Paul Harmon: The Story So Far
By Joshua Daniel Fisher
A couple weeks ago, I sat down with Paul Harmon in his home studio in Brentwood, Tennessee. The room was well lit with rows of windows and vaulted ceilings. Canvases stacked four or five deep against the walls. We took our seats on two overstuffed sofas in front of a large brick fireplace, facing each other over a tidy coffee table.
You’ve been a prolific artist your entire life, and looking around this room, it’s apparent that you have not eased up at all. What drove you to be an artist in the first place, and what drives you to continue to create new pieces?
My grandmother was an artist. She lived close by and was sort of a neighborhood babysitter for me and my sister growing up. She had a studio in both of the homes that she babysat in, so really, I started out in her studio. She’d be working on the easel and I’d be on my hands and knees working on newsprint. The old joke is that nothing has really changed over the years other than that I got better materials.
She started the Nashville Artist Guild and was its first president. On weekends, she and my parents would take me to exhibits around town, so by the time I was twelve or thirteen years old, I knew all the different artists here in Nashville. It was sort of a natural thing that I did art.
She was a really good painter, too. She did portraits and still lifes, primarily. I remember that I used to think her work was very old-fashioned, but as I got older, I started going up close to her paintings and wondering, “How did she do this?” and “How did she do that?” I learned a lot by watching her work as a child, and by going up close to her paintings and observing them years later.
Was there anyone else who influenced your art early on?
I’d say my two biggest influences were my grandmother and Eugene Vitalis Biel-Bienne. Biel-Bienne had come to America during WWII. His wife was Jewish, and he had previously spoken out against the Nazi party, so after the Nazis took Paris, he and his wife had to flee to America.
He came to America under the charge of William Averell Harriman, who had organized a group to help painters, sculptors, and similar professionals escape Europe. Almost immediately after arriving in America, Biel-Bienne was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in New York. However, after the untimely passing of his wife, Biel-Bienne began looking for a new environment outside of the city.
He came to Nashville to teach at the Vanderbilt Fine Arts program. They were looking for someone to teach studio painting, and people applied from all over the country. One of those applications was from Biel-Bienne, and he had attached to it recommendations from Pablo Picasso and Bert Stern and a number of pretty prominent artists, and initially everybody at the Vanderbilt Fine Arts program thought it was a prank. Walter Sharp, the fine arts professor in charge of hiring for the position, eventually looked into this Biel-Bienne character, discovered who he was and that his application was genuine, and brought him down to Nashville.
So were you a student in the program Biel-Bienne was hired to teach?
No, not at all. I was in a little show at the Parthenon and Biel was giving a tour with about thirty of his students and a reporter from The Nashville Banner. Biel would go around to each painting and come up with some dramatic and witty criticism of each piece for the sake of the press and to keep his students engaged. He came up to my piece, though, and exclaimed, “Now this man knows how to paint!” Biel’s praise was reported in the banner alongside a picture of him and his students standing with my work. I was in my early twenties and was thrilled to have someone of Biel’s stature commend my work.
A friend of mine had seen the article and picture in The Nashville Banner and called me up asking if I wanted to meet Biel-Bienne. My friend had been a student at Vanderbilt and knew the artist, and he told me that Biel-Bienne would like to meet me.
So we went over to Biel’s studio, and it just nearly tore my head off. I feel like I learned more from Eugene Vitalis Biel-Bienne than just about anyone else. Here was a guy standing in front of me who had shared a studio with Picasso. He had all these stories of Juan Gris and Giacometti and Brock…they were like storybook characters to me, but he knew them and would tell me stories of adventures they’d had together. It made the idea of making art like that do-able to me.
You’re more confident in your voice with the validation of someone you admire.
Exactly. When you’re young, you’re trying to figure out an awful lot of things. You’re trying to figure out who you are, and painting is part of that.
In putting together my first book, the works went all the way back to 1961 and the one thing that really pleased me was that I thought the early part of the book could look very schizophrenic—the 1960s and 1970s as opposed to the 1990s and 2000s—but what you see there are the seeds. So I feel like I’ve been following the same trail. It’s migrated, but it’s never gone too far off the path was set back in the 60s.
