RECORD! An Earnest-Gregory Dovetailed Goose Commands $810,000 and Several Auction Records at Copley

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During the summer, when auction schedules slow down, The Hot Bid showcases world auction records.

What you see: The Earnest-Gregory dovetailed goose, a decoy that dates to circa 1870 and bears the name of two of its past owners as its creator is unknown. Copley Fine Art Auctions sold it in July 2018 for $810,000, setting a record for a goose decoy and a record for a decoy by an anonymous maker.

The expert: Colin McNair, decoy specialist for Copley Fine Art Auctions.

Ok, I’m starting with what might be an impudent question. The decoy depicts a Canada goose. In the 21st century, I know these birds as pests. Why did hunters in the late 19th century go after them? Were they pests then, too? Did they eat them? Was it both? Geese are good table fare. There’s a lot of meat on each bird. They’re great sporting game and they’re fun to hunt. The modern frustrations with the geese are just that–trouble with residential geese. Historically, geese were held in high regard and decoy-makers held them in high regard. Top goose-makers had fun with the head positions. You get a tremendous amount of variation from top goose makers. Geese are still celebrated by sportsmen and hunters today.

The goose decoy is named in part for Adele Earnest, the collector who sourced it and its two sibling decoys in 1954. Did she leave any notes about how she discovered the trio? She mentioned that she got them in Columbia, Pennsylvania. If there were details, they weren’t particularly telling on who made them and what the circumstances were. The fact that she remembered the town and the year is above the standard then in terms of collecting. And in collecting communities, there’s a lot of confidentiality about where something is sourced. A lot of times, collectors don’t divulge all the details of their finds.

Have any other decoys by this anonymous maker turned up? There are three geese known by this maker. Adding to that are a number of shorebirds that have the dovetail construction. Some of them were found in Massachusetts, and some believe the geese are from Massachusetts because of the shorebird find. Not until they were X-rayed could we be sure they were made by the same maker. The intricate techniques and specific materials used in construction identify them as being by the same maker.

No one else uses dovetail construction on their decoys? The dovetail construction is virtually unseen in any other decoy.

And the trail on the trio of decoys is completely cold? They were made as tools, and as such, were not signed as works of art. As tools, their value sunk to almost zero when plastic decoys entered the field. Only when they were recontextualized as found art did they have value again. When they were tools without a job, no one kept notes. It’s not uncommon for decoys to lose their entire history. At this point, the trail is cold unless the history is contained within the objects themselves.

Collector Stewart Gregory bought two of the three decoys from Earnest. Where is the third? Number three is in the Jerry Lauren collection. He has the other one.

Why did Gregory buy only two of the three? We don’t know the specifics, but it is unusual for collectors to acquire duplicates, of geese especially. Gregory was actually breaking with collecting norms by acquiring two geese with the same head position. It’s a testimony to his incredible excitement. With duck decoys, you have hens and drakes. Sexual dimorphism encourages collecting them in pairs. Shorebirds are small enough to keep two or three together. The exception is to have two geese in identical form.

Adele Earnest said the trio of goose decoys prompted her “subsequent devotion to the decoy as an art.” Donal C. O’Brien Jr., who had dozens of elite decoys, considered this one “the finest bird in his collection,” and “the best of the two” Gregory geese. What makes this decoy so great? This decoy strikes me as a complete object, purely from a visual sense. It will satisfy you from 100 yards away and when you have it in your hand. As a complete work of art in craftsmanship, it leaves virtually no room for improvement. I would add that as a decoy, it has impeccable provenance, and what I consider a perfect amount of gunning wear.

Gunning wear means it was “shot over”? Hunters fired their guns over the decoy in pursuit of live birds? Yes. As a tool for attracting birds, it was used in the water. It was used and abused as any decoy would be over [hunting] seasons.

What can we infer about the maker of this decoy by looking at it? When I see a piece like this, I see an incredibly talented craftsman who has a few audiences. Number one is the birds he’s trying to attract. Number two is the customer. Number three is their own standards and the ideas they may have about creating objects that live up to the talents they’re endowed with and should share. Some of these makers had a work ethic that was tied to their religion. They felt they had a duty to make the best object they could with their hands. They see themselves as having god-given talents they’re obliged to use to the fullest. That’s the idea. It’s evidenced when you look at the parts that are not seen by the bird or the hunter.

You mean details that only show up on X-rays–a technology that did not exist when we think this decoy was made? I’ve looked at a thousand decoy X-rays. There’s a strong connection between the level of craftsmanship on the outside of the bird and the level of craftsmanship on the inside. There’s an almost perfect correlation, makers holding their own personal standards.

What other things can you tell about the maker? Looking at its surface alone, I can identify half a dozen different painting techniques, which is unusual for decoys. You’re looking at a competent, well-trained artisan who paints well. He doesn’t labor over it. And that’s just the paint. The hollow body is meticulously hollowed, and the decoy has one of the most sophisticated head-to-neck transitions of any decoy. It has a nice finish, which is more challenging, but also can be more rewarding to the viewer and [can] show the most competent craftsmen at work. You can sand out a lot of mistakes. This person left it clean and crisp because he got it right the first time. The competence of the carving has led people to believe or wonder if it was made by a professional carousel carver, but nobody has lined up a carousel carving with this particular bird.

