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Fine and functional sculpture at the Fall International Antiques Fair

Tiffany desk set from Phillip Chasen Antiques
Tiffany desk set from Phillip Chasen Antiques
J. Kronika

The fine and functional sculpture at the Fall International Antiques Fair bridges classic timelines and contemporary modern collectibles. A variety of fine sculptural objects, embellished furniture and home decor showcased the uses of metal, wood, glass, clay, and other combinations of material in this Fall’s expose at the Merchandise Mart. Dealers participating in the familiar fair and also those part of Emporium, the fair’s newest pavilion, brought compelling samples of three dimensional art.

Among the roughly sixty vendors, some works and collections stood out. The white wood art of folk artists during the 1880’s evidenced the inventiveness and sheer love of detail signature to the style called Tramp Art. These scratch-built picture frames, sculpted objects, and furniture use the discarded wood of old or broken down furnishings, scrap, and most notably cigar boxes. Built in layers and depth, the details include geometric, organic and iconic silhouette shapes. Clifford A. Wallach Antiques of Greenwich, Connecticut specializes in works of this style. Two notable artists working in this style include Chicago maker, John Zubersky and F. W. Burris.

John Zubersky’s signature sunflower corners and open tulip borders grace a picture frame with a photo grouping said to be the artist’s family. Zubersky swept up in the evenings at a bar in Glencoe in exchange for cigar boxes to make his cunning works in wood. Burris crafted two signed sculptures from found wood for members of a family. Along with another work in a very similar style that is unsigned, Wallach has two of Burris’s works in the gallery. Wallach is the author of a recent book, Tramp Art: Another Notch, Folk Art from the Heart. Clifford A. Wallach Gallery will participate this fall in Sheboygan Wisconsin at the upcoming Kohler show.

Wallach explains that while working on his two books, “the [reality of the] tramp artist became clearer and more defined. [This] primarily a home based artisan who made pieces for his own use, [generally] was a family man who worked in all types of industry whether he made one piece or many throughout his lifetime. [Over] 40 ethnic groups [practiced] the art form in this country... It was an everyman craft appealing to men who had to stay busy and be productive.”

The repurposed antiques of several vendors are of particular relevance in today’s art world. Like the re-purposing of cigar boxes by so called tramp artists, artisans like Breck Armstrong, of Moss Studios, Incorporated, who works with found industrial salvage, the re-valuing through aesthetics and function create new dialogues with the collector of today. Armstrong crafts lighting fixtures, décor items, and tables from such salvage as foundary rings, printer’s vises, industrial gauges, and antique rail road carts from the 1900s.

John and Heidi Anderson, of Unearthed Gallery, create interactions with farm and home devices. The re-interpretation of items such as the beautifully patinaed field harrow toothed wheels from the 1950s and 1960s and the hardwood rollers once used for production of wall paper, into wall art and uniquely deconstructed lamps for the home is signature of the Gallery. The wall paper rollers, produced for Bailey Wallpaper Company of Cleveland in the 1860s to 1950s, feature brass cut outs filled with felt ink pads, the full paper design drawn on the surface, and some are labeled or stained with the printing ink color. A series of these rollers would be needed for a multiple color paper.

