Masterpieces line up for sale in Rago’s distinctly modern design

Auction in Lambertville, NJ

LAMBERTVILLE, NJ – It was time to bring out modern design at the Rago Arts & Auction Center on September 23 with a sale of American and European furniture, decorative arts, workshop ceramics and contemporary glass by leading manufacturers of 20th and 21st centuries. A Judy Kensley McKie “Grizzly Bear” bench made its way to the top of the lots, more than doubling its high estimate of $120,000 to sell for $262,500. The 2001 patinated bronze sculpture, 19 x 71 x 21 inches, from a private collection in New York had an incised signature, date and number underneath “7/10 JKM ’01” and was number 7 in the edition of 10. Additional highlights included other creatures from McKie as well as masterpieces from Peter Voulkos, Paul Evans, George and Mira Nakashima, Wharton Esherick and Wendell Castle.

Strong results were posted for the sale of 279 lots, which totaled $3,788,900 with 92% sold by lot and 119% sold by value.

Another of McKie’s art furniture pieces, a “Jaguar” bench, jumped to a final price of $200,000, while a “Jaguar” console table was put at $87,500. From 1992, the elegant patinated bronze bench, 26 by 58 by 17 inches, bore an incised signature, date and number underneath “12/12 JKM 1992” and was number 12 in the edition of 12 Also from 1992, a weathered bronze console table, 30 by 58 by 15 inches, was dated and numbered as “7/8 JKM 1992”, issue number 7 of eight. Taking off from a private collection in Palm Beach, a pair of 1994 “Swan” sconces in patinated bronze, numbers 10 and 11 from the edition of 32, fetched $40,000. McKie (born 1944) is an American artist, furniture designer, and furniture maker. Based in Boston, she has been making her own style of furniture since 1977 with carved and embellished animal and plant motifs.

With the whimsical name “Scoobydoo”, a ceramic sculpture by Peter Voulkos (1924-2002) fetched $112,500. It was made in Shigaraki, Japan in 1996 and fired in the anagama of Shigaraki Ceramic Culture Park. It bore an incised signature and date at the base “96 Voulkos” and was 45 inches high with a diameter of 23 inches. The sender had acquired it directly from the artist at the studio of Peter Callas. Also from Voulkos, an untitled piece in the form of a hollowed and incised plate. The 1973 gas-fired stoneware with porcelain passages was 18 inches in diameter and over doubled its high estimate to finish at $18,750. Voulkos was an American artist of Greek descent. He is known for his abstract expressionist ceramic sculptures, which bridged the traditional divide between ceramic craftsmanship and fine art. He established the ceramics department at the Los Angeles County Art Institute and at UC Berkeley.

The unmistakable ceramic whimsy of Betty Woodman (1930-2018) was in full force with her 1998 “Autumn Pillow” pitcher, a brightly colored glazed earthenware confection 24 inches tall and featuring a “Woodman” signature near from the base. From a private Florida collection, it fetched $68,750, more than double the high estimate. Woodman was born in Norwalk, Connecticut. He started pottery lessons at 16 and immediately took up clay. She attended the School for American Craftsmen at Alfred University in New York from 1948 to 1950. In the 1980s, Woodman’s work evolved from functional to more abstract pottery, transforming her career.

A selection of George Nakashima furniture from the Dr Seymour and Mrs Phyllis Lifschutz collection was one of the highlights of this sale. Bringing in the highest price, $112,500, was his 1965 “Minguren II” coffee table, which featured one of Nakashima’s earliest Minguren II bases. Made of English burl oak and rosewood, the 22 x 76 x 50 inch table had an impressive single top with expressive figure grain, sap and burl grain details, natural seam dividers joined with five rosewood butterflies and two free edges. It had been acquired directly from the artist by the Lifschutz and was signed with the client’s name under “Lifschutz”.

From a different collection and valued at $56,250 was a rare Nakashima Studio desk with a wall box in American black walnut, English walnut, and pandanus fabric. The 1960 desk featured a single slab top with a free edge all around, expressive grain and burl detailing, and the wall box featured three sliding doors concealing three adjustable shelves. Overall it was 30 by 79 by 87 inches.

From this collection also came a rare Nakashima Studio cabinet from 1961. The American cabinet in black walnut and burl oak featured a unique slab top with rich, expressive grain, sap grain detailing, and two free edges above it. four-door top with a central burl handle concealing five adjustable shelves. It sold with a digital copy of the original order card for $50,000.

Nakashima’s “Minguren I” coffee table was an earlier design from 1989. It featured burr walnut, American black walnut, and rosewood, measuring 15 x 50 ¾ x 20 ¼ inches, worked in a single slab with an all around free edge and featuring a figured grain, burl detailing, several exposed knots and a rosewood butterfly. Signed and dated below “George Nakashima September 8, 1989”, it sold with the original drawing and invoice for $43,750.

A triple chest of drawers by artist New Hope, Penn., was also noteworthy, going for $40,000. Crafted in 1964 from laurel and American black walnut, the 32 × 100 × 20 × 20 inch chest featured a laurel top with a free edge over 12 drawers.