And we can be confident that the anonymous 19th-century maker is male? It’s far outside of precedent to be a woman. There are no documented female carvers [from that era, but you have to] consider that it possibly could have been a female painter. There’s a lot of collaborative effort in decoys.

What is your favorite detail on this decoy? My favorite thing about the bird is its totality. There’s no other decoy as satisfying from so many perspectives as this one, to me. But it’s probably the way the bird is hollowed out very intricately by hand to create the most stable, lightweight, and durable decoy possible. He’s doing work that no one is going to see.

It’s only going to show up on an X-ray? Only you at Copley will see it? [Laughs] Yes. The only people who’ll see it are the people at Copley, the clients, and the people who come to my X-ray talks.

Does the dovetail base on this goose decoy offer the hunter an advantage? The dovetail joint from the neck into the body offers a great advantage to a hunter. It allows the hunter to take the bird apart and transport it much more easily, with less chance of breakage. It’s understood, from a collecting standpoint, that goose heads [on decoys] crack or break off entirely. This bird is of durable construction, with a removable head. That’s no small part of why it’s in the condition it’s in, and why it has an unbroken neck today.

Were you surprised it sold for $810,000? It was not a surprise that it went at that level. It was worth every penny. In terms of records, this is the third-highest price for any decoy at auction. It’s also a record for any goose decoy at auction, and an auction record for any unknown [decoy] maker.

How long might this record stand? What else is out there that could beat it? There are several goose decoys that could break this number. The first to come to mind are by Elmer Crowell, one of which used to hold the world record for any decoy. Others sit very close to the top of the list. I see the high-end decoy market continuing to expand and grow. I expect a significant amount of turnover in price at the very top.

Why will this piece stick in your memory? This specific decoy, before I ever saw it, was my favorite in the entire field of American waterfowl. The more time I spent with it, the better it got. I was so fortunate to be part of offering it for sale.

What was it like to hold it in your hands? It was a little scary. Let me rephrase that–it made you very aware you were holding a tremendously valuable object. It was also very satisfying. It’s a commanding and engaging object. It could dominate any space you put it in. Those are traits that only the greatest objects I’ve handled have.

How to subscribe to The Hot BidClick the trio of dots at the upper right of this page. You can also follow The Hot Bid on Instagram and follow the author on Twitter.

Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Images are courtesy of Copley Fine Art Auctions.

Copley Fine Art Auctions will hold its Sporting Sale 2019 on July 25 at Hotel 1620 in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Top lots include the Harmon “Dust Jacket” Plover trio, a group of shorebirds carved by Elmer Crowell, estimated at $730,000 to $1.1 million.

Colin McNair spoke to The Hot Bid in July 2018 about a preening black duck by Elmer Crowell from the same auction that ultimately sold for $600,000.

Would you like to hire Sheila Gibson Stoodley for writing or editing work? Click the word “Menu” at the upper right for contact details.

Yes, I filed this story under “Quack” even though the decoy depicts a goose. #SorryNotSorry

SOLD! Christie’s Sold This Baggage-Form Teapot By Zhou Dingfang for (Scroll Down to See)

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Update: The small baggage-form teapot with cover by Zhou Dingfang sold for $1,625.

 

What you see: A small baggage-form teapot with cover by contemporary Yixing [pronounced Yee-shing] potter Zhou Dingfang [pronounced Jo Ding-fong]. Christie’s estimates it at $1,500 to $2,500.

 

The expert: Rufus Chen, specialist, Chinese ceramics and works of art at Christie’s New York.

 

The lot notes say Zhou earned “Master Status” in 1995, at the age of 30. What does that mean? Is it similar to the Japanese designation of “National Treasure” status? It’s a relatively different concept. It’s more like a ranking or a job title. If you do beautiful work, you’ll be recognized by the arts and crafts organization with the title.

 

So the big deal here is that she earned “Master Status” so young? It’s not a unique status. Multiple people have the same title. That’s a young age for a Chinese artist [to earn the title]. She’s a very accomplished and talented artist.

 

What do we know about her working process? How did she make this? Unlike a lot of blue and white pottery, one artist does it from beginning to end. The artist comes up with the design they want to produce, and they find the right clay in the right color. She used some kind of tool to achieve the soft, leather-like look in the work. It could have been many different tools. It was not done by machine.

 

Is this piece unique, or is it part of a limited edition? I wouldn’t say the piece is unique. I’ve seen other versions of the small suitcase. I don’t know how many exist, but there are at least five others. It’s normal for a Yixing potter to make several.

 

Is there a date on this piece? It was the early 1990s when this piece was designed and made.

 

Is this the first example of her creating a piece that looks like leather? Probably not.  She’s known for her obsession with texture. Another in the sale, lot 54, is more like a leather pouch. That’s also from the early 1990s. She’s known for making leather-like, textured work.

 

What is your favorite detail on this piece? All the details are so lifelike and well done. The clay used to make the pot, purple clay, is known for its flexibility for molding and sculpting. It allows artists to achieve a very detailed kind of work.