In a similar vein, Dudley Sherman and Steve Morse work with lighting fixtures. Art Deco Emporium, Morse’s online and fair presence represented both artists at the Antiques Fair. Through the re-activating of lighting forms, such as those favored by Morse from the Art Deco period of the 1940s, these artists craft functional art for the home that merges periods. Steve Morse builds on the outdated fixtures of the 40s, updating the internal electricity and placing bulbs and fabricating shades, stems, and bases as needed. A unique pair of lamps in his display use glass figures that were simply sculpture to house secondary light fixtures. The semi-opaque glass lights up from within, at the base of each lamp. The stems, shades and electrical components are designed and crafted or fabricated to suit the artist’s vision. Utilizing layered rings of steel, with anodized or plated finishes, Morse designs pairings that complement the original fixtures and update them to create stylish functional art lighting. Dudley Sherman grew up with his grandmother’s collection of Art Deco pieces, and was inspired by the forms of the period. He studied neon in 1989 at the Dean Blazek School of Neon, formerly of Antigo, Wisconsin. Utilizing his knowledge of neon and electronics, Sherman not only fixes neon lights, but crafts whimsical works from outdated appliances and flea market finds. His winged human beings, dreamed up out of his fascination with mythological figures, are composed of repaired, repainted mannequin torsos outfitted with complete electrical fixtures and neon wings and haloes. His Toaster from Hell features a 1940s Sunbeam toaster outfitted with internal wiring and a transformer, external neon toast and flames, and functions ideally as kitchen or den mood lighting. His unique repurposing of a 1980s Spiderman bubble gum head as the electrical housing for a Spiderman themed neon sculpture complete with web and spider is a great example of one of a kind fixtures for the home.

Agostino’s Antiques and Fine Arts represents works in the Italian metal arts. Functional pieces include finely wrought sculptural grape vines on candelabra from the 1940s and hand pierced sterling silver mustard pots with cobalt blue glass liners from the 1950s. The unusual forms and purposes of canes are in evidence at Antique Cane World. In the late 1800s, the cane was a necessary accessory. Both men and women carried canes, to add sophistication or to carry a concealed gadget. The sculptural elements, wrought in the head of the cane, the turned and tapered shaft, the hollow centers that hid gadgets like swords, or in a notable example, the surgery kit of a traveling doctor all contribute to the aesthetic of these functional objects.

The idea of functional art goes back much further in history, as evidenced in the Ostrogoth buckle, with beautifully sculpted eagle head, that is from the fifth or sixth century AD. This jewelry piece is one of a small collection of similar early functional sculptures, including fibulae and brooches at Charles Edwin Puckett. Another dealer in jeweled adornment, J. S. Fearnley, has a selection of mosaic, painted enamels, fine gold and diamond pieces. The exquisite miniatures from the 18th century, featuring classical representations such as cherubs, nymphs, and Venus with her dogs and attendants , adorn brooches, pendants, and bracelets. The micro-mosaic, featuring a horse, on a hinged pendant with braided gold chain, and secondary pendants complete with tear drop and floral forms and single strand link chains.

R. Ege Antiques gives a nod to the unusual, where functional sculptures such as carved pipe heads and cast door knockers are unique examples. The season is appropriate for the macabre skull heads that functioned as 19th century pipe bowls. The form of the collection of French, Dutch and German door knockers includes a hand ready to knock.

Hares Antiques exhibited an English wine cooler from 1815, with beautiful wrought bronze sculptural details, such as gilded carrying handles, lion’s feet, and twining serpent lid handle. The interior of the cooler is lined with lead to maintain cool temperatures when filled with ice, and protects the outer wood from the damp. Compared to the plastic and unadorned coolers of our time, this is a beautiful solution to the question of maintaining cool drinks. Other functional sculptures at Hares include a heavily inlaid hutch, with beautiful mosaic bronze and tortoiseshell pieces and gilded picture frames with sculptural details such as plant life and insects.

Phillip Chasen Antiques represents a series of uniquely functional works from Tiffany. These desk sets, incorporating the signature stained glass and metal lattice style known as Tiffany glass, evidence a variety of designs. Among this series of desk sets the designs include grapevine, pine needle, gold and patina, Celtic knot work, Indian, Venetian and bookmark collections.

The tradition of embellishing the functional objects around us dates back to the earliest tools, crafts, and home implements. This continues with design of objects today.

For more information about the dealers and artists:

Clifford A. Wallach:

Upcoming events include:

The American Antiques Show or TAAS Jan 19-23, 2010 –

Unearthed Gallery:

Art Deco Emporium:

Dudley Sherman:

Agostino’s Antiques & Fine Arts LLC:

Antique Cane World:

Charles Edwin Puckett:

J. S. Fearnley:

Hares Antiques:

R. Ege Antiques :


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