The Decorative Arts – January/February/March 2021

By Robin Pridham

The Leask CollectionAuction held November 28, 2020 at Pridham’s Auction House in Ottawa

There is an old saying that we are simply the caretakers of the items and objects we have within our collections. Often purchasing from one collection, where things have been lovingly admired and cared for, sometimes for decades, and then through some form of a sales process, a new caretaker is chosen and the item changes hands. This could be said, and is true for most important collections, no matter what the genre, but there is one area that seems to epitomize this consensus; Canadiana. This includes furniture and objects dating from the very beginning of our existence as a culture on this continent to folk art created in the not-so-distant past. One thing that is for sure, those that participate in this collecting area are passionate about what they buy and, by extension, about our collective history. This sentiment could be epitomized in the recent sale of the “Leask Collection” that took place on Saturday, the 28th of November at Pridham’s Auctions and Appraisals gallery in Ottawa. 

Barbara and William Leask curated their collection in the late 70’s and 80’s. It included items ranging from the early 18th century, such as two spectacular French Canadian diamond point pieces of furniture, to a selection of 19th century “Wilno” pieces from Renfrew county, Ontario cupboards, smalls and carvings. Of note was a rare collection of William Loney carvings and paintings, considered the single largest collection of the Prince Edward County native’s work in the country. To round out the sale, included were about 175 lots from a small group of like-minded collectors, which brough the sale catalogue to around 325 lots. As with the Burney sale one year before, Mr. Peter Baker was the lead consultant and catalogue author coordinating with our stellar team of photographers, graphic artists and assistants to assemble one of the finest Canadiana sales to take place in Canada in 2020. 

Once the word reached the street as to the quality of the sale, the buzz began to grow and did not dissipate until the last lot was sold! Such a strong interest in almost all the lots was quite remarkable.  The Quebec furniture received strong interest from collectors and dealers alike. This was evident in the very strong prices achieved for all the important 18th century masterpieces. There seems to be a silent campaign to repatriate this period furniture and smalls back to where they originated. The fact that Pridham’s is a bilingual house and is well positioned geographically to Quebec is also a contributing factor. 

Strong bidding for early pieces was evident throughout the sale with the vast majority of these lots easily meeting the low estimate and often times exceeding.  Since the preview lasted an entire week, it provided ample opportunity for people to travel from far-flung regions to view the items they were interested in. There was very limited seating in the gallery, so many chose to either bid online or on the phone. Those that did attend in person, masked up and spaced, added a much-appreciated dynamic to what would have otherwise been a live online only event. 

Starting at 10:00 a.m., and being streamed live around the world, a sale of this size should have lasted around 5 or 6 hours, but not this time. Hammering down the last lot at about 7:15 pm, it turned out to be the longest auction in the company’s history, over nine hours.  This was largely attributable to the strong and varied competitive bidding. Two bidding platforms, telephones and those present in the room,  contributed to one of the most memorable sales in recent history. 

I think to summarize this event we might ask what is important in our lives at this time in history. Our culture and the items that represent that culture are as important today as they have ever been. The new caretakers of emerging collections are eager to take up the challenge. They are passionate about preserving our past by caring for our material history. This sale was evidence of that and solidifies the notion that our collective history remains as important today as it has ever been.  

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A full-bodied cow weathervane in tin with pleasing untouched weathered surface and remnants of original paint, mounted on original tube support terminating in ball and arrowhead finials and complete with original directionals. This is a Canadian vane produced by the Pedlar company operating out of Oshawa in the late 19th and early 20th century. H: 21″; L with bar: 43″; D: 7″. 
Sold for : $1,800

A  deed box from Lunenburg Nova Scotia in as-found condition with dry blue paint and two white hearts on the front flanking a white star with a red centre.  Nova Scotia, mid 19th century. H: 6.5″; W: 15″; D: 7.5″.   Sold for: $3,300

An exceptional Iroquois effigy ladle carved in figured maple with the prominent handle terminating in a carved head. The sculpted face displays strong Indigenous features in the prominent cheekbones, forehead and nose with a slightly open mouth. Excellent natural patina from years of use. Provenance: C. Limbert Graham collection that was sold at auction in 1991. The ladle was reportedly found and purchased by Mr. Graham on the Mohawk reserve in Deseronto in the early 1950s.This is a Museum-quality example of Indigenous utilitarian art. Ontario, early 19th century. Measures 11″ in length: handle length 7″; bowl approx. 5.75”.
Sold for : $9,000

An early Quebec blanket chest in original blue paint with deeply carved pinwheels on the front surmounted by randomly spaced double-carved demi-lune motifs that also appear on the sides. Quebec, early 19th century.  H: 20″; W: 38″; D:  20″. 
Sold for : $5,700

A rare set of six braced back 18th century  Windsor fanback side chairs in old paint with high backs, crest rails with upturned  “ears”, good sitting height and a nicely shaped pine plank seat. Five are in old brown paint and one in original oxidized Windsor green. Nicely shaped bulbous centre stretcher with double rings. Leg turnings suggest a likely New England origin, possibly  Connecticut/Rhode Island. H: 36″; W: 20; D: 19″. Seat height: 18″.
Sold for : $5,100

A carving in pine of a peacock with trailing tail by William Glenworth Loney (1877-1956), all in original polychrome paint. This is an exquisite example of Loney’s artistry with graceful flowing lines with exceptional and detailed painted markings in blue, green and gold capturing the essence of the proud  peacock. Mounted on the original shaped and painted base. Loney was a blacksmith in Prince Edward County, Ontario, who also carved and painted in his spare time; today his works are highly sought by folk art collectors. Circa 1930. H: 7″; W: 11.5″. 
Sold for : $7,800

A small 18th century Quebec Louis XIII  diamond point armoire cleaned to an early mottled red surface with each door featuring a St. Andrews cross and a five-diamond panel,  the doors being affixed to the case with original pin and barrel hinges (pentures à  gond). Original escutcheon, lock, and shelf  hook. The two-board top has a thumbnail edge and is pegged while the case has a picture frame molding, a double paneled back and original shelves. Great colour, size and  condition. Restoration: minor chip repair to  back right edge of top, feet extended, and  molding replaced on lower rail. H: 59″; W:  48″; D: 21″  
 Sold for : $51,000  

A pine cutlery tray with an elaborate scalloped edge and high handle with traces of old original black paint. Canadian, 19th century. H: 7.25″; W: 13″; D: 9.5″. Sold for : $450.

An early pine checkerboard (8×8 squares) with carved diamonds on the alternate squares, all in original brown paint with excellent wear and patina. Illustrated in “Gameboards, an exhibition of Canadian gameboards from Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia” organized by the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia in 1981 (plate 40). Quebec, circa 1840. H: 29″;  W: 17″. 
Sold for : $1,800

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