’s Flower Garden Paperweight’ sold for $8,250 plus the buyer’s premium in January 2022. Image courtesy of Habatat Galleries and LiveAuctioneers
Paul Stankard made this yellow and purple-dominated orb on commission for longtime collectors Annie and Michael Belkin in 2017. ‘Annie’s Flower Garden Paperweight’ sold for $8,250 plus the buyer’s premium in January 2022. Image courtesy of Habatat Galleries and LiveAuctioneers.

“Everybody has their own thoughts on what they like,” Schey said. “It’s the eye of the beholder, but you really can’t go wrong with any one of Paul’s works. People mostly look for the [glass] bees. They want to see the bees in the work itself, and that detail brings a whole other level to each individual piece.”

For decades, Stankard’s glassworks have transcended their original intended function to become art objects that continue to delight fans. Anapolsky said, “His paperweights and glass pieces are more than just exquisite works of art, they are windows into a world where botanical beauty meets masterful craftsmanship.”

Viewed head-on, this 1999 Paul Stankard glass assemblage showcases his talent for making glass blooms look as if they are floating in mid-air. Viewed at an angle, it seemingly transforms into a different artwork. Titled ‘Assemblage A5’, it made $16,000 plus the buyer’s premium in January 2020. Image courtesy of Rago Arts and Auction Center and LiveAuctioneers.
Viewed head-on, this 1999 Paul Stankard glass assemblage showcases his talent for making glass blooms look as if they are floating in mid-air. Viewed at an angle, it seemingly transforms into a different artwork. Titled ‘Assemblage A5’, it made $16,000 plus the buyer’s premium in January 2020. Image courtesy of Rago Arts and Auction Center and LiveAuctioneers.

He added, “Stankard’s intricate designs and innovative techniques have not only elevated the humble paperweight, but also redefined the boundaries of botanical art within the realm of studio glass. His legacy as a pioneer in the field continues to inspire generations of artists and collectors, leaving an unbelievable mark on the intersection of art, nature, and glass.”

Stankard is a favorite of both the museum and auction worlds, with his creations extensively represented in private and public collections. “I think of my work as inventing illusions, and it’s important for me to have the illusions appear credible,” he said.

“There’s a certain poetry to my work that people pick up on. It’s been a fascinating journey,” he said. “People ask me if I’m going to retire, and I say I hope not, not right now. I am very much in the game.”

Donald Roller Wilson monkeys with fine art traditions to great effect

Donald Roller Wilson’s paintings starring Cookie the orangutan regularly beat their estimates. This 2005 work, titled ‘Cookie!’, surpassed its $8,000-$12,000 estimate to achieve $28,000 plus the buyer’s premium in March 2023. Image courtesy of Palm Beach Modern Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.

NEW YORK – The fine art world tends to take itself seriously, perhaps too seriously. Donald Roller Wilson’s (b. 1938-) Old Master-style paintings of orangutans, chimpanzees, dogs, and cats, showing them in finery befitting royalty and engaged in human activities, invites viewers to reconsider and even poke fun at the seriousness of art.

“Donald Roller Wilson is known for his highly detailed, surrealist paintings of animals dressed in Victorian or other period clothes, engaging in all sorts of strange and hilarious activities. Some people might consider the subject matter kitschy, but that’s not a bad thing,” said Holly Sherratt, director of Modern and Contemporary art at Heritage Auctions, based in Dallas, Texas. “This blend of highbrow style and lowbrow subject makes the work appealing.”

Donald Roller Wilson’s 1980 painting of one of his favorite subjects, Cookie the orangutan, titled ‘It Had Been a Matter of No Sequence Which Found Cookie Being Held by Her Own Self, Serving as Her Own Mother,’ attained $55,000 plus the buyer’s premium in May 2018. Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.
Donald Roller Wilson’s 1980 painting of one of his favorite subjects, Cookie the orangutan, titled ‘It Had Been a Matter of No Sequence Which Found Cookie Being Held by Her Own Self, Serving as Her Own Mother,’ attained $55,000 plus the buyer’s premium in May 2018. Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.