So you think that, as you’ve gone on, your works have become truer to yourself?
Yes, but make no mistake about it—we’re still standing on the shoulders of the people that came before us. I gave an interview in Austin, TX in the 1980s that I still stand by. I told the interviewer that I imagined myself in a large auditorium with hundreds of painters. I set up my easel and I look to my right, and there’s Matisse with his fabulous colors, and so I use some of that. I look to my left and there’s Giacometti working in greys, so I use some of that. There’s Picasso with his “anything is fair” attitude, so I use some of that. And Raphael, and Vermeer, and so on. I move my easel around the room and use a little bit of those around me, until one day I find myself in the corner, with white walls to my left and right. I’m not seeing other paintings anymore, but they’re all still right there behind me.
I love that. Speaking of some of your influences, you mentioned Matisse and his use of color. You’ve been called a master colorist yourself, and your unique use of color has become a characteristic element in your work. How do you go about choosing your color palettes?
I’ve gotten a lot of press about my use of color and it’s a curious thing to me because I don’t think of myself as a colorist. I think of myself as a drawer of line, and once I get a subject to where the lines make sense and express as close as I can to what I’m trying to achieve, then I use color to build contrast. I really just use color to round it out or flatten it or make it more dramatic or more subtle. The color is a tool to the drawing.
Also, I’m a kill painter. What I mean by that is that rather than one very careful line, I’ll make ten lines and kill the nine that don’t work. Sometimes I’ll intellectually think that I need a certain color, only to scrape it down and come back with another. So the canvases are changing all the time.
Also, being a kill painter takes on another aspect in that I don’t want to give too much away in a painting. I’ve painted a number of canvases that I felt like were successful as an image, but I thought, “This looks like a really well-painted illustration for a chapter in a book that nobody else has read but you”. So if you look at a painting like that, you don’t understand it, but if I just remove some elements, then you can look at it and have a definite opinion about what’s going on and how you should feel about it. And that could be a completely different thing from what I was thinking while painting it, but either way, the painting now has legs. It has legs for you, and it has legs for me.
I’ve noticed that when you do edit it down, you maintain a lot of recurring imagery. You use a lot of birds, chairs, fish, rabbits… What is the importance of those particular images to you?
In medieval times, very few people could read, but most people could read paintings. They knew that if there’s a well in a painting, it meant something. You mentioned the hare—that’s one of the biggest symbols in art, probably second only to the moon. If you take the rooster, it has a different meaning in Germany than it does in France than it does in Japan. So you could still interpret the painting if you wanted to, and you could interpret it a lot of different ways.
There are people that are successful and do very well painting old barns and cattle and such. I’ve never been interested in that. I want to paint an idea. I guess the idea I’m trying to paint in all my paintings, from my point of view, this is what it’s like to be a human on this planet. You remarked earlier that I’m still painting full-steam. You just don’t get through painting that sort of concept.
And I think that’s apparent in your work, too—that you’re not painting objects; you’re painting concepts. Your stenciled lines, which are another trademark of your work—Are they meant to emphasize that difference between the Object and the Concept?
They were stenciled lines up until about ten years ago, and then I just started doing the line work with a brush. I think it appeals to me because, let’s say I paint a picture of a woman, and she’s posed like a portrait. I think with the stencil line, it doesn’t necessarily say, “This is Mary So-and-so”. It says “This is woman”. She’s a symbol for a woman.
In the 60s I went down to New Orleans and went through some of those mile-long warehouses where crates of materials were being transported all over the globe, and I was struck by the packing crates. They’d have a champagne glass on them, or an umbrella, or a hand pointing upward, and they’re all stenciled. And I came back from New Orleans and started trying different things, and none of them worked until I cut a stencil and stuck it on the wet paint and thought, “Ah, that works!” Then, over the next couple years, stenciling took up pretty much all of the line work of the painting. And so that became a symbol instead of a thing. It’s a rabbit, but there’s a stencil in the design of the rabbit, so it’s a symbol.
