NEW YORK, NEW YORK – On January 17, Copley Fine Art Auctions will conduct its first Winter Sale, offering 430 lots of top-notch American paintings, decoys and related folk art. Chairman and CEO Stephen O’Brien, Jr. remarked, “We are excited about this truly exceptional grouping of antique decoys that we have gathered for this sale, from Minnesota to Maryland and New Brunswick to North Carolina quality birds abound. Many of these decoys have not been on the market in decades, if ever. There is something for everyone in this auction - from refined Crowell decoratives to the sculptural folk art forms of John Tax and Lee Dudley.” The first lot will cross the block at 11 AM, and all items will be available for preview from 10 AM to 8 PM on Saturday, January 15 and Sunday, January 16 in Wallace Hall at the Church of St. Ignatius Loyola, 980 Park Avenue. Copley is pleased to be teaming up with Keno Auctions, which will conduct its Winter Sale the following day, January 18. These auctions will kick off Americana Week in New York.
A canvasback by North Carolina carver Lee Dudley (1860-1942) headlines Copley’s Winter Sale ($30/50,000). This bird is one of the finest examples of a Dudley canvasback ever to come to light and is believed to have been made for Dudley’s personal gunning rig. The canvasback decoys from this rig represent some of the earliest and rarest of Dudley’s carvings and can be distinguished by their smooth humpbacks and painted eyes upon the stylishly carved high-crowned heads. The form, execution, provenance and rarity of this coveted Knott's Island canvasback make it a museum quality decoy and one of the finest southern decoys to ever be offered for sale at auction. A rare, hollow, vertically laminated cedar decoy of a Canada goose by the famous Minnesota maker John Tax (1894-1967) also stands out. This decoy ($40/60,000) is one of only six known "feeding stick-up" Canada goose decoys ever created by Tax.
Working decoys from Massachusetts are led by a mallard drake by Joseph W. Lincoln ($20/30,000), which is believed to be the only full-size Lincoln mallard drake decoy in original paint known to exist. Others include an outstanding pair of goldeneyes by A.E. Crowell ($40/60,000) from the historic decoy rig ordered by John Ware Willard (1859-1914), grandson of the famous Colonial Massachusetts clockmaker, Simon Willard (1753-1848). A swimming merganser drake by Crowell ($12/18,000), which displays early bill detail (c. 1910), rasping to the back of the head, and a long, sleek body with detailed paint joins the strong offering of working Massachusetts birds.
Also available will be a turned head, preening black duck by Albert Laing (1811-1886). Laing was the founder of the Stratford school of carving and is recognized as one of the earliest and most documented carvers in North America. This important decoy ($20/30,000) was used in the gunning rig of the most famous Stratford, Connecticut carver, "Shang" Wheeler. Another black duck from this historical rig resided for many years in the Shelburne Museum collection in Vermont.
Stand-out decoys from the New Jersey and Delaware River area include a red-breasted merganser by Levi Rhodes Truex ($12/18,000), a swimming widgeon drake, c. 1880 by John Blair, Sr. ($14/18,000), and a Canada goose decoy, c. 1915, that is one of the less than a dozen of this species known to exist by maker Clark Madara ($15/20,000).
Representing the Virginia region are a number of notable carvings, including a rare hollow brant created by Dave "Umbrella" Watson, c. 1900 ($5/10,000), who carried an umbrella with him wherever he went. A c. 1920 swan by Charles Birch ($8/12,000) is a rare offering of a desirable form and species. As swans were typically only made as confidence decoys, requiring only one or two per gunning rig, few have survived. Birch’s hollow patterned birds with proud breasts and arching necks have long captured the attention of folk art collectors. A black duck by Ira D. Hudson, c. 1930 ($9/12,000), and a brant by Nathan Cobb Jr., c. 1880 ($10/20,000) join the Watson brant, Birch swan, and other exceptional decoys from the Virginia coastline.
Excellent specimens originating from the Illinois River area include a Robert Elliston bluebill drake, c. 1890 ($9/12,000), and an Elliston mallard pair, c. 1890 ($5/10,000) from the “J.H. Milner” rig. The Elliston decoys are joined by a mallard pair carved out of white pine by Bert Graves, with distinctive tail forms, c. 1925 ($6/9,000), and a charming Canada goose with superb scratch paint created by Otto Garren ($4/5,000).
Several examples of fine factory birds include a matched pair of premier grade pintails from the Mason Decoy Factory, and a Mason brant out of the McCleery Collection. Excellent decoys from the Michigan area include a canvasback drake by Ferdinand Bach, c. 1930 ($20/30,000), and a pair of wood ducks by Benjamin Schmidt ($10/20,000).
A notable selection of decoys by the Ward brothers of Crisfield, Maryland, will be available including a decorative pintail by Lem Ward from 1965 ($14/18,000), and Lemuel T. Ward’s pair of canvasbacks ($8/12,000), which are two of the famous twelve "Open Water Shooting Stool," and a widgeon drake by both Ward brothers ($5/7,000).
Other highlights include six decorative shorebirds by Massachusetts carver A. Elmer Crowell (1862-1952). Crowell is widely considered the most important decoy maker of all time, and was a pioneering innovator often referred to as the “Father” of modern decorative carving. These decoratives are led by a Hudsonian Curlew ($60/90,000) which exhibits gently blended feather paint detail and a warm patina, and was carved c. 1915, at approximately the same time as the current world record decorative shorebird by the maker. Additional fine decorative offerings by the East Harwich maker include a running Black-Bellied Plover ($15/25,000), a Golden Plover ($15/25,000), and a Lesser Yellowlegs ($15/25,000).
The first portion of the Winter Sale will feature one hundred and sixty painting lots by renowned artists such as Frank W. Benson, Ogden Pleissner, William Trost Richards, Aiden L. Ripley, Eric Sloane, and A.F. Tait, in addition to ten superb etchings by Carl Rungius, and thirty lots of assorted sporting books from the collection of H. Wendell Endicott. The color catalog is available for $48 and is posted online. Auction highlights and information on consigning and bidding is also available online. To order a catalog or for information, www.copleyart.com or (617) 536-0030. Copley Fine Art Auctions, LLC is at 268 Newbury Street, Boston, MA 02116.
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