 

Purple clay? Does it have a purple color? When we say “purple clay,” it’s a collective name for all clay [from the region in China where it is found]. One has a purplish tone, one has a greenish-buff color, and one has a cinnabar orange-red color. By mixing the three clays, you can achieve a wide range of tones and colors.

 

Is the clay giving the pot its convincing leather coloration, or is she achieving that with glazes? It’s not glaze. It’s the clay body itself. She may have polished the surface to achieve a sheen. It’s really nice when you hold it in person.

 

Since you mention it, what is it like to hold this piece? It’s very delicate, very lifelike. For this particular piece, the surface does resemble real leather. It reminds me of a real little leather suitcase. It’s very intricate, very well-designed, well made.

 

And it’s tiny–less than five inches across. Does that mean it’s light? In terms of weight, it’s not heavy.

 

I realize it’d be insane to brew tea with this, but can it be used as a teapot? If you want to, it can. But it should be perceived as a piece of art, and it’s also small. I don’t know, if you brewed tea, how much tea [it would yield]. There’s probably a little amount of water it could hold. Normal [Yixing pottery teapots] for brewing tea are not ornately decorated. They’re in plain geometric shapes.

 

Was this piece commissioned by the Irvings, or did the artist make it without a client in mind? I think she just made it. I don’t think the Irvings commissioned it from her. When the Irvings collected it in the 1990s, and even to this day, it’s not the typical [piece] collectors would collect.

 

What is more typical for collectors to collect? Porcelain with more typical works of art that you see in the auction market. They have those too, but this is a very interesting aspect to their collection.

 

I understand Zhou Dingfang has connections to the makers of other works in the auction.  What are these connections? A lot of Yixing artists are born and raised in Yixing, and work in Yixing. It’s an interesting aspect to this catalog. Zhou Dingfang learned under Xu Xiutang, the maker of lot 50. And Zhou Dingfang was classmates with Lu Wenxia, another female artist in the sale. There are several from her, including lots 34, 35, and 36. Both Zhou Dingfang and Lu Wenxia were students of Xu Xiutang.

 

Is this the first time works by Zhou Dingfang have been auctioned in the west? I found examples being sold a few years ago, but in general, you don’t see work by contemporary Yixing artists in western auctions. This is a unique opportunity to collect contemporary Yixing wares.

 

Are they commonly auctioned in the east? Yes.

 

Do you have the world auction record for Zhou Dingfang at auction? It would have been set in the east, yes? China has more records than the western world in general. I don’t have the exact price [of her auction record].

 

Is this the first time several of her works have gone to auction in the same western sale? This is a unique case. All [the lots] come from the same collection, the Irving collection. It’s interesting to see how it will perform.

 

Why will this piece stick in your memory? It’s beautiful, and its texture is amazing. It’s so intricately and delicately made. It’s a beautiful piece of art.

 

How to bid: The Zhou Dingfang small baggage-form teapot with cover is lot 52 in The Collection of Florence and Herbert Irving, taking place online from March 19 to 26 at Christie’s.

 

How to subscribe to The Hot BidClick the trio of dots at the upper right of this page. You can also follow The Hot Bid on Instagram and follow the author on Twitter.

 

Christie’s is on Twitter and Instagram. 

 

Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Christie’s.

 

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SOLD! Bonhams Sold the Luis Alberto Quispe Aparicio Ruby Eagle Carving For (Scroll Down to See)

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Update: The Luis Alberto Quispe Aparicio ruby carving of a spread-winged eagle sold for $62,575.

 

What you see: A circa 2007 sculpture of an eagle in flight, carved from an opaque ruby by Peruvian artist Luis Alberto Quispe [pronounced Kees-pay] Aparicio. It has gold highlights and is displayed on a granite stand. Bonhams estimates it at $25,000 to $35,000.

 

The expert: Claudia Florian, co-consulting director of Bonhams’s natural history department in Los Angeles.

 

When did Quispe Aparicio start his career? How old is he now? He’s 39 years old. It started as a family business. His father perceived there could be demand for ruby carvings. I think the business started in the 70s or so when the first deposits [of the sort of ruby he carves] from Tanzania came west. His father purchased rough ruby from Tanzania and brought it back to his workshop, and trained workmen to carve the ruby. Quispe Aparicio started seriously in the family when he was 21. He traveled with his parents to buy gems from various locations.

 

How difficult is it to carve a ruby? It’s second in hardness only to diamond. You wear out your carving implements when you carve with ruby. It involves a lot of grinding.

 

Does Quispe Aparicio work alone when he carves his pieces, or does he rely on assistants? He sits at the bench and does the carving, but he has workmen help with some basic aspects of it.

 

Where did he get the ruby he carved to create this sculpture? Tanzania? Tanzania is still the primary source for ornamental rough [stones]. It was a massive ruby.

 

What does “ornamental rough” mean? It means it’s an opaque ruby. It’s usually accompanied by a green crystal called zoisite.

 

Where else does Quispe Aparicio find ornamental rough ruby stones fit for carving? He’s basically using old stock. [His family] bought a containerful in the 70s and is working through that.

