When I am seeking inspiration for new work, I usually head to my ever expanding collection of books and, failing that, I am lucky enough to live in a city where museums are plentiful and well-endowed with collections deep and wide. My main area of focus is textiles, a relatively narrow category, and it is not always easy to find new inspiration in museums or books. Recently I have begun keeping an eye on auctions as a source of new inspiration. Auction catalogs frequently contain good quality color photographs and old catalogs can be found for sale in second hand bookstores and on-line; there are even on-line dealers who specialize in
auction catalogues. Auction houses are also well known for putting items destined for the auction block on public display, they have learned, to their advantage, that it is a great way to build interest in the auction by allowing prospective bidders the chance to examine the items. It is also a great way for artists to get a good look at things that are not generally on public view. If you’re lucky enough, you may actually be able to touch the items, and photographs are almost always allowed. This past week, with the big Winter Antiques Show in town, both Sotheby’s and Christie’s had exhibits of American antiques, including two notable collections of samplers.
I started off at Sotheby’s to view the Mary Jaene Edmonds sampler collection. It was hung in and amongst a collection of early American furniture, each benefitting from the association. None were behind glass, other than that in their frames and it was possible to walk up quite close and to take as many pictures as one desired. While there, I also studied and photographed a number of the painted pieces of furniture and took note that several pieces of upholstered furniture had the upholstery pulled back, or completely removed so that the construction of the piece might be more clearly seen-when was the last time you saw that in a museum?
Later in the week, there was a chance to visit Christie’s to see the Stonington Collection and found that, too, set out with a wonderful selection of early American pieces. There were some beautifully faux finished blanket chests and a particularly striking tall case clock as well.
Auction catalogs can differ greatly in quality, some are more like coffee table books with good sized photos and elaborate details on the pieces included. Others are more functional with barely more information than necessary for identification, and, they can be pricey. especially when new. Fortunately there is lately a trend towards the publication of e-catalogs which can be downloaded to your computer with the ability to enlarge photos for amazing detail, a great tool and great for inspiration.