There’s one more element that’s signature to your work that I want to ask you about, and that’s your use of juxtaposition. Is the juxtaposition purely aesthetic to you or is it something more symbolic to help encompass what you’re trying to relay about the human experience?
I’ve wondered about that, too, and I haven’t really come up with a good logic for it. The reason for multiple things in there, though—and I’m speculating somewhat—is that I think of it like a sentence diagram. Imagine a diagram of a sentence up on the blackboard. You have the noun and the verb and the adjective and the adverbs coming off of that diagram. I think that one image in a painting is the noun and the other is the adjective, and so on. Then I look at it again and think, “Well no, this is the noun…” So I like to think that it gives the painting longer legs. Every time you see it, it could be a little different.
It’s also really a gut feeling that these different objects somehow connect, but I don’t think it’s important for the viewer to know what the connection is. They can come up with their own. Sometimes I’ll have a good reason for it. I did a portrait of James Joyce and I put his likeness next to a couple kissing next to a very large dimensional red cross. Well, the Joyce Park in Vienna is right across the street from the Red Cross Hospital, and the cafeteria there is named after two of the characters from Ulysses.
So they’re all tied together in your mind, and you’re putting your personal connections down onto the canvas?
That’s right. I’ve got a great job. It’s not like a lot of jobs where you do it, and then you take leisure—where you work, and then you’re with your family, or you work and then you’re with your friends. I’ve pretty successfully been able to break it down to where it’s relatively seamless—my personal life, my private life, painting… it’s all kind of the same thing. That’s been tough to do, because one thing can be a distraction from the other. Something can distract you from painting, but if you embrace it with the painting then it becomes useful. There may be something bad that happens in your life, and the instinct is to shy away from that, but if you’re a creative person, you don’t want to deny that. You go in and embrace it and live with it and just devour it and cover yourself with it. It’s usable. You’ve defeated it by transforming it and using it in a productive way. And then it’s not so bad.
So you run your life alongside your art. And you’ve chosen to base both of those things out of Nashville. After maintaining a studio in Paris and achieving international acclaim,
what made you stay here?
Well, maybe things could have been more commercially productive if I had gone to New York or one of the other major centers of art, but I always felt like I knew a bunch of other painters who went to New York, became successful, and then moved to Captiva Island or upstate New York or out to the desert someplace. I just thought I would like to skip that step. I’m really happy here.
In this auction, you have some original ceramics, wood cutouts, and prints as well as canvases. When did you start working in those mediums and what appeals to you about those over canvases?
If I were dropped on a desert island and they said I only have one medium I could work in for the rest of my life, I’d say “OK, give me oils and canvas”. I find, though, that it’s really healthy as an artist to stop painting in oils for a bit and do watercolors, then t stop doing watercolors and do prints.
I think the cutouts or the ceramics ties in with the idea that you do something very different and then you come back to the canvases fresher. You go from the canvases to watercolor or ceramics and although the mediums are very different, you learn something that could be used for the other. I just feel like working in ceramics or cutouts or anything like that brings you back fresher to the other mediums.
Treating this auction as a gallery exhibit spanning four decades of your career, do you think people can glean a stylistic trajectory of your artistry as a whole?
I feel that there’s a thread that runs through it. A French reviewer once gave me one of my best reviews ever. He said something to the effect of, “He paints a number of different kinds of images in a lot of different mediums, but from a distance of a hundred meters from a car moving sixty kilometers per hour, you can spot his work”. And I think that people can with the body of work that is in this auction.
While selecting the work for this auction, we wanted to have a variety—some lithographs, some serigraphs, some etchings, some watercolors, and some paintings from difference decades, too. But as my wife and I went through everything, I can’t tell you how many times we said, “Oh, I hate to see this one go”. Because I love my work. I love what I do. These are not stray puppies; these are works that I have loved and enjoyed, but they don’t really live until they go out into the world.