Born in Houston, Texas, Wilson spent nearly 10 years as a university professor in Arkansas before dedicating himself to painting full time in the 1970s. His body of work showcases a cast of fictional characters that include Cookie the orangutan and Betty the chimpanzee.

Wilson’s paintings are chuckle-inducing at first glance, but also somewhat disquieting. In large works such as It Had Been a Matter of No Sequence Which Found Cookie Being Held by Her Own Self, Serving as Her Own Mother, which sold for $55,000 plus the buyer’s premium at Heritage Auctions in May 2018, he encourages the audience to ponder his artistic choices more deeply.

“The painting features the artist’s most beloved character, Cookie, depicted as both mother and child. Mother Cookie is portrayed as a queen, adorned in elaborate regalia,” Sherratt said. “The title of the piece invites psychological analysis, prompting questions such as why Cookie is depicted being held by herself.”

Exploring a dichotomy of good and bad behavior, this diptych by Donald Roller Wilson, ‘The Point of It’ and ‘The Butt of It’, brought $32,000 plus the buyer’s premium in November 2019. Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.
Exploring a dichotomy of good and bad behavior, this diptych by Donald Roller Wilson, ‘The Point of It’ and ‘The Butt of It’, brought $32,000 plus the buyer’s premium in November 2019. Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.

Wilson is an extremely skilled painter. He employs traditional painting techniques, but in the service of depicting subjects that are childlike and relatable. “Even if you think he’s silly, you must admit he’s incredibly talented. There’s also a dark side to his work. You might be drawn to the cute little chimp, but then discover that he’s half nude or engaged in some ‘naughty’ activity,” Sherratt explained.

“The characters attract us and then the narratives repel us,” she continued. “I hear clients exclaim, ‘That’s the cutest thing I’ve ever seen’, before they realize it’s something phallic. Viewers’ reactions can be as humorous as the art.”

Donald Roller Wilson’s untitled 1995 painting of Cookie the orangutan wearing a red dress made $32,000 plus the buyer’s premium in November 2019. Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.
Donald Roller Wilson’s untitled 1995 painting of Cookie the orangutan wearing a red dress made $32,000 plus the buyer’s premium in November 2019. Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.

While Wilson has painted a variety of animal subjects, including dogs and cats, his paintings of apes reign on the auction market. An untitled 1995 painting of Cookie wearing a red dress with a ruffled Victorian-style collar and an elaborate flower headdress made $32,000 plus the buyer’s premium in November 2019 at Heritage Auctions.

“The lace collar and floral crown evoke the Dutch Golden Age, reminiscent of styles you might see in a Rembrandt painting, who famously experimented with lighting and texture. It’s funny to draw such grand comparisons when, in fact, we’re looking at a primate adorned in this fashion,” Sherratt said.

She added, “We have a strong audience for Wilson’s work, and his prices have remained steady. Many paintings we’ve offered have exceeded the estimates, and some have even doubled the estimates.”

Donald Roller Wilson’s monkeys may bring the highest sums at auction, but collectors pounce on his cat-centric paintings such as ‘Judy ... Thinking’. This 1990 work secured $11,000 plus the buyer’s premium in September 2023. Image courtesy of Freeman’s Hindman and LiveAuctioneers.
Donald Roller Wilson’s monkeys may bring the highest sums at auction, but collectors pounce on his cat-centric paintings such as ‘Judy ... Thinking’. This 1990 work secured $11,000 plus the buyer’s premium in September 2023. Image courtesy of Freeman’s Hindman and LiveAuctioneers.

Wilson’s art is immediately recognizable, and he further distinguishes his works by giving them lengthy descriptive titles that are akin to short stories. The titles often appear in abbreviated form because they are too long for most auction catalog listing templates. This is true for Judy … Thinking,  the full title for which is actually Judy … Thinking (Knowing She Could Make Money Just by Seeing Something in Her Mind) … (Thinking She Could Get as Big a Tuna as She Wanted … or Maybe a Large Quantity of Cream … Just by Seeing It in Her Mind). The 1990 oil on panel of a cat in a yellow dress, her head ringed by wispy white dollar signs, brought $11,000 plus the buyer’s premium in September 2023 at Freeman’s Hindman.

