Folky Southern blanket chest steals the show

CINCINNATI – With more than 800 bidders from 11 countries, Cowan’s Spring Fine and Decorative Art Auction realized $784,094 in total sales with 218 successful bidders on almost 500 lots. “The results speak to a renewed interest in regionalism – in particular Ohio, Kentucky and the South in general. Those continue to be hot pockets of the market,” commented the Director of Fine and Decorative Art, Diane Wachs. Prices include buyer’s premium of 17.5 percent.

 The highest-selling lot of the sale was a unique 19th century blanket chest decorated with folky paintings of large potted flowers. The poplar chest, salvaged from a Kentucky home, sold for $64,625, far over its $2,500-$5,000 estimate. A testament to America’s cross pollenization of styles, the chest’s floral motifs are likely German-influenced, while its whimsical design and construction suggest its origins lie in the South.

A watercolor painting by prominent Kentucky artist Paul Sawyier (1865-1917) realized $27,025, nearly tripling its $8,000-$12,000 estimate. The intimate painting, one of five Sawyier paintings offered in this sale, depicts Mary “Mayme” Bull, to whom Sawyier was engaged but never married, in a canoe on the Kentucky River. The painting, an excellent example of the artist’s Impressionistic style, was originally owned by Bull and was likely a gift to her from Sawyier.

Other exceptional Southern items that sold over their estimates include a cherry wall cupboard attributed to the Pleasant Hill Shaker community of Harrodsburg, Ky., and a 19th century Kentucky two-part china press. The items sold for $11,162 and $7,050, respectively.

A 19th century Midwestern Aesthetic Movement bedroom suite consisting of a bed, armoire, dresser and washstand sold well above its estimate of $10,000-$15,000, realizing $38,775.  Factory-made and embellished with an array of hand-carved designs, the collection features carvings of fiddlehead ferns, realistic flowers, a bird’s nest with two hovering birds, and arched necked cranes – impressive decorations contributing to the furniture’s value and character. “The piece is important because it shows the diversity of the Aesthetic Movement yet harkens back to early skills like carving. Aesthetic Movement pieces like this don’t come to market that often,” said Wachs.

Selling for $23,500, an early-20th century Pairpoint puffy lilac table lamp realized well over its estimate of $8,000-$10,000. The lampshade features lilac blossoms in deep purple and red and two brightly painted butterflies amidst light green foliage. The excellent condition of the lamp’s Pairpoint “Begonia” tree base helped to elevate bids on the lot.

Also auctioned was an Andrew Clemens 1892 sandbottle depicting a rosebud nosegay and a maritime scene. The item doubled its estimate, realizing $15,275. When Clemens (1857-1894) of Dubuque, Iowa, lost both his voice and hearing to encephalitis, he began experimenting with sand art, collecting multicolored sands in his homestate.  He fashioned special tools to tightly pack the sand in bottles, creating intricate designs. Clemens sold his work worldwide and is thought to have produced hundreds of bottles during his lifetime, but few survive today, making this item exceptional and rare. [READ MORE about Clemens’ sand bottles here: The Sand Man: The spectacular sand bottles of Andrew Clemens]

In past auctions, Cowan’s offered other unique sand bottles by Andrew Clemens, but none realized prices as high as the impressive work offered June 6.  One piece that featured a scene of a three-masted ship in choppy seas flying the American flag realized $12,075 in 2004.

Cowan’s next fine and decorative art auction will be held Oct. 3, 2009.

For more information, visit

Visit the shop