INTERVIEW BY JOSHUA DANIEL FISHER
A Video Post About Baldini Auction Co. from The Tennessean, November 28th, 2016
Baldini Auction Company would like to thank Jessica Bliss and Lacy Adkins for taking time out of their busy schedule to showcase our notable Civil War auction. The full story can be found at www.tennessean.com.
In All My Years…
Those who know me have heard me say time and time again, “It doesn’t matter how long I’ve been an auctioneer, it seems I always have the opportunity to sell something I’ve never sold before. I love my job!”
I am preparing for a live auction event scheduled for October 13, 2016, and I can truly say, this time,
“I can’t imagine that I would ever have the opportunity to sell something as historic as an 1861, six-pounder Tredegar cannon, which is the only bronze Confederate North Carolina surcharged cannon in private hands.”
Also, it has been confirmed in an email from Val Forgett, III dated August 29, 2016; this cannon did appear in the epic movie Gods & Generals. There is a lot of interesting information about the cannon and we have included it on our website. Please take a few minutes to read the history associated with this cannon.
I was in Marietta, Georgia in August at the Southeastern Civil War Show to promote this auction and garner some interest. I must say, between the vendors at the show and the attendees, I don’t believe I’ve ever met such a nice group of people dedicated to preserving the history of the Civil War. People were there from as far away as Maryland and Virginia, Tennessee and North Carolina. Among some of the people I met, I’d like to tell you about two people in particular, Raymond and Corrine Smutko.
While I was taking a break from my booth, passing out literature to the vendors about this upcoming auction, I was drawn to one of the vendors who was wearing a Tredegar Foundry t-shirt. You see, the cannon we’re selling in the auction is from the Tredegar Foundry, so naturally I was drawn to his display. While I was telling him about the auction, I heard someone say, “You’re talking to the wrong guy”. I continued to tell the vendor about the auction and I heard someone say again, “You’re talking to the wrong guy”. I turned around and introduced myself to the woman, who was, by this time pointing to her husband. They introduced themselves as Ray and Corrine Smutko, friends of the late Val Forgett, Jr., who purchased this cannon in 1980 at the Spaulding family auction in Cooperstown, New York.
Ray said, “ Val and I were best friends and I remember that cannon you’re selling being on Val’s property. My kids used to play on that cannon.” I know…what are the chances? After I picked up my jaw from my chest, I quickly asked if they could spend a few minutes with me in my booth for a conversation. I’m sure they were just as surprised to see a picture of that cannon as I was surprised to meet someone who had actually known about, and was a part of this cannon’s unique history.
Ray told me some wildly entertaining stories about he and Val. You see Val Forgett, Jr. founded the Navy Arms Company, Inc. in 1956 and is internationally recognized as the “Father of the modern replica firearms business”. Ray told me he and Val were both members of the North/South Skirmish Association, which is still active today and promotes the shooting of Civil War firearms and encourages the preservation of Civil War materials. Whenever there was a skirmish, all of the teams participating were allowed to actually camp on the property. The two families would always pitch a tent and camp together; then with a laugh Ray said, “Until Val’s business started to prosper and Val started camping in his motor-home!”
Ray said he has fond memories of Val and their time together in their younger days. Val’s property was a playground of military equipment and parts as he was always working on a project. Ray said, “Val was also a very generous man, and his success never clouded our friendship”. Their children grew up together and the Smutkos even attended the wedding of his son, Val III.
In my conversation with the Smutkos, I was trying to find out a little more about Ray, as I could tell he just wanted to talk about Val. Ray’s wife, Corrine, finally cut in and said to me, “You can see Ray in the movie Gods and Generals as an extra,” then continued “As long as you don’t blink”.
It’s funny how you can sometimes just be in the right place at the right time…you know, when the stars and moon align. In all my years in the auction industry, I could not have imagined a more serendipitous moment!
2006 Grammy Swag Bag Nabs Rare Bob Dylan Portfolio Collection
“I had never won anything in my life,” is what my client said when we were discussing the item she was considering for auction. She said she had attended the Grammy’s on multiple occasions and was always excited about the swag bags given to attendees at the after-parties.