 

How prolific is he? I imagine with ornamental rough ruby being so tough to carve, that has to limit his output. The workshop was already producing before Quispe Aparicio joined. This ruby eagle was one of the ones he had designed and carved, and he had workmen in the workshop work on it as well. [The workshop output] is not enormous production. Maybe 40 pieces a year.

 

How did he approach the creation of this sculpture? With this particular bird, he said he had the rough and a large amount of it, so he was able to make a very large and monumental piece. With a bigger piece [of rough stone, such as this], he’s able to cut it up and have a homogeneous color through the composition.

 

Was this a commission, or did he just decide to create it? It was created on spec [speculation, meaning he embarked on it without a specific client in mind]. Gerard Cafesjian found out about it and bought it from him.

 

Quispe Aparicio carved this sculpture from a ruby, albeit an ornamental rough ruby. Does it have inherent value? It’s kind of difficult to say. The valuation of a rough is different from finished pieces. Some say [ornamental rough] is one or two dollars per carat. It’s very difficult to look at. You’d never break it up and carve little gemstones out of it.

 

The ornamental rough ruby has a reddish-purple color. Is that typical of what came from Tanzania? Yes. It’s very nice quality for Tanzania.

 

Do we know how big the raw ruby was before he carved it? No. The wings are not a solid piece. The feathers are glued together to create a larger wingspan.

 

He assembled pieces of ornamental rough ruby to create the wings? The body of the bird is one piece of ruby. The wings are inset. The wings are not one solid, long piece. Along the length are rows of feathers glued together.

 

How often does Quispe Aparicio portray eagles in his work? I have two [other Quispe Aparicio] eagles in the auction. They’re much smaller in scale. The big one, he put on a granite base. The smaller [ruby] eagle perches on top of a quartz geode.

 

Why did he portray an eagle? Is he fond of eagles? Within the history of gem carving, animals are popular and birds are popular. Eagles and falcons are popular subject matter.

 

Because they can show off with the feathers? I think so, and eagles are imposing birds.

 

The photos of the lot on the Bonhams site show only one side of the carving. Is the other side carved in as much detail as the side we see? Absolutely, and it’s beautiful. It’s very imposing looking. We need somebody with a corporate office or a lobby to buy it. It’s tremendously impressive.

 

What is it like in person? I see that the wingspan of the eagle is 44 inches by 19 inches–the larger measurement is almost four feet. I wonder if the pictures give a sense of how big it is. I put the measurements in there, but it’s very difficult to judge the size with the photos. We can’t put a child or a potted plant [next to it] to show how big it is. You’re not allowed to do that at a high-end auction house.

 

Are there other aspects of the sculpture that the camera does not pick up? The richness of the color. I had seen this in his studio years ago [before] he sold it to Gerard Cafesjian. It came to me, and when I opened up the box, I was struck again by how rich the color is on it.

 

What’s your favorite detail of the sculpture? I would say it’s very majestic. I think it realistically captures the sense of the bird soaring in mid-flight.

 

Why will it stick in your memory? In terms of some of the other pieces in the sale, this is big and imposing. When you walk in the room, it’s the first thing you walk up to. There’s an enormous amount of ruby incorporated in it.

 

How to bid: The ruby eagle sculpture is lot 96 in 100 Lapidary Treasures from the Estate if Gerard L. Cafesjian, taking place at Bonhams Los Angeles on March 12, 2019.

 

How to subscribe to The Hot BidClick the trio of dots at the upper right of this page. You can also follow The Hot Bid on Instagram and follow the author on Twitter.

 

Bonhams is on Twitter and Instagram.

 

Claudia Florian spoke to The Hot Bid in May 2018 about a spectacular “fireworks” opal that ultimately sold for $162,500.

 

Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Bonhams.

 

Would you like to hire Sheila Gibson Stoodley for writing or editing work? Click the word “Menu” at the upper right for contact details.

 

Is It Baggage? Is It a Teapot? Both? Neither? Regardless, Christie’s Could Sell This Piece By Zhou Dingfang for $2,500

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What you see: A small baggage-form teapot with cover by contemporary Yixing [pronounced Yee-shing] potter Zhou Dingfang [pronounced Jo Ding-fong]. Christie’s estimates it at $1,500 to $2,500.

 

The expert: Rufus Chen, specialist, Chinese ceramics and works of art at Christie’s New York.

 

The lot notes say Zhou earned “Master Status” in 1995, at the age of 30. What does that mean? Is it similar to the Japanese designation of “National Treasure” status? It’s a relatively different concept. It’s more like a ranking or a job title. If you do beautiful work, you’ll be recognized by the arts and crafts organization with the title.

 

So the big deal here is that she earned “Master Status” so young? It’s not a unique status. Multiple people have the same title. That’s a young age for a Chinese artist [to earn the title]. She’s a very accomplished and talented artist.

 

What do we know about her working process? How did she make this? Unlike a lot of blue and white pottery, one artist does it from beginning to end. The artist comes up with the design they want to produce, and they find the right clay in the right color. She used some kind of tool to achieve the soft, leather-like look in the work. It could have been many different tools. It was not done by machine.

 

Is this piece unique, or is it part of a limited edition? I wouldn’t say the piece is unique. I’ve seen other versions of the small suitcase. I don’t know how many exist, but there are at least five others. It’s normal for a Yixing potter to make several.

