Sunday, September 13, 2009


Circa 1895, Household Sewing Machine Company, in the collection of the Henry Ford Museum

As an appraiser of old things, I can say with authority that there are many misconceptions about how or why some items are valuable and some are not. Recently, I appraised an item for $3000 and the client swore to me he knew it was worth more. Even after I showed him the most recent sales figures for the same item (with photographs) he was not convinced. It is hard for most people to separate their emotions from their possessions. Common objections are “my mother left this to me and she told it me it was very valuable", “someone once offered me a lot of money for this item”, or “I saw the very same item in a museum and they wouldn’t own something that was not valuable.”

It was the third objection that the $3000 man used as his objection. In our consumer-driven society we often forget that museums do not collect just what is valuable. They also collect items that relate to their collection and to the mission of the museum. Just because an item has historical significance does not mean it has great monetary value. Supply and demand are still applicable in the art and antiques world.

A good example of this is the late 19th century sewing machine. The sewing machine was one of the first machines found in many American homes in the 19th century. At the time, the machines were made by the hundreds of thousands and the technology used to make them was state-of-the art. The sewing machine pictured above was made around 1895 by the Household Sewing Machine Company of Providence Rhode Island. I took a picture of it last month when I visited the Henry Ford Museum. The Ford Museum's mission is to showcase the "genius of the American people" as well as "to bring to life the stories of ordinary people."Thus, the sewing machine was chosen because it is an example of an innovation that helped spur the American economy and average American households forward. The machine was a revolution in technology for its time. Today, however, the market does not financially reflect the historical importance of the item. Sewing machines were made in such large quantities that there are still many that exist today and there are not a lot of modern uses for them. Thus, the prices remain relatively low. Below are some examples of recent auction figures.

1. Household Sewing machine with trunk and cabinet sold at Skinner Auctions on Jan. 24, 2008 for $50

2. Singer Sewing Machine sold at Homestead Auctions, Feb 17, 2008 for $30
3. Singer Sewing Machine sold California Auctioneers, March 16, 2008 for $70

Monday, September 7, 2009


Made In China, Julie McNair

For the last eight weeks, I have been traveling more than usual to complete appraisal work throughout the country. In every city I visit, I try to carve out time at the end of the day or between flights to see an art exhibit or to experience a new museum. One of my favorite places in recent memorry has been Telluride, Colorado. Located in the southwest portion of the state, Telluride is an amazingly beautiful town with a rich history and a lovely art scene.

One day, during an early morning walk, I came face to face with the sculpture above and it immediately captured my attention. The sculpture entitled Made In America is one of the works featured in artist Julie McNair's latest exhibited, Being Human. The title, Being Human, suggests that the artist's intent is to capture what it is like to be human. But more than that, the artist is concerned with what it is like to be human in today's world. For instance Made in America is a depiction of a woman wearing the stars of the American Flag on her dress as she hides American Flag behind her back. Her facial expression is both proud and sad. Is this a comment on the decline in American manufacturing and its proud heritage or is it a comment about the American worker? Is the woman proud or ashamed of her country?

The answers are left to the viewer but the method of creation are readily apparent.
And thoses methods are both interesting and fully successful. Each sculpture has a different texture which is acheived throught the use of press molds, detailed by hand-painting, and then sealed with a post-fired patina. The texture and color help create a mood and personality for each figure. Today's viewer is more accustomed to viewing physically beautiful models as the subject. But McNair's subjects are not traditionally beautiful. Instead, they are interesting and flawed and this forces the viewer to focus on the artist's message or the particular issue she is exploring without wasting time on the beauty of the face or the body. McNair has said, “I start a piece with a specific idea, whether it’s a personal concern or more of a big picture dilemma. From that starting point I jump into the creative flow. The finished piece ends up embodying that energy.”

Julie McNair is a long time resident of Telluride, Colorado but she was not educated in the state. She received her undergraduate degree in sculpture from North Texas University and her M.F.A. in fine arts from the University of Wyoming. During her long arts career she has had varying jobs including grants writer, executive director of the Art League of Houston, Assistant Professor, and art gallery owner.

Being Human will be on display at the Ah Haa Gallery in Telluride, Colorado until September 24, 2009.