At the after-party in 2006, she said there was a CD in the swag bag, which featured some of the Grammy nominated songs that year. When she opened the CD, there was a number inside. She asked some colleagues what the number referred to, and they told her she had won the corresponding prize matching her number. There were only 10 prizes that year. Her prize – a Portfolio entitled “Bob Dylan: Unscripted” by Douglas R. Gilbert.
What she didn’t realize at the time was the rarity of this silk spun Portfolio, which contained ten photographer signed silver gelatin prints depicting a young Bob Dylan in 1964. She had an early morning flight to catch the next day so she had the hotel make a box for her. She put the portfolio in the hand-made box and carried it on the plane with her. Ten years later, she has decided to let someone else enjoy the collection.
My company, Baldini Auction Company, LLC, has been commissioned to sell this very rare edition one of only fifteen ever made silk spun portfolio. This portfolio is being offered in our online auction, which opens June 8th, 2016 and ends June 22nd. It will sell to the highest bidder, regardless of price.
You never know who’s going to come through the door with something interesting to sell and that’s why I love the auction industry; there’s always something new and different to sell, and we have to figure out the best way to sell it.
I reached out to Douglas Gilbert, the photographer, and we have been in communication with each other about this unique and rare item. I asked him for an Artist’s Statement and in an email from Mr. Gilbert, he spoke about how he came to meet Bob Dylan and photograph this portfolio collection.
Gilbert said he first heard of Dylan in 1963, while visiting with friends in New York City. After graduating from college, he went to work for LOOK Magazine. Encouraged by the staff to submit story ideas, Gilbert proposed a story about Bob Dylan, who, at the time, was a rising star in folk music. The magazine agreed and soon Gilbert was on his way to Woodstock, New York to do a story focusing on Dylan’s offstage life with friends and his more private times. Gilbert said, “Several weeks later, when the story was completed, the editors met to look at the work and killed the story. ‘Too scruffy for a family magazine’ I was told.”
LOOK Magazine went out of business in the early 70’s and photographers were notified they could retrieve their negatives for a period of time before everything was sent to the Library of Congress. Gilbert was able to get the Dylan story, but was under the impression he didn’t own the copyrights to the photographs. Then, in 2005, while he was visiting with a former staff photographer, Gilbert learned that he did in fact own the copyright to all of the work he had done for LOOK Magazine, including the Dylan material. In 2006, shortly after a major show of his work in Los Angeles, the work became a book, “Forever Young: Photographs of Bob Dylan 1964”. Dave Marsh wrote the text.
In reference to the portfolio available in this auction, Gilbert explained, “We decided to offer a limited edition of a select group of photographs in a specially designed box and offer it for sale. Fifteen copies of the ten photographs selected were printed and matted for the box set. Print size is slightly smaller than 11 x 14 inch prints and will keep the fifteen printed unique. These particular prints were chosen because I felt they were representative of the kinds of activities and home life that are in the complete exhibition.” Each image is photographer signed and numbered.
It’s not very often you have the opportunity to sell something as iconic as this Portfolio, and we are excited to be able to offer this at auction here in Music City. Go to www.BaldiniAuction.com to view the auction and to learn more about Douglas R. Gilbert, visit www.douglasrgilbert.com
Jim Marvin, the Man Behind the Sparkle
I’m always boasting about the interesting people and clients I have the opportunity to meet and work with in the auction industry, and this month I would like to tell you a little about my newest client and very interesting man, Jim Marvin.
Jim Marvin, of Jim Marvin Enterprises Ltd., Inc., is president of his own holiday, floral and direct import gift company. He is the artistic creator and designer of Christmas trends extraordinaire, and considered iconic in the holiday design industry for the past 30 years. From the moment I walked in to his design center in Dickson, Tennessee, I was completely surrounded with beautiful holiday décor from the Jim Marvin Collection, and it made me feel happy! As a matter of fact, we hear people sometimes frequent the Design Center just to feel better if they’ve had a bad day. It’s such a nice ambiance! Now let me tell you more about the man behind the collection.