 

Is there a date on this piece? It was the early 1990s when this piece was designed and made.

 

Is this the first example of her creating a piece that looks like leather? Probably not.  She’s known for her obsession with texture. Another in the sale, lot 54, is more like a leather pouch. That’s also from the early 1990s. She’s known for making leather-like, textured work.

 

What is your favorite detail on this piece? All the details are so lifelike and well done. The clay used to make the pot, purple clay, is known for its flexibility for molding and sculpting. It allows artists to achieve a very detailed kind of work.

 

Purple clay? Does it have a purple color? When we say “purple clay,” it’s a collective name for all clay [from the region in China where it is found]. One has a purplish tone, one has a greenish-buff color, and one has a cinnabar orange-red color. By mixing the three clays, you can achieve a wide range of tones and colors.

 

Is the clay giving the pot its convincing leather coloration, or is she achieving that with glazes? It’s not glaze. It’s the clay body itself. She may have polished the surface to achieve a sheen. It’s really nice when you hold it in person.

 

Since you mention it, what is it like to hold this piece? It’s very delicate, very lifelike. For this particular piece, the surface does resemble real leather. It reminds me of a real little leather suitcase. It’s very intricate, very well-designed, well made.

 

And it’s tiny–less than five inches across. Does that mean it’s light? In terms of weight, it’s not heavy.

 

I realize it’d be insane to brew tea with this, but can it be used as a teapot? If you want to, it can. But it should be perceived as a piece of art, and it’s also small. I don’t know, if you brewed tea, how much tea [it would yield]. There’s probably a little amount of water it could hold. Normal [Yixing pottery teapots] for brewing tea are not ornately decorated. They’re in plain geometric shapes.

 

Was this piece commissioned by the Irvings, or did the artist make it without a client in mind? I think she just made it. I don’t think the Irvings commissioned it from her. When the Irvings collected it in the 1990s, and even to this day, it’s not the typical [piece] collectors would collect.

 

What is more typical for collectors to collect? Porcelain with more typical works of art that you see in the auction market. They have those too, but this is a very interesting aspect to their collection.

 

I understand Zhou Dingfang has connections to the makers of other works in the auction.  What are these connections? A lot of Yixing artists are born and raised in Yixing, and work in Yixing. It’s an interesting aspect to this catalog. Zhou Dingfang learned under Xu Xiutang, the maker of lot 50. And Zhou Dingfang was classmates with Lu Wenxia, another female artist in the sale. There are several from her, including lots 34, 35, and 36. Both Zhou Dingfang and Lu Wenxia were students of Xu Xiutang.

 

Is this the first time works by Zhou Dingfang have been auctioned in the west? I found examples being sold a few years ago, but in general, you don’t see work by contemporary Yixing artists in western auctions. This is a unique opportunity to collect contemporary Yixing wares.

 

Are they commonly auctioned in the east? Yes.

 

Do you have the world auction record for Zhou Dingfang at auction? It would have been set in the east, yes? China has more records than the western world in general. I don’t have the exact price [of her auction record].

 

Is this the first time several of her works have gone to auction in the same western sale? This is a unique case. All [the lots] come from the same collection, the Irving collection. It’s interesting to see how it will perform.

 

Why will this piece stick in your memory? It’s beautiful, and its texture is amazing. It’s so intricately and delicately made. It’s a beautiful piece of art.

 

How to bid: The Zhou Dingfang small baggage-form teapot with cover is lot 52 in The Collection of Florence and Herbert Irving, taking place online from March 19 to 26 at Christie’s.

 

How to subscribe to The Hot BidClick the trio of dots at the upper right of this page. You can also follow The Hot Bid on Instagram and follow the author on Twitter.

 

Christie’s is on Twitter and Instagram. 

 

Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Christie’s.

 

Would you like to hire Sheila Gibson Stoodley for writing or editing work? Click the word “Menu” at the upper right for contact details.

 

 

 

 

 

Luis Alberto Quispe Aparicio Carved This Eagle Sculpture from a Ruby. Yes, a Ruby. Bonhams Could Sell It for $35,000.

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What you see: A circa 2007 sculpture of an eagle in flight, carved from an opaque ruby by Peruvian artist Luis Alberto Quispe [pronounced Kees-pay] Aparicio. It has gold highlights and is displayed on a granite stand. Bonhams estimates it at $25,000 to $35,000.

 

The expert: Claudia Florian, co-consulting director of Bonhams’s natural history department in Los Angeles.

 

When did Quispe Aparicio start his career? How old is he now? He’s 39 years old. It started as a family business. His father perceived there could be demand for ruby carvings. I think the business started in the 70s or so when the first deposits [of the sort of ruby he carves] from Tanzania came west. His father purchased rough ruby from Tanzania and brought it back to his workshop, and trained workmen to carve the ruby. Quispe Aparicio started seriously in the family when he was 21. He traveled with his parents to buy gems from various locations.

 

How difficult is it to carve a ruby? It’s second in hardness only to diamond. You wear out your carving implements when you carve with ruby. It involves a lot of grinding.

