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Americana Auction Stories from Jeffrey Evans

Nov 2, 2020

Jeffrey and Beverley Evans, President and Vice President of Jeffrey S. Evans & Associates, have established themselves as experts in the fields of Americana, Southern decorative arts, and American glass. On November 13 they will once again demonstrate their mastery of these market segments with the 39th Semi-Annual Premier Americana Auction. The three-day event is anchored by several significant estates and will feature a melange of rare folk art, antique furniture, and historic material from the auction house’s home base of Virginia and the Shenandoah Valley.

How does the company keep offerings fresh and exciting lots after almost forty editions of this sale and over forty years in the business? Jeff shares with fellow Trust members that the secret to success lies in discovering and sharing compelling stories.

Decorative Arts Trust: How has business at Jeffrey S. Evans & Associates changed in response to the COVID-19 crisis?

Jeffrey Evans: More people are buying through our four online bidding platforms. Since we already had these platforms well established since 2009, with detailed catalogue descriptions, condition reports, and professional photographs, this has not added any extra work to the catalogue department. However, we have had to add to our shipping department to keep up with the extra volume. We have also added ways for clients to do virtual previews, extended our in-person preview opportunities, and of course have been abiding by the state’s mask, social distancing, and thorough cleaning guidelines.

From a consignment standpoint, we have been performing virtual collection reviews as much as possible, and also limiting our out of the area pickups to one or two days mostly. We do have some collections to pick up in Texas and Florida that we have put on hold until things clear up more.

DAT: How have Evans’ clients responded?

JE: Everyone has been great about wearing masks and in setting up appointments and being patient with having their items shipped. Of course there are always some who are difficult, but for the most part people have been great.

Important Welfare family, Salem, NC figured maple dwarf clock; outstanding American folk art paint-decorated miniature fancy chair; Barb family, Shenandoah Valley of Virginia folk art paint-decorated oval box; and Rockingham Co., Shenandoah Valley of Virginia paint-decorated turkey-breast stand table to be sold on November 14.

DAT: How would you gauge interest in Americana and decorative arts at this time?

JE: Interest and demand is really on the upswing. I think much of this is because people are stuck at home with no shows or shops to visit, and since we offer all the information they need to buy with confidence, we have seen our prices and demand soar to levels approaching the pre-recession market.

DAT: What mediums, styles, or time periods have generated the most interest from prospective buyers?

JE: Really rare and desirable material in just about all categories has been strong. Great painted pieces have been bringing record prices, especially things that are regional and have a story to tell. And we are GREAT at telling those stories. We’ve seen the same in folk art, pottery, and Americana across the board. Other categories that have been especially hot are fine art, jewelry, watches, silver, advertising and country store material, firearms, and coins.

DAT: How are you attracting new bidders to the field?

JE: We are attracting new bidders by expanding our internet advertising and outreach, and partnering with museums, the Decorative Arts Trust and similar organizations, and collector clubs. Education has always been a BIG part of our mission at all levels. Paying forward is extremely important in building a business. Also knowing who your audience is and finding different ways to engage them. In addition we have attracted a large number of new clients through social media outlets. It all takes time but pays off in the long run.

DAT: How have you carved out a niche as a major purveyor of American glass and how strong is that market at this moment in time?

JE: I have been studying, researching, lecturing on, and writing about American glass for many years. Having this special connection to and understanding of glass is the key—it’s what sets us above everyone else. Glass is not an easy thing to learn and there are so many different types and angles; it takes years and years to build a working relationship with glass, not something most auction houses are willing to invest. We have seen the glass market beginning to rebound in the past year or two. Categories that have been especially hot include bottles and flasks, early lighting, miniature lamps, art glass, antique and contemporary paperweights, and studio glass. Pressed glass has been slower to rebound, but cup plates and lacy-period salts have made a surprising resurgence lately.

DAT: Do you have a favorite piece in the upcoming Semi-Annual Premier Americana Auction on November 12-14?