Jim was invited to volunteer and design product for the White House during the 1997-2014 Christmas seasons. He was also involved in designing floral decorations for state dinners, special parties and Queen Elizabeth’s visit. In 2012, his decorated trees spanned from the Governor’s mansion in Nashville, Tennessee, the Ronald McDonald House in Little Rock, Arkansas to the White House in Washington, D.C.
The Jim Marvin Collection is a trademark line, which has been shown in both the national and international markets since 1980. Creation of the Jim Marvin Collection entails extensive travel to Europe, Asia, India and Japan. His ornament lines have been sold via prominent merchants including Horchow, Neiman Marcus, Barney’s and Better Homes and Gardens.
As a member of American Institute of Floral Designers, Jim has conducted seminars in the United States and Japan on creative design methods and innovative color presentations. He has enjoyed high visibility in the international market for many years with designed products for outstanding and prestigious clients around the world with projects in Japan, Brazil, Belgium, Ireland and Hong Kong.
Baldini Auction Company, LLC is delighted to offer, at absolute online auction, an incredible array of holiday décor, furniture, displays and quality warehouse shelving from the Jim Marvin Design Center in Dickson, Tennessee.
Please join us for this brilliant and ornate online only auction closing on May 25th, starting at 2:00pm CT, with onsite inspection in Dickson on Tuesday, May 24th from 10:00 am to 3:00pm.
Oh, Now I Get It!
I’m in the market for a “new” used car, so naturally I’m noticing all of the commercials for new cars. It’s funny because I don’t remember there being so many car commercials on television. It’s only now that I’m in the market to buy a car that I am noticing and listening to all of the commercials.
The same is true when you finally realize you may need to sell things for any number of reasons and you’re looking for a venue to sell these things. Perhaps you’re at a stage in life where you’re trying to downsize, perhaps you have an elderly parent moving into assisted living, or perhaps you have lost a relative and you are now an Executor or Executrix needing to liquidate an estate. Hiring an auctioneer to handle this for you may seem very foreign because you certainly don’t see a lot of commercials for auctioneers, so how do you find a qualified auctioneer? That’s where I come in.
Liquidating an entire estate can seem like a daunting task, but auctioneers are quite used to working with these situations. It’s actually what we do best! You’ve probably noticed auction signs from time to time but didn’t pay much attention unless you were in the market for hiring an auctioneer. Then, you noticed all of those signs and you also started noticing all of the other auction advertisements.
I’m going to share a little inside information with you…there’s a strategy to putting up auction signs and it’s all about timing. We don’t like to post auction signs onsite too far out from the auction date and we don’t like to post signs too close to the auction date either. Here’s why: you will typically drive by an auction sign for a few days before you actually notice the sign. Then, you will look at that sign every single day until auction day. If an auctioneer puts that sign up too far in advance the sign will become invisible after a couple of weeks and you will stop looking. You’ll forget about the auction until you notice the sign is gone. If an auctioneer puts up the auction sign too close to the auction date, you may not feel like you have time to prepare and just think to yourself, “well never-mind”.
So how do you hire the right Auctioneer for your particular need? Research. More than likely, you may not have even thought about hiring an auctioneer to help you with your particular “sale” need. Start with professional organizations like the Tennessee Auctioneers Association (TAA). There, you’ll find a listing of all of the members of the TAA. Or, simply ask around. Word of mouth is still the best advertising.
We are a professionally regulated and licensed industry, and we answer to an Auction Commission under the Department of Commerce and Insurance for the State of Tennessee. Since we are a licensed and regulated industry, we’re continually updating our education to reflect new market trends and new ways to simply be better and more efficient at what we do.
From contract to close, a professional auctioneer can assist you with whatever you are selling, whether it’s real estate, personal property or business equipment. There are also many different auction sales platforms to consider; live, online only and even simulcast auctions. There is a huge buying market nationwide, and marketing your assets to the right buyer group is vital.
So, the next time you have something to sell, or know of someone who is handling an estate or real estate and needs to sell, think of hiring a professional auctioneer. It’s probably going to be the best decision you make. Now do you get it?
