A few months ago I got an email notification for the Foundation for Appraisal Education’s (FAE) annual seminar. The speakers sounded intriguing and the chance to escape the Texas heat for a few days in the San Francisco Bay area made the attendance enticing. Yes, I assumed we would be busy with work and would have to set things aside for a few days, but appraisers are just human. We need rest, relaxation and inspiration like other mere mortals. So, I signed us up. The ‘us’ included my able assistant Matthew Callender, our respective spouses, and myself. Why not combine a few days learning with a few days of R & R over the weekend?
We landed at SFO to a cloudless day and temperature of 72°–already a mood shifting change for the better. Don’t get me wrong, as a native of Texas I am a big booster of our state, but even I know that anyone with brains and money tries to leave Texas for cooler climates in the middle of the summer. Most of this summer has been mild but I have been clinging to the hope of this trip in order to get through the last few weeks of sweltering weather. We made our way to Alameda across the bay and checked in. Then made our way to the opening reception of the conference, hosted this year by Michaan’s Auction house.
Wow! What a host! Allyson Bradley and the whole Michaan’s staff showed us hospitality beyond measure. The reception was filled with scrumptious food and libation.
It gave us a chance to look over Michaan’s upcoming auction items and chat with other appraisers from across the country. Good start to the conference.
On Thursday, most of the speakers were impressive. Harry Huang, the Asian art expert with Michaan’s, gave a talk on snuff bottles of organic materials, followed by a great opportunity to examine and discuss the pieces.
The advantage of a seminar in an auction house is the chance for hands-on examination.
He was followed by Susan Lahey, ISA AM, MA, who spoke on the market for contemporary Chinese art, a fascinating and timely topic—this is an area of collecting that is red hot in today’s market. Susan appraises both traditional Asian/Oriental art and this late 20th-early 21st century iteration. She is also an accomplished speaker who understands a crowd of appraisers wants lots of info… she came prepared. Good job, Susan!
Susan was followed by Brian Witherall of Witherall’s Auction House. Brian spoke on Gold Rush era jewelry and accouterment. The pieces are not anything we will ever run into or appraise, but Brian’s talk was informative.
After a luscious box lunch and a few moments of sitting on the steps soaking up some California sun, the afternoon speakers began. I had perused the itinerary and was excited to hear the speaker on “California Art.” That is, until he opened his mouth. The talk was so ill-prepared that I will leave the speaker’s name out in order to save him the embarrassment. Seriously? This fellow was a long-time dealer in the area and was there representing an auction house that I will also skip in order to save them the embarrassment. The old cliche ‘phone that one in’ would be a generous understatement of that presentation. Too bad! Such a great topic with such good potential …wasted.
The day closed on a good note though. Steve Cabella of Modern I gave a great presentation on the field that used to be called “Post War Design” and is now referred to as mid-century modern. Steve has been a dealer of this sort of furniture since long before it was the hottest trend. Most of these items are not signed with the designer’s name so Steve has a large collection of vintage design magazines and has long hours poring through them to match unsigned pieces to the right manufacturer. He knows the designers well and he gave an interesting and informative talk.
Friday began with a three-person panel on authentication. Hilarie Faberman, a Curator of Contemporary Art at the Stanford University Art Museum, Matt Quinn of Quinn’s Auctions and and Tom Pratt, an insurance agent who specializes in fine art. Each gave real-world examples of situations when authentication had been necessary to properly value items.
Ben Marks, the art writer for Collectorsweekly.com, moderated the panel. The topic of authentication is always an important one to appraisers… when does one need an authentication, how to find the right person, the logistics of getting the piece in front of the authenticator and all of the latest news about various authentication boards that have shut down for fear of litigation…. Good meaty information.
Allen Michaan of Michaan’s auctions gave a beautifully illustrated talk on the career of Louis Comfort Tiffany and the many areas of art and decorative arts he and his company delved into. The biggest revelation to me was that Tiffany had started out his art career as a painter. Who knew? He was a decent painter but really found his niche when he began to delve into interior decoration and produce stained glass windows, lamps and other desk accessories for his clients. He and a team of colleagues were commissioned to do stained glass windows for many churches and public buildings in the early 20th C.
After Allen’s presentation,an independent appraiser with extensive auction house experience in the sale of celebrity collections, talked about the collecting of celebrity memorabilia. Values in this field have much more to do with the popularity of the owner and the historical importance of a particular item than with any other factor. It’s a fascinating field but one where comparables must be crazy to find. Is a Marilyn Monroe item equivalent to an Elvis item or would the better comparison be with JFK? Some real challenges in that field! The day ended with a presentation on wood identification by lumber expert Rick McDaniels of McBeath Lumber.
After two days of class time in Alameda, we stretched our backs and moved our bags into a lovely, quaint French-style hotel in San Francisco, the Hotel Cornell. Lovely place! The location is great, very near Union Square and rooms are small but charming. There are posters on every wall that does not have hand-painted homages to French art and culture. The small café downstairs cooks up a fresh breakfast to order and has faux-painted stone walls, French farm implements, and a Joan d’Arc sculpture. We spent the next few days trekking across San Francisco, taking in the sites and reveling in the cool temperatures.
Now, it’s back to the office and the rather large stack of appraisals that need to be completed.