Report from the Road: Whitehall Seminar was stupendous!

Elizabeth Lindquist Points Out the Finer Details of a Dresser

Today is the last day of the six-day Whitehall Antiques seminar in Chapel Hill, NC.  David Lindquist has been hosting these wonderfully intense and informative seminars on decorative arts for 31 years.   This year’s seminar started last Sunday with Dr. Ron Swaab’s incredible presentation on silver identification.   Ron brought a presentation that was developed with his mother Shirley who was renowned as an incredible source of information on silver as well as many other areas of decorative art.  Ron also packed in several bags of marked silver objects for practice.  We spent the morning learning to decipher silver and sterling marks from various countries and the afternoon testing our skills.   This kind of hands-on practice is irreplaceable in solidifying one’s knowledge of the area.  And the bags of practice pieces had many of the common British and American pieces that are seen regularly as well as some objects from far-flung countries that most appraisers do not see on a regular basis.

Monday, day two, was a day for discovering furniture.   This seminar day was held at the showrooms of Whitehall Antiques, a sprawling villa that has been the home of Whitehall Antiques since the late 1980’s.  David Lindquist and his daughter Elizabeth Lindquist were the hosts and teachers for the day.

David Lindquist shows us the bottom of a French commode.

Whitehall Antiques at the Villa

The class divided into two groups and systematically worked our way from room to room, enjoying and analyzing the various markers of quality and collectability for French, English and American furniture.  At each new piece, we discussed the finer details of quality…conformation, construction, materials, finish, age, etc., along with re-fittings and changes that might have been done to a piece over the years.    We discussed repairs and changes that are necessary upkeep due to the small damages inflicted with hundreds of years of use versus the re-fittings that occur due to changes in taste and architectural details.   For connoisseurs and appraisers of fine furniture, this point-by-point comparison of pieces while you are in the room with them is a quite rare privilege.   Most furniture and decorative arts lectures are done with slides or powerpoint images and so much is lost in the translation.   Better yet, David and Elizabeth repeatedly pulled out drawers, pulled chests out from the wall for inspection of the backs or flipped commodes upside down for inspection of the bottom.   There was none of the museum visit’s fussiness of ‘don’t sit in that chair or touch that finish.’   The Lindquists made sure that the participants got to see the secondary woods and construction methodology used in drawers and on backs and bottoms of furniture.  Even for a fine art appraiser such as myself, this day of looking and learning was a great joy!

Close Examination of a Painting

Days three and four were taught by yours truly.   The subjects were the essentials of appraising prints and paintings.   In keeping with the hands-on approach favored, I tried to provide enough prints in various media and learning activities to spice up the powerpoint presentations that I brought along.  My own approach to enjoying, collecting and valuing artwork is to build your connoisseurship of the items that catch your eye.   One cannot deeply appreciate valuation considerations of a painting or a print until he understands the artist’s working methods.  We attempted to identify various printmaking media and we learned about how to determine the age of a canvas and some of the quality markers by examining the canvas itself and the support.  We also talked about condition and its relationship to value.  We ended the fine art section by examining several canvases in black light in order to look at the restoration history of each.

Days five and six featured Dr. Daphne Rosenzweig and her insightful take on what’s hot in the Asian art market.   Daphne is a much-sought-after speaker and is always entertaining as well as informative.   First, we focused on some identification cues to help separate out Chinese from Japanese from Korean items.   We looked at various screen painting styles that are typical of each country.  Then, we looked at scholar’s items, snuff bottles, netsuke, inro and military paraphernalia and examined the market for each of these.   Daphne brought lots of small collectibles that drove home the collectible points in each of various types of items.   Again, hands-on learning is hard to replace for building one’s knowledge base.

It has been six days of mind-expanding fun with some of the nicest hosts in the South.  This seminar has been a must-do on the lists of art and decorative arts addicts for years.  In addition to the seminar, there was a pork barbeque one night, trips to Crooks, a great local nouvelle Southern food restaurant and an evening of good Thai food.   Many of us made lunch-time trips to A Southern Season, which was best described to me as a cross between Whole Foods and William Sonoma on steroids.  What could beat all this great art combined with gourmet food served up with grand southern hospitality?  Not much in my book!  You should definitely visit the Whitehall Antiques website and make sure they have you on the mailing list for NEXT year’s event.   Best advice though….sign up early.   In order to keep the crowd manageable, the number of participants is limited.   You snooze, you might lose on this one!

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