The Relevance of the Inevitable “Why”
Hopefully, everyone has enjoyed/survived the “snowpocalypse” of 2016. As I marveled at the heavy snowfall on Friday, knowing I was inside and prepared, I started wondering why snow events in the Nashville area weren’t as significant as I remembered growing up. Thinking of the relevance of that “why” inspired me to talk a bit about the auction “why”.
When I started as an apprentice auctioneer, one of the first lessons I learned was how to be a better listener. It didn’t matter if I was booking farm equipment or fine antiques, the client always had a “why” they were selling and I had to learn how to listen for that. If I didn’t hear an answer to that question, I simply asked. You see, not every situation is a good auction situation and the “why” is sometimes crucial in determining if the auction is a good fit. The “why” must be genuine.
An auction ad with the headline “Estate Auction” makes sense and the “why” is obvious. There has been a death and the sale is being conducted for the heirs or perhaps a Conservator or Administrator working on behalf of the heirs. That is the true definition of an Estate Sale and in the auction industry it is by far the golden headline. Buyers know and trust the “why” and therefore trust the process. You’ll certainly not see those words used for an auction by an auctioneer unless it is truly an auction conducted to liquidate an estate, meaning real estate and/or personal property. Now I know what you’re thinking. You see the words “Estate Sale” being over-used by non-auction companies everywhere from a tag sale to a moving sale. Well, I can’t speak for their industry, only mine.
Every so often the reason “why” is what garners so much attention and interest, and auctioneers try to be as transparent with buyers as possible; however, our first responsibility is to be loyal and sometimes discreet regarding our clients. Think of it this way, what is true for love is true for business, “Without trust, there is nothing” and that goes for sellers as well as buyers.
I enjoy telling the stories behind some of the unique pieces I have the opportunity to sell, and I find the people behind the pieces particularly fascinating. When I am given permission, I enjoy sharing their stories with my buyers. It’s the element of the unknown that makes the auction so fascinating and when bidders have control in determining what they will pay for something, it creates a great sense of empowerment!
Whether you have real estate, an estate, a business liquidation or simply personal property to sell, the auction sets an end date to your particular project so you can move forward. Couple an aggressive marketing plan with a strong auction market, and the auction can realize a very competitive market price.
So, the next time you wonder, “Why auction”? The reason is simple…it works!
James A. Newman, an Early Tennessee Politician
This month’s auction ending Wednesday, November 18th, is for the family of the late James A. Newman, who was born in 1892 and passed away in 1964. He was a lawyer and an American politician and his colleagues affectionately nicknamed him “Judge” for the many times he served as a special Judge for the various courts in Nashville.
He served in the military during WWI and when he returned, he practiced law. In 1939, he was elected to the State Senate and supported a number of important measures while in the General Assembly. He was a life long Democrat, and was a staunch supporter of TVA. He authored a bill calling for establishment of a “non-political” electric power board and for 17 months served as general counsel for the Nashville Electric Power Board.
Mr. Newman was a founder and active member of the First Christian Church and served for a short time as minister. He resided on Eastland avenue, and we have a letter from J. Percy Priest dated December 17, 1945 accepting an invitation to Mr. Newman’s home on Christmas Day. He was also a member of the Nashville and Tennessee Bar Association and a 33rd degree Mason.
Every Seller Has a Story
A large part of what makes the auction industry so intriguing is the people we meet. As auctioneers we have the opportunity to learn a little bit about a family’s history and present some of the wonderful collections that people have taken lifetimes to amass. In this month’s auction we have the pleasure of selling some items for some very interesting people, and would like to highlight two of those people in this blog post: the late Mr. Forrest Cress and Ms. Barbara Ihrig.