 

Does Quispe Aparicio work alone when he carves his pieces, or does he rely on assistants? He sits at the bench and does the carving, but he has workmen help with some basic aspects of it.

 

Where did he get the ruby he carved to create this sculpture? Tanzania? Tanzania is still the primary source for ornamental rough [stones]. It was a massive ruby.

 

What does “ornamental rough” mean? It means it’s an opaque ruby. It’s usually accompanied by a green crystal called zoisite.

 

Where else does Quispe Aparicio find ornamental rough ruby stones fit for carving? He’s basically using old stock. [His family] bought a containerful in the 70s and is working through that.

 

How prolific is he? I imagine with ornamental rough ruby being so tough to carve, that has to limit his output. The workshop was already producing before Quispe Aparicio joined. This ruby eagle was one of the ones he had designed and carved, and he had workmen in the workshop work on it as well. [The workshop output] is not enormous production. Maybe 40 pieces a year.

 

How did he approach the creation of this sculpture? With this particular bird, he said he had the rough and a large amount of it, so he was able to make a very large and monumental piece. With a bigger piece [of rough stone, such as this], he’s able to cut it up and have a homogeneous color through the composition.

 

Was this a commission, or did he just decide to create it? It was created on spec [speculation, meaning he embarked on it without a specific client in mind]. Gerard Cafesjian found out about it and bought it from him.

 

Quispe Aparicio carved this sculpture from a ruby, albeit an ornamental rough ruby. Does it have inherent value? It’s kind of difficult to say. The valuation of a rough is different from finished pieces. Some say [ornamental rough] is one or two dollars per carat. It’s very difficult to look at. You’d never break it up and carve little gemstones out of it.

 

The ornamental rough ruby has a reddish-purple color. Is that typical of what came from Tanzania? Yes. It’s very nice quality for Tanzania.

 

Do we know how big the raw ruby was before he carved it? No. The wings are not a solid piece. The feathers are glued together to create a larger wingspan.

 

He assembled pieces of ornamental rough ruby to create the wings? The body of the bird is one piece of ruby. The wings are inset. The wings are not one solid, long piece. Along the length are rows of feathers glued together.

 

How often does Quispe Aparicio portray eagles in his work? I have two [other Quispe Aparicio] eagles in the auction. They’re much smaller in scale. The big one, he put on a granite base. The smaller [ruby] eagle perches on top of a quartz geode.

 

Why did he portray an eagle? Is he fond of eagles? Within the history of gem carving, animals are popular and birds are popular. Eagles and falcons are popular subject matter.

 

Because they can show off with the feathers? I think so, and eagles are imposing birds.

 

The photos of the lot on the Bonhams site show only one side of the carving. Is the other side carved in as much detail as the side we see? Absolutely, and it’s beautiful. It’s very imposing looking. We need somebody with a corporate office or a lobby to buy it. It’s tremendously impressive.

 

What is it like in person? I see that the wingspan of the eagle is 44 inches by 19 inches–the larger measurement is almost four feet. I wonder if the pictures give a sense of how big it is. I put the measurements in there, but it’s very difficult to judge the size with the photos. We can’t put a child or a potted plant [next to it] to show how big it is. You’re not allowed to do that at a high-end auction house.

 

Are there other aspects of the sculpture that the camera does not pick up? The richness of the color. I had seen this in his studio years ago [before] he sold it to Gerard Cafesjian. It came to me, and when I opened up the box, I was struck again by how rich the color is on it.

 

What’s your favorite detail of the sculpture? I would say it’s very majestic. I think it realistically captures the sense of the bird soaring in mid-flight.

 

Why will it stick in your memory? In terms of some of the other pieces in the sale, this is big and imposing. When you walk in the room, it’s the first thing you walk up to. There’s an enormous amount of ruby incorporated in it.

 

How to bid: The ruby eagle sculpture is lot 96 in 100 Lapidary Treasures from the Estate if Gerard L. Cafesjian, taking place at Bonhams Los Angeles on March 12, 2019.

 

How to subscribe to The Hot BidClick the trio of dots at the upper right of this page. You can also follow The Hot Bid on Instagram and follow the author on Twitter.

 

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Claudia Florian spoke to The Hot Bid in May 2018 about a spectacular “fireworks” opal that ultimately sold for $162,500.

 

Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Bonhams.

 

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Sotheby’s Could Sell A 1914 Paul Manship Bronze for $250,000

10048 Lot 81

What you see: Indian Hunter, sculpted in 1914 by Paul Manship. Sotheby’s estimates it at $150,000 to $250,000.

 

The expert: Charlotte Mitchell, specialist at Sotheby’s.

 

How many versions of Indian Hunter did Paul Manship make? He cast the tabletop version in an edition of 15 in 1914. He cast a monumental version as a commission in 1917. It was the only one of those versions he cast. There are two authorized reproductions, including the one outside the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. There are no others outside those.

 

Do we know how he made this sculpture? Did he rely on a live model, or pose a model for a reference photograph, or create it from memory? The image of the Native American is something Manship drew upon time and time again in his career. We don’t know exactly how the sculpture was done, but we can say a lot was drawn from memory or experience. After a time of study in Europe he gained an appreciation for archaic Greek art and translated it into this subject.

