Mikey (still) Likes It!
Unreserved Auction Preview: Highlighting Unique Art & Design
4 April 2017
by Michael Ingham, Rago Director of Unreserved Auctions
Rago’s Director of Unreserved Auctions, Michael Ingham, highlights his favorite lots from the upcoming Unreserved Auctions on Friday April 7 and Saturday April 8.
Merrimac was founded in the midst of the American Arts and Crafts Movement in 1897. The Arts and Crafts Movement, which began in Victorian England, argued for honest handcraftsmanship and the integrity of quality materials. Arts and Crafts designers sought to improve standards of decorative design, believed to have been debased by mechanization.
Founded by Thomas Nickerson in Newburyport, Massachusetts, Merrimac’s original goal was the manufacture of florist’s ware (meaning simple vases) and enameled tile. Nickerson quickly discovered, however, that there was more money to be made in the glazed and decorated artware market.
The company produced pieces with thick walls, hand carved surfaces and a variety of glazes. Pictured above is a large example with a great tactile quality. The basic shape is elegant, with the body swelling up out of the base. The ribbing, hand rendered rather than molded, has just enough imperfections to inspire one to reach out and touch the piece. The glaze flows handsomely all over. The fresh green is sheer enough to reveal glimpses of the redware beneath and the overglaze runs down the body, pooling in the ribs and contributing movement and depth. From form to glaze, this is a fine example of the potter’s art.
Unfortunately, Merrimac Pottery burned to the ground in 1908 and disbanded shortly thereafter, making extant examples of their pottery very rare.
Gerardus Boyce ran a highly successful silversmithing business in New York City from around 1820-1857. This particular example of his work, a coffee pot dating from 1820-1825, is decorated at the rim and foot with stamped bands of floral decoration and topped with repousse leaves. It is in excellent shape when you consider it is nearly 200 years old and that silver is a soft, easily dented material.
The pot is made of coin silver, an often misunderstood term in antiques. Until the 1859 discovery of the Comstock Lode, the first major silver ore deposit unearthed in the United States, American silversmiths found access to raw materials problematic. Often, the easiest supply of silver came from the coins in their pockets, thus the origin of the term. Used correctly, “coin silver” refers to American silver made before the year 1870 that is not sterling silver. It is 90% silver, meaning it contains 2.5% less silver than 925 Sterling. The other 10% is copper alloyed with silver for strength (the same composition as American silver coins made before 1964). By the 1870’s, coin silver was completely replaced with sterling, making this coffee pot a beautiful piece of American history, crafted by a talented maker and available at an attractive price.
Born in Helsinki in 1943, Heikki Orvola is an imposing force in Finnish design, working in ceramics, textiles and glass. An artist who has devoted his life to product design, he started his career in the 1960’s at the Finnish company, Iittala, where he was a glass artist at the company’s factory in Nuutajarvi.
About a decade into his career, Orvola created the vases pictured here, which are a fine example of his clean graphics and color sensibility. This group of three delivers a strong visual punch and is also reflective of some of his work in textiles, especially his work for the famed Finnish design company Marimekko. Over the course of his long career, Orvola won many awards including the prestigious Kaj Franck prize in 1988 and the Pro Finlandia Medal. His work has been collected by museums the world over.
Best known for his work in American textile design, Alexander Girard opened his first studio in New York in 1932 and a second in Detroit five years later. His career breakthrough came in 1949 when he was chosen to design the Detroit Institute of Arts’ For Modern Living exhibition.
Early in the 1950’s, Girard met Charles Eames while both were designing bent plywood cases for radios. In 1952, Eames recruited Girard to become Herman Miller’s Director of Design in the textile division, where he created fabrics for the iconic designs of Charles and Ray Eames and George Nelson.
In 1960, Girard was commissioned to design the restaurant for the Time-Life Building, the largest slab-formed skyscraper in New York - a modern marvel featuring an ultra-modern lobby. “La Fonda del Sol”’s theme was contemporary Latin America and Girard designed everything from fabrics, menus, matchbooks and place settings to the ceramic tiles on the floors and walls.
At the same time, Charles and Ray Eames were tasked with designing the furniture for the executive offices upstairs. An excellent example of the Eames’s work is this turned walnut Time-Life stool, Lot 1339 in this weekend’s auction. Part stool, part sculpture, part table, this is a quintessential piece of midcentury design.