Perhaps owing to the meticulous nature of Wilson’s paintings, fewer than 350 have crossed the block in LiveAuctioneers-hosted auctions. Buyers also seem keen to hang onto them, further stoking demand.

“Donald Roller Wilson’s production rate must be slower compared to artists who use quicker, looser styles, and the current owners likely form strong attachments to these works, making them reluctant to sell,” Sherratt said. “These paintings connect deeply with people, making the characters feel almost like friends. If you contact Wilson for details about his paintings, he won’t just provide titles and dates. Instead, he might discuss the characters as if they were family members or friends, even sharing quirky details like what Betty had for breakfast on a particular day.”

Detail of Donald Roller Wilson’s ‘Cookie!’, which is also shown in its elaborate frame. It beat its $8,000-$12,000 estimate to achieve $28,000 plus the buyer’s premium in March 2023. Image courtesy of Palm Beach Modern Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.
Detail of Donald Roller Wilson’s ‘Cookie!’, which is also shown in its elaborate frame. It beat its $8,000-$12,000 estimate to achieve $28,000 plus the buyer’s premium in March 2023. Image courtesy of Palm Beach Modern Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.

Wilson works featuring Cookie the orangutan are prized by collectors and typically sell far above their estimates. An endearing painting of a wide-eyed Cookie, wearing a green dress and a massive headpiece made up of flowers and even a bird, outperformed its $8,000-$12,000 estimate to sell for $28,000 plus the buyer’s premium in March 2023 at Palm Beach Modern Auctions.

In what may be a parody of, or homage to, the traditional still life format, Wilson painted an unusual triangular oil canvas in 6:33 PM NOV. 4th, SATURDAY  NIGHT. The 1978 painting, featuring a simian subject with an open-mouthed smile and wearing an elegant purple dress and a headpiece fashioned from fruit and vegetables, earned $29,000 plus the buyer’s premium in August 2021 at Lewis & Maese Antiques & Auction.

Donald Roller Wilson’s triangular 1978 oil on canvas ‘6:33 PM NOV. 4th, SATURDAY NIGHT’, featuring an ape in an elegant purple dress, went out at $29,000 plus the buyer’s premium in August 2021. Image courtesy of Lewis & Maese Antiques & Auction and LiveAuctioneers.
Donald Roller Wilson’s triangular 1978 oil on canvas ‘6:33 PM NOV. 4th, SATURDAY NIGHT’, featuring an ape in an elegant purple dress, went out at $29,000 plus the buyer’s premium in August 2021. Image courtesy of Lewis & Maese Antiques & Auction and LiveAuctioneers.

Wilson’s paintings frequently reference Old Masters and sometimes religion. A 1990 diptych, The Point of It and And the Butt of It, features Beverly the chimpanzee being both naughty and good, holding either a phallic- or missile-shaped object in her hands. Interestingly, she has a bright-while halo of light around her head in both scenes. The diptych brought $32,000 plus the buyer’s premium in November 2019 at Heritage Auctions. 

“Donald Roller Wilson crafts detailed paintings that blur the conventional boundaries between seriousness and playfulness,” Sherratt said. “His animal characters are so enchanting, you might start flipping through an auction catalog and end up impulsively adopting a naughty chimpanzee.”

Neil Welliver’s landscapes capture the fleeting magic of nature

‘Fall Brook,’ a 1996 painting by Neil Welliver, brought $20,000 plus the buyer’s premium in November 2021. Image courtesy of Thomaston Place Auction Galleries and LiveAuctioneers.

NEW YORK – In the 1950 and 1960s, when artist Neil Welliver’s career was starting to take off, Abstract Expressionism and Color Field paintings were celebrated, and the bright colors and textures of Mid-century Modern furniture were all the rage. Welliver (1929-2005) and his representational landscapes was something of a throwback.

He moved to Maine in 1962 and soon began painting large-scale works that paid homage to the tranquil vistas of the state he called home. Focused on depicting the essence of the atmosphere and the quality of light he found there, Welliver once said he wished he had a tube of air to truly capture what he saw.