Furniture by American designer, sculptor and artist Paul Evans (1931-1987) is a staple of Rago’s modern design sales, and this auction featured a trio of exceptional pieces among his best-selling highlights. A 1973 “Wavy Front” cabinet had been acquired directly from the artist. Made of welded, gilded, polychromed and patinated steel, the 32 × 98 × 22 × 22 inch cabinet had four doors concealing three adjustable shelves and two drawers. There was a soldered signature and date under a door “Paul Evans 73 LJ”, and the cabinet sold for $112,500.

A set of eight sculpted bronze chairs (two armchairs and six side chairs), also from 1973, featured bronzed resin over steel and suede upholstery. They came out at $52,000. And a round carved bronze wall-mounted bar cabinet, model PE 122, Paul Evans Studio for Directional, 1970, bronzed resin on wood, lacquered wood and vinyl, left the gallery at $43,750.

American sculptor and furniture artist Wendell Castle (1932-2018) was a leading figure in American craftsmanship. He has been called the “father of the fine furniture movement” and included in the “Big 4” of modern woodworking along with Wharton Esherick, George Nakashima and Sam Maloof. It was represented among the highlights of the sale by a playfully designed sideboard titled “Again and Again”, 1994, which sold for $37,500, nearly four times its high estimate. The sideboard had four drawers, mahogany veneer, polychrome mahogany and oak. Unique, it was registered at the artist’s studio under the number 2795 and measured 38 by 76 by 30 inches.

The prices shown include the buyer’s commission as quoted by the auction house. For more information, www.ragoarts.com or 609-397-9374.

Shown open, a round carved bronze wall-mounted bar cabinet, model PE 122, by Paul Evans Studio for Directional, 1970, bronzed resin on wood, lacquered wood and vinyl, left the gallery at $43,750.

532

Another of McKie’s art pieces, a 1992 “Jaguar” bench, jumped to a final price of $200,000. It was number 12 of the edition of 12.

505

A selection of George Nakashima furniture from the collection of Dr. Seymour and Mrs. Phyllis Lifschutz included this 1965 “Minguren II” coffee table, which featured one of Nakashima’s earliest Minguren II bases. Burr English oak and rosewood, the 22½ x 76 x 50-inch table fetched $112,500. It had been acquired directly from the artist by the Lifschutz.

534

Betty Woodman’s (1930-2018) “Autumn Pillow” pitcher from 1998 was 24¾ inches tall and bore an impressive “Woodman” signature near the base. From a private Florida collection, it fetched $68,750, more than double the high estimate.

519

“Scoobydoo” by ceramic sculptor Peter Voulkos (1924-2002) brought in $112,500. It was made in Shigaraki, Japan in 1996 and fired in the anagama of Shigaraki Ceramic Culture Park. The sender had acquired it directly from the artist at the studio of Peter Callas.

571

A Paul Evans (1931-1987) ‘Wavy Front’ cabinet from 1973 had been acquired directly from the artist and left the gallery at $112,500.

518

For $56,250, a rare desk from Nakashima Studio with a wall box in American black walnut, English walnut, and pandanus fabric. The 1960 desk featured a single slab top with a free edge all around, expressive grain and burl detailing, and the wall box featured three sliding doors concealing three adjustable shelves.

531

This pair of 1994 patinated bronze “Swan” sconces, numbers 10 and 11 from edition of 32, fetched $40,000.

541

Nakashima’s 1989 “Minguren I” coffee table fetched $43,750. It featured burl walnut, American black walnut and rosewood, measuring 15 x 50¾ x 20¼ inches, worked in a single slab with a free edge all around and featuring figured grain, burl detailing, multiple exposed knots and a rosewood butterfly.

573

A set of eight sculpted bronze chairs (two armchairs and six side chairs), 1973, by Paul Evans featured bronzed resin over steel and suede upholstery. They came out at $52,000.

540

A Nakashima triple chest of drawers fetched $40,000. It was made in 1964 in laurel and American black walnut, with a single slab laurel top with a free edge on 12 drawers.

528

A “Grizzly Bear” bench by Judy Kensley McKie (b. 1944) more than doubled its high estimate of $120,000, selling for $262,500 and leading the sale. The 2001 patinated bronze sculpture was number 7 of the edition of 10.

542

A rare 1961 Nakashima Studio cabinet in American black walnut and burl oak featured a unique slab top with rich, expressive grain, sap grain detailing and two free edges above four doors with a central burr handle concealing five adjustable shelves. It sold for $50,000.

612

American sculptor and furniture artist Wendell Castle (1932-2018) was represented among the highlights of the sale by the unique 1994 “Again and Again” sideboard, which sold for $37,500, nearly four times his high estimate. The sideboard had four drawers, mahogany veneer, polychrome mahogany and oak.

585

From Peter Voulkos, an untitled 1973 piece in the form of a stoneware plate with porcelain passages, gouges and incisions was 18 inches in diameter and over doubled its high estimate to finish at $18,750.

530

A 1992 “Jaguar” console table by McKie was bid for $87,500. It was number 7 in the edition of eight

About Gertrude H. Kerr

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