 

What makes this sculpture a Paul Manship? What details or aspects mark this as his work? I think this really embodies a distinct aesthetic. It’s uniquely naturalistic and detail-oriented, and simultaneously, it’s contemporary and simplified. A few aspects I love about his work on Indian Hunter are the braids–they’re incredibly detailed. The ribs are muscular and realistic. With the left hand gripping the bow, you see the detail on the fingers and the fingernails.

 

Manship sculpted Pronghorn Antelope first, earlier in 1914. How do the sculptures relate to each other and complement each other? They were cast together and meant to be viewed as a pair. He drew upon his interpretation of the myth of the labors of Hercules. He recast Hercules as a Native American hunter and cast the Cerynian Hind as an antelope. He translated a Greek myth that would have been familiar with while abroad in Rome and put his own unique spin on it, in a language that would have been more familiar to him.

 

Did this tabletop version of Indian Hunter originally come with a similar-size version of Pronghorn Antelope? Though they were cast together, they weren’t always sold together. This was sold as a single piece. Seeing them together is certainly wonderful. There’s an activation of energy with the release of the imaginary arrow.

 

Was Pronghorn Antelope done in a limited edition of 15? To the best of our knowledge, it was.

 

He initially created the sculptures for himself, to decorate his New York apartment. Did he approach these differently than he did his commissioned pieces? Is that visible in the works? They’re completely indistinguishable from something he did on commission. Though maybe he made one for New York and the other 14 were created and intended for distribution. What he created for his home is not separate from other commissions.

 

Manship’s interest in Greek art shines through here and ennobles his subject. But was that controversial in 1914–to ennoble a Native American as a figure equal to the heroic male sculptures of ancient Greek art? I don’t know how to answer that. I can say that when they were produced, they were received very well by the public at the time. Herbert Pratt [a head of Standard Oil] saw them and commissioned large-scale versions with Manship.

 

How hands-on was Manship in the casting of the bronzes? He didn’t produce on a mass scale, making us think he was quite involved in the process.

 

How often does Indian Hunter come up at auction? They don’t come up very often. At least 11 are in museums. Three or four have come up previously in pairs, and there was a sterling silver version, separate from the 15 that were cast. You could consider it a sixteenth version. It sold in May 2013 for $425,000.

 

What’s the record for an Indian Hunter at auction? A pair sold for $782,500 at Christie’s in 2012.

 

And this sculpture was originally sold alone? It was passed down in the collector’s family for decades. They’ve only ever owned Indian Hunter. It seems they only acquired this work.

 

This is the first time this particular one has come to auction. How rare is it to have a Paul Manship that’s fresh to market? It depends on the version we’re discussing, but it’s not that many. He didn’t produce anything en masse. One of my favorite things about the work is it’s fresh to market. We’ve never seen this exact work before. I think that’s something generally exciting for the client as well.

 

Did Manship number the bronze? No. That’s not generally something he did with his casts.

 

What is it like in person? It has a beautiful, rich surface. The patina is very rich and soft as well. One of my favorite aspects is the braids. The detail is quite crisp and precise.

 

How to bid: Indian Hunter is lot 81 in the American Art sale at Sotheby’s New York on March 6, 2019.

 

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Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Sotheby’s.

 

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Chirp! Skinner Sold That Jess Blackstone Robin for… (Scroll Down and See)

1576Miniature birds “Hand Carved and Painted by Blackstone”

Update: The Jess Blackstone robin sold for $584.

 

What you see: A miniature robin, carved and painted by Jess Blackstone circa 1968 or 1969. Skinner estimates it at $300 to $500.

 

The expert: Chris Barber, deputy director of American furniture and decorative arts at Skinner.

 

So, who was Jess Blackstone, and how did he come to carve and paint miniatures of birds? Born 1909, died 1988, a resident of Melrose, Massachusetts, and moved to New Hampshire in the late 1930s, when he became a member of the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen. His dad carved mini-songbirds, and he learned to paint and carve from him. That seemed to shape where Blackstone went. He and his dad would have good-natured competitions to paint the smallest bird, or the most elaborate bird. He definitely eclipsed his dad in quality and production, but it [carving and painting bird sculptures] was a family business at one point.

 

Did he live out his life in New Hampshire, or did he travel? He stayed there the rest of his life, in a simple house with a lot of land. He was able to support a wife and an adopted daughter with his carvings. When he was in the military in 1944 and 1945, he listed 58 birds that he encountered or identified in Germany, some of which he actually carved once he got home.

 

I take it he chose that place so he could look out his window and see birds? He had a lot of land, and he was a feeder type of guy. The birds were much more plentiful to see [in the mid-20th century], particularly warblers and tanagers and certain sparrows, which only come during the spring and fall migrations. He carved 92 different species of songbirds, based on an analysis of records at the New Hampshire Historical Society.

 

How prolific was Blackstone? He’s estimated to have carved 8,500 birds. More than 2,500 were chickadees. Since 2005, as far back as our digital records go, we’ve sold 132 Jess Blackstone carvings.