New Dams in Meadow, a 1984 woodblock print of an autumnal scene by Neil Welliver, brought $2,000 plus the buyer’s premium in August 2021. Image courtesy of Barridoff Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.
New Dams in Meadow, a 1984 woodblock print of an autumnal scene by Neil Welliver, brought $2,000 plus the buyer’s premium in August 2021. Image courtesy of Barridoff Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.

Instead, he found a way to recreate the look of air in his colors. His paintings of dappled white birches, sparkling streams, snowy fields, and dark evergreens are prized by art collectors who recognize the reverence that Welliver had for nature.

Demand for his works has been on the rise. Georgina C. Winthrop, president of Grogan & Company Fine Art and Jewelry Auctioneers in Boston, noted that buyers have been very responsive. “The auction market for Welliver’s paintings is robust, with many of his paintings selling far above their presale estimates in recent years,” she said. “His three highest prices at auction have been achieved in the past year [2023], and his top six auction results have all occurred since 2020.”

The top result for the artist on the LiveAuctioneers platform belongs to a 1974 painting sold in September 2020 at Freeman’s Hindman. Detailing a majestic view, From Zeke references a well-known back trail near where Welliver lived in Lincolnville, Maine. Measuring 72 by 96in, the painting brought $65,000 plus the buyer’s premium.

Zeke’s Trail is a back road near where Neil Welliver lived in Lincolnville, Maine. This 1974 painting of his, ‘From Zeke,’ portrays the stunning views that captivated the artist. This painting attained $65,000 plus the buyer’s premium in September 2020. Image courtesy of Freeman’s Hindman and LiveAuctioneers.
Zeke’s Trail is a back road near where Neil Welliver lived in Lincolnville, Maine. This 1974 painting of his, ‘From Zeke', portrays the stunning views that captivated the artist. ‘From Zeke' attained $65,000 plus the buyer’s premium in September 2020. Image courtesy of Freeman’s Hindman and LiveAuctioneers.

Welliver painted in all seasons, and his body of work shows enough diversity to offer something for all appetites. “Some collectors gravitate toward Welliver’s winter scenes, while others covet his springtime woodland views,” Winthrop said. “Regardless of the subject matter, buyers are drawn to Welliver’s use of pattern and color to build up rich landscapes with pockets of light and dark. His large-scale square format works, which are anywhere from 5 to 10 feet, are the most desirable, and command the highest prices at auction. His smaller works, which are about 12 inches and are often studies for his monumental compositions, are also popular, and certainly require less wall space than the full-sized examples.”

An untitled 1974 oil on canvas winter landscape by Neil Welliver realized $18,000 plus the buyer’s premium in August 2023. Image courtesy of Barridoff Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.
An untitled 1974 oil on canvas winter landscape by Neil Welliver realized $18,000 plus the buyer’s premium in August 2023. Image courtesy of Barridoff Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.

A standout among his small-format winter landscapes is an untitled oil on canvas picturing dark swaths of trees intersecting the white expanses of a snowy field and a frozen river while fluffy clouds dot a blue sky. This 1974 painting, measuring only 12 ⅛ by 12 ⅛in, realized $18,000 plus the buyer’s premium in August 2023 at Barridoff Auctions.

Another fine diminutive Welliver winter landscape was a framed 12-by-14in oil on canvas titled Pitcher Pond, which sold for $9,500 plus the buyer’s premium in November 2019 at Grogan & Company.

A framed 12-by-14in oil on canvas by Neil Welliver, ‘Pitcher Pond,’ took $9,500 plus the buyer’s premium in November 2019. Image courtesy of Grogan & Company and LiveAuctioneers.
A framed 12-by-14in oil on canvas by Neil Welliver, ‘Pitcher Pond', took $9,500 plus the buyer’s premium in November 2019. Image courtesy of Grogan & Company and LiveAuctioneers.

“This jewel-box of a painting had the hallmark color palette of Welliver’s winter scenes, and the reserved composition evoked the feeling of a brisk, icy day on the coast of Maine,” Winthrop said.