JE: It would have to be the John James Trumbull Arnold (1812-1865) folk art oil on canvas double portrait of the Parsons children of Piedmont, VA (now WV). It is previously unrecorded and fresh to the market from the collection of Dan Wagoner of New York City and Romney, WV. He had purchased it in the 1970s directly from the original family.

DAT: How would you describe the depth and appeal of the Wagoner Collection?

JE: One of the country’s most celebrated modern dancers and choreographers of the second half of the 20th century, Dan Wagoner started life far from the big stage in rural West Virginia. Born in Springfield (population 150 at the time), Wagoner was first introduced to the performing arts through his experiences in grade school. Later, as a student at West Virginia University in Morgantown, he discovered modern dance and began taking classes. After serving in the Army Medical Corps at Walter Reed Hospital, Wagoner moved to New York to pursue a dance career. There he worked with Martha Graham and Paul Taylor, among others, and eventually established his own studio and troupe, which continued in operation for 25 years. In the latter part of his career, Wagoner shifted his efforts to teaching and directing, his work taking him to UCLA, Connecticut College, Harvard University, the London School of Contemporary Dance, and Florida State University.

As a collector, Dan Wagoner has always been drawn to backcountry folk art and Americana, “country things, what farmhouses would have had,” as he put it in a 1995 interview for “Dance” magazine. In 1970, Wagoner purchased the 1789 Kurkendall House, an important stone home on the South Branch of the Potomac River near Romney, West Virginia, and with the help of his nephew, Gene Williams, began the laborious process of restoration. With no electricity and no running water, and the only access by river crossing or by train, Wagoner made this his vacation home, a place of respite from the bustle of city life. Even today, Wagoner’s West Virginia stone house imparts an unforgettable feeling of tranquility, broken only here and there by the sound of cattle or the nearby passing train. It was in this stone house that Dan displayed his collection of painted furniture, folk art, and textiles. JSE & Associates is honored to work with Mr. Wagoner’s collection as we help to pass along these treasured objects to a new generation.

DAT: The previous Semi-Annual Premier Americana Auction held in June achieved $1 million. How do you build on the success of each edition and keep the offerings fresh?

JE: While the general theme of each auction stays consistent, every sale has a different angle or area that is particularly interesting. Whether it is a storyline like above, that goes with a particular collector or collection, a group of things that tell a story or offer a special educational opportunity, and/or important and intriguing objects. We are able to identify these aspects and relay the stories, which is not something most auction houses have the ability or take the time to do. As time goes on there is less and less material out there that is totally fresh to the market, but we are able to seek out and find more of that material than just about anyone else in the business.

DAT: You have been in the auction business for over 40 years. What are your predictions for the industry and the market in 2021?

JE: I think that many, if not most of the auction houses that have gone to timed and on-line only sales because of COVID will continue to operate in that fashion in the future. I’m afraid that the days of participating in person at an auction, whether at a gallery or on-site are coming to an end. I really never see us going in that direction. We think it is important to excel at both formats, offering detailed information for online bidders and hosting bidders live in the gallery. No matter how good the photography and descriptions are, there are those pieces that you really have to see in person to fully appreciate. I love it when someone comes in to preview and when they see an item they go “wow!”

DAT: In addition to being experienced auctioneers, you are also collectors. What are you looking to add to your collection next?

JE: Beverley is adding structures to the Sites House homestead collection. She has moved a log house from two miles west of us to our site and is having it reconstructed as a summer kitchen, with associated gardens, etc. Next she is going to put up a two-story frame building that will be a recreation of the Fravel chair shop from Woodstock, VA. That will serve as our educational center on the first floor and her office and quilt storage on the second floor. Then she wants to construct a log loom house, log and stone spring house, and other appropriate dependencies.

Follow the results of the 39th Semi-Annual Premier Americana Auction beginning Friday, November 13 at 9:30 am.

Read more about antiques and the decorative arts field by browsing the Decorative Arts Trust blog, by signing up for the e-newsletter, and by following the Trust on Facebook and Instagram. The Decorative Arts Trust appreciates the support of members and donors to share stories like this one with interested readers.

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