 

Did he carve duck decoys? Decoys, no, but there’s a distinction to be made between these decorative carvings and decoys. Blackstone birds were never meant to attract a member of its own species. He carved ducks, yes, but there aren’t many among his output. They’re all decorative, and the overwhelming majority are songbirds.

 

What do we know about how he worked? We think he observed birds a great deal. We think he bird-watched the way we bird-watch. He’d put out a feeder, or hike, and see them. There’s a story that if a bird hit his window, he would study it. He was so good at capturing the personality of a bird that he had to have watched them. Once he had a template for the shape and colors of a bird, it was almost paint-by-number. He would follow his template after producing one bird.

 

And what do we know about his approach to carving? We know he used white pine. In 2012 we sold a trade sign, a tabletop display mounted on a wood base, with a robin perched on it, that said ‘All birds are made of white pine.’ White pine is easy to carve, light, and plentiful. As far as I can tell, he never deviated from carving white pine.

 

What characteristics mark a Jess Blackstone bird carving? He was an inveterate record-keeper. He always signed his birds the same way, with an intertwined ‘JB’. There’s also a nice detail–he called it ‘feathering the bird’–a very subtle textured effect [of] parallel lines that run the length of the body. It prevents the bird from being completely flat. And the birds always stand on a grey stone-like base.

 

His birds are not photo-realistic, but they’re not folk art, either. Yes. They have a liveliness, a personality. They have a great presence. They straddle the line between realism and charm. Because they make you feel so good, they appeal to people who are not folk art collectors and not bird collectors, necessarily. The man who runs this department has a Jess Blackstone bluebird at his house. It speaks to how universal their appeal is. Though Blackstone created 8,500 of them, and 2,500 chickadees, he was never bored by them. It takes love to carve that many.

 

Why did he make so many chickadees? We don’t know, exactly. Maybe it dovetails with how he marketed and sold his work. He’d do shows at the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen and developed a following. I think the majority of his business was from craft shows. He knew his carvings were good, and he sought sophisticated audiences for them. People would ask him to carve a certain bird. He painted five times as many chickadees as any other bird. They’re great-looking, and they’re the state bird of Massachusetts. Maybe he carved so many because it was like playing the hits–certain bands out there have to play the one. He carved 267 robins, and this is number 240. Bluebirds and goldfinches, he did more than 500 each. He did 454 mallards, the biggest non-songbird. It looks like the robin is his tenth most popular songbird.

 

He signed his birds, but did he date them? He didn’t typically date them, no. There are numbers on the bottom, but there’s disagreement about what the numbers mean. He started numbering each bird by species. There may not be a number one chickadee, but there is a number 1,150 chickadee. He carved about 30 to 40 birds in a typical month, and up to 60 in a really productive month. The higher the number, the closer to his death [it was made]. He stopped around 1980 because he wasn’t well enough to carve in the last eight years of his life. Some of the ones from the late 1970s are not as high-quality as this robin.

 

Does his having made about 2,500 chickadees mean that chickadees were his favorite bird? Or does that just reflect what the market wanted? I wish I knew the answer to that question. I couldn’t find if he made observations about the birds themselves, other than his output. There’s no indication of if he weighted one bird more than another in his mind.

 

Where do collectors put his birds? Any flat surface. Mantelpieces, bookshelves, custom-made cabinets. They’re easy to amass. People who have one tend to have more than one.

 

What was Jess Blackstone’s golden age? It depends on how you define it. His output seems to have been regular. Toward the end of his career, he was better-known. In 1947, he asked $2 for a bluebird. By the early 1980s [after he had stopped working, but presumably had a stock of finished works], he charged up to $100 per bird. He had good days and he had bad days, but I don’t think his quality dipped very far, if at all. Because he was prolific, well-known, and consistent, [collectors judge based on] the condition of the bird, and the earlier the number, the better it does.

 

What’s the auction record for a Jess Blackstone carving? We’ve had one sell for $2,600–a a pair of purple finches mounted on driftwood. It’s rare for him to have two birds in one piece. [For individual birds,] in 2012, we sold a European bird for more than $2,100. It was a crowd-pleasing bird that was odd for him. If you turned it one way, it looked like a yellow wagtail, and if you turned it another way, it looked like a pied wagtail. It appears to be unique, and it was carved from a drawing he gathered overseas, when he was in the service. Rarer birds are the ones that tend to bring the most.

 

What is this Blackstone robin like in person? Is it actual size? It’s been on my desk all day. It’s tentative, it has an inquisitive stance, but it’s confident in its own way. It’s looking for its next worm. It’s probably an eighth of the size of a real robin, maybe a tenth of the size. The bigger it is, the harder it is to collect and display. One of the appeals of Jess Blackstone birds is they’re so easy to collect. Four look fine, and 30 doesn’t look overwhelming. They display nicely together. With 30 birds at full size, you have to commit. You don’t have to commit as readily to 30 miniature birds.

 

How to bid: The Jess Blackstone robin is lot 1576 in Skinner‘s Americana Online auction, which opened on October 25, 2018 and closes on November 4, 2018.

 

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Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Skinner.

 

Chris Barber spoke to The Hot Bid in February 2017 for a piece on an unusually charming double folk portrait that ultimately sold for $9,840.

 

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