Welliver suffered more than his share of personal tragedy. A fire destroyed his studio and farmhouse in 1975, his infant daughter died of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) the following year, and his second wife, Polly, succumbed to a strep infection soon after. In 1991, his son Eli was murdered while traveling in Thailand, and another son, Silas, died from muscular dystrophy in 2002.

Throughout it all, Welliver’s forays into nature helped keep him grounded. He succeeded in creating scenes of unspoiled wilderness that resonate with audiences by showing that nature continues on, regardless.

A 1994 painting by Neil Welliver, ‘Shaled Trees, Alagash,’ made $60,000 plus the buyer’s premium in January 2021. Image courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries and LiveAuctioneers.
A 1994 painting by Neil Welliver, ‘Shaled Trees, Alagash', made $60,000 plus the buyer’s premium in January 2021. Image courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries and LiveAuctioneers.

Patterns are common to his approach, as seen in a stand of feathery trees in the foreground of the 1994 painting Shaled Trees, Alagash, which made $60,000 plus the buyer’s premium in January 2021 at Swann Auction Galleries.

“I think collectors of Welliver’s work are drawn to his balanced yet abstracted depictions of the natural world,” Winthrop said. “He uses intricate patterns of color to build his scene, rendering reflections, shadows, and landscape reliefs with shapes that are simultaneously precise and soft.”

Another view of ‘Fall Brook,’ a 1996 painting by Neil Welliver that brought $20,000 plus the buyer’s premium in November 2021. Image courtesy of Thomaston Place Auction Galleries and LiveAuctioneers.
Another view of ‘Fall Brook', a 1996 painting by Neil Welliver that brought $20,000 plus the buyer’s premium in November 2021. Image courtesy of Thomaston Place Auction Galleries and LiveAuctioneers.

Streams and trees were a common subject matter for Welliver, but no two paintings of his are alike. Instead of a calm, clear babbling brook, viewers are treated to a churning brown spectacle in Fall Brook, showing one of the many facets of the jewel that is nature. The stream also serves as a guiding line to direct the eye deeper into the painting, a technique employed by many painters and photographers. This 1996 painting brought $20,000 plus the buyer’s premium in November 2021 at Thomaston Place Auction Galleries.

Neil Welliver’s 1973 screenprint in colors, ‘Si’s Hill,’ was estimated at $1,500-$2,500 and went on to secure $8,000 plus the buyer’s premium in October 2023. Image courtesy of Grogan & Company and LiveAuctioneers.
Neil Welliver’s 1973 screenprint in colors, ‘Si’s Hill', was estimated at $1,500-$2,500 and went on to secure $8,000 plus the buyer’s premium in October 2023. Image courtesy of Grogan & Company and LiveAuctioneers.

Welliver’s screenprints in colors can be a good entry point for new collectors, as they are not priced at the same level of his oil paintings. Bearing stylistic similarities to fellow Contemporary Realism artist Alex Katz is Welliver’s 1973 silkscreen Si’s Hill, which measured 36in square and made $8,000 plus the buyer’s premium in October 2023 at Grogan & Company.

“This large-format silkscreen was from a series of six we sold from the collection of noted Boston gallerist Portia Harcus. All six works were in beautiful condition, with strong colors and the dappled light so typical of Welliver’s work. Bidders competed aggressively to go home with one of the prints,” Winthrop said.

Neil Welliver’s close-up examination of a tree trunk, rendered in oil on canvas, earned $4,250 plus the buyer’s premium in October 2019. Image courtesy of Elder’s Antiques and LiveAuctioneers.
Neil Welliver’s close-up examination of a tree trunk, rendered in oil on canvas, earned $4,250 plus the buyer’s premium in October 2019. Image courtesy of Elder’s Antiques and LiveAuctioneers.

Welliver alternated between painting sweeping nature views and going in tight, as seen in his study of a tree trunk that sold within estimate for $4,250 plus the buyer’s premium in October 2019 at Elder’s Antiques. His eye for views and snapshot moments that best capture nature’s glory makes his art highly collectible.

“Welliver’s works represent an appealing balance between realism and abstraction,” Winthrop said. “The viewer can recognize the subject that Welliver has depicted, while at the same time lose herself in the complex patterns and colorwork of the composition.”