Forrest Cress was born on February 14th, 1892. He worked for Standard Oil Company, who sent him to China in 1916 during World War I. In a handwritten narrative of his life, part of which is pictured, Mr. Cress writes that he was also working on special assignment for the U.S. government reporting to the American military attaché in Peking during the war. Later in his career he joined General Motors, then joined Chrysler Export Corporation where he managed the Far East and South East Asian division for over 20 years. During the Great Depression Mr. Cress was sent to work in South Africa for four years, and then returned to the Far East where he lived and worked until he retired in 1957. During World War II, Mr. Cress spent two years in the Philippines as a Japanese prisoner of war, a fact that is detailed in multiple pieces of government correspondence preserved by the Cress family, and on file with the Smithsonian Institute.
We are in possession of several interesting pieces of correspondence belonging to Mr. Cress, and will exhibit these during our inspection on October 13th. These include documents from the State Department concerning his passage from Asia to America on the MS Gripsholm, an information packet detailing relief measures for American POWs in the Philippines, a 1915 letter from Standard Oil, as well as several of Mr. Cress’ business cards. While these documents are not included in this auction, I think they will certainly provide credibility to the remaining items we are selling on behalf of his heirs. Some of his items in this month’s auction include a personalized sterling silver Siam cigarette case, a ship carved out of rose quartz, and a brilliant agate incense pot.
This month we are also selling some items for Barbara Ihrig, a very sharp 94-year-old woman who has seen much change in her lifetime. One particularly interesting item we are selling for Ms. Ihrig is an extraordinary hand-written and hand-illustrated book dated 1888. This book, which meticulously details scientific and zoological theories, was written and illustrated by Mr. Hugh E. Hammond, who was an eccentric and reclusive neighbor Ms. Ihrig once had in upstate New York. During one of our meetings with Ms. Ihrig and her daughter, they told us that Mr. Hammond had no family to look after him, so every day for five years they visited him to take him food. Ms. Ihrig’s daughter vividly remembers Mr. Hammond walking down the stairs on his hands with his legs straight up in the air during these visits. Other items we are selling for Ms. Ihrig include two early 20th century signed Asian lacquerware pieces, old pocket watches, and an old cannonball rope bed.
One reason I am so enamored with this industry is because I love the stories behind the people and the items I sell for them, and I believe auction bidders do too. Sometimes it’s the story behind the piece that induces a person to bid. Whether I’m selling an estate for heirs who have lost a loved one or selling for someone who simply wants to share some of their pieces with someone else, I have certainly learned the most important lesson: When you take the time to listen, everyone has a story.
Auction Communities Big and Small
No matter what industry you choose to work, it’s nice to feel a sense of camaraderie with your fellow colleagues. It’s even better when you can all come together in one place to hone your skills and share war stories. I was in Dallas recently, where I attended the 66th annual International Auctioneers Conference and Show. There were over 1,000 auctioneers in attendance from all over the world, including South Africa, Ireland and even China.
We enjoyed an opening night welcome party at Eddie Dean’s Ranch featuring nine time Grammy winner Ray Benson and Asleep at the Wheel. The InterContinental Hotel made its home to a very impressive Trade Show featuring over 60 auction related vendors and multiple educational seminars every day. As you can imagine, there were also several auctions. There’s just nothing like an auction when there are so many auctioneers in the same room!
The week was capped off with the International Auctioneer Championship. This year, there were 97 contestants from all over the world. Congratulations to Tammy Tisland of Hines, Minnesota and Peter Gheres of Hiliard, Ohio.
Here’s to networking into the wee hours of the morning. Until next year, my fellow colleagues… get some rest!
I also had the opportunity recently to be a guest instructor at the Nashville Auction School, which is located in Tullahoma, Tennessee. There were 18 eager students representing 3 states for this particular 84 hour course. I must say, they did a great job. On one of their final days in Tullahoma, they actually set up and conducted a live benefit auction. The auction was open to the public and the community really turned out to support the auction. Each student sold 5 items, showcasing their new skills, and all of the proceeds collected that evening benefitted St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital. I was the happy bidder and buyer of some farm fresh produce! Aside from the community catfish dinner before the auction, the student auction was the highlight of my visit!
Good luck to the new students of the Nashville Auction School. Remember, your name is all you’ve really “Got” so treat it well.