Review and Onsite Photos by Rick Russack, Additional Photos Courtesy Skinner Inc.
MARLBOROUGH, MASS. – Skinner’s Modern and post-Modern timed sale ended on December 22, and the 400 lots grossed $585,000, 93 percent sold. It included furniture by George Nakashima, George Nelson for Herman Miller, Eero Saarinen for Knoll Associates, Frank Gehry and several other makers. There were several lots of glass, including works by Dale Chihuly, Mary Ann “Toots” Zynsky and Martin Rosol, and there was a large selection of studio pottery, including works by Picasso, Lucie Rie, Maija Grotell and a single-owner collection of more than 30 lots by New Hampshire potter Gerry Williams. The lots that were expected to do well generally did, and the sale’s gross finished at about ten percent over the combined high estimate. The online catalog descriptions were thorough and detailed, and we’ve included excerpts where appropriate. About 40 lots in the sale came from the collection of Barney and Marilyn Berliner, and a portion of the proceeds from those lots will be donated to the Brookline (Mass.) Arts Center. The couple was among the founders of that institution.
The Nakashima furniture came from one collection in Williamsburg, Va., and had been purchased directly from the Nakashima workshop in New Hope, Penn., in the late 1950s and 1960s. Copies of original sales slips and correspondence between Nakashima and the client were available to purchasers. That correspondence included discussions of which wood the client wanted used and other details. Topping the selection, as well as the entire sale, a rare English burlwood coffee table more than 5 feet long realized $62,500. A set of four walnut grass seat chairs from 1959 brought $21,250, and a walnut and rosewood dining table, 6 feet long, finished at $10,625. There were also other Nakashima pieces.
The catalog tells us “George Nakashima (1905-1990) was an American woodworker, architect and furniture maker who was one of the leading innovators of Twentieth Century furniture design and a father of the American craft movement. Of Japanese descent, like others of Japanese ancestry, he was interned at a camp during World War II where he met Gentaro Hikogawa, a traditional Japanese carpenter who taught him to use traditional Japanese hand tools and joinery techniques. In 1943, with the help of a friend, he was released from the internment camp and opened a studio in New Hope. The studio grew incrementally until 1973 when Nelson Rockefeller commissioned 200 pieces for his house in Pocantico Hills, N.Y. Drawing on Japanese designs and shop practices, as well as on American and international modern styles, Nakashima created a body of work that would make his name synonymous with the best of Twentieth Century American art furniture.”
Other furniture included a thin-edge cabinet, model 5245, by George Nelson for Herman Miller, which reached $6,250. The rosewood cabinet was more than 55 inches long. From the catalog, “Nelson was an American industrial designer. While lead designer for the Herman Miller furniture company, Nelson and his design studio, George Nelson Associates, designed Twentieth Century Modernist furniture. Ray and Charles Eames, Harry Bertoia, Richard Schultz, Donald Knorr and Isamu Noguchi all worked for Herman Miller under Nelson’s supervision.” Two circa 1960 JH 501 Danish armchairs by Hans J. Wegner, for Johannes Hansen & Sons, popularly known as “The Chair” sold for $3,375. The nickname “The Chair” derives from the chairs having been used in the televised 1960 presidential debate between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon. Wegner is considered one of the most creative, innovative and prolific designers of the period. Often referred to as “the master of the chair,” he created almost 500 chairs in his lifetime.
Glass did well with three-pieces finishing within the top five lots of the sale. An unusual five-piece sea-form Persian art glass wall sculpture by Dale Chihuly tripled the estimate, finishing at $46,875. Dated as late Twentieth/early Twenty-First Century, with separate hand-blown pieces in yellow, green and blue, it included original wall mounting hardware. Another Chihuly work, an 18-inch-wide, seven-piece Persian art glass sculpture, signed “Washington 1999,” sold for $20,000. It was a bowl with hand-blown elements in cobalt and yellow with a red rim.
Finishing well above the estimate, at $18,750, was a Mary Ann “Toots” Zynsky filet-de-verre art glass vase done in the late Twentieth/early Twenty-First Century. The colorful vase was constructed of polychrome fused and thermo-formed glass threads on a blue ground and signed “Z” in applied glass. “Toots” Zynsky was born in 1951 and raised in Massachusetts. She received her BFA in 1973 at the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, where she studied with Dale Chihuly. Her works are in more than 70 museum collections.
The large selection of studio pottery in the sale was topped by a 1952 limited edition Pablo Picasso “Woman-faced Wood-owl” vase, which earned $13,750. It was numbered 255/300, with a painted mark “Edition Picasso Madoura.” In all, there were about 100 pieces of pottery. The results are discussed separately in an accompanying article.
After the sale, Dan Ayers, the department head, said it went well. “We came in at more than $585,000, about ten percent above our high estimates, and 93 percent of the lots were sold. The unsold lots will be added to our early Twentieth Century design and lighting sale with lower estimates. I’ve spoken with most of our consignors, and they’re satisfied with the results. In general, I think the furniture prices were up. We’re seeing more retail buyers and that helps us. I haven’t checked but the English burlwood Nakashima table might have set a record and it will be staying local, although a Dutch museum was interested. There was some softness with some of the Italian glass. I think that’s due to very good Chinese reproductions and that holds prices back.” The department’s next sale will be a timed sale ending January 31. It will include a large selection of Tiffany and other leaded lamps, art glass, studio pottery and furniture.
Prices given include the buyer’s premium as stated by the auction house. For information, www.skinnerinc.com or 508-970-3211.