|By Susan Nutter
CARMEL, Ind. — Philanthropy at its finest was put on the auction block Nov. 17-18 when Guernsey’s auction house presented the liquidation of Melvin and Bren Simon’s palatial Asherwood mansion located in Carmel. Proceeds from the auction benefited the Great American Songbook Foundation founded in 2007 by Michael Feinstein and located in The Center for the Performing Arts also in Carmel. Simon’s widow, philanthropist Bren Simon, donated the 107-acre estate to the foundation in January 2018 to support its mission of music education and historic preservation.
And what a donation! The contents of Asherwood; considered one of America’s most prominent homes, included ornate examples of antique and 20th-century furniture, furnishings and decor, substantial works of art, Oriental rugs and countless smaller objects, virtually all in pristine condition. Approximately 1,000 lots were offered without minimum reserve.
The Foundation had decided the best use of the Asherwood mansion donation was to sell its contents and the estate as well, using the funds raised to support its cause. Asherwood has long been a shining light in this community, so prior to the auction, the estate was open to the public to not only allow potential buyers to view what was selling, but so anyone who desired could see the mansion in all its glory one last time. A donation of $25 (with proceeds again going to the Foundation) was required to walk through the palatial home, and admirers came in droves to do just that.
Concerning this opportunity to view Asherwood, Arlan Ettinger, president of Guernsey’s said “Asherwood is spectacular, and being able to see the property will be a memorable experience for everyone.”
Opulence pretty much sums up what Asherwood represented. The fully furnished seven-bedroom mansion and estate included two golf courses, two swimming pools, a tennis court, a clubhouse, greenhouse, guest house, home theater and caterer-ready professional kitchen. Former owner Melvin Simon was once co-owner of the Pacers and a shopping-mall magnate.
And then there were the furnishings. No expense was spared when it came to filling Asherwood, and it is possible that this factor was actually a hindrance to some of the items final sale prices. Estimates were healthy and some lots did not reach those marks, but usually the items that fell short were so spectacular, it was hard to imagine them in any setting other than Asherwood. That this sale was unreserved, meant some buyers went home with wonderful pieces for good prices, but that’s not to say money wasn’t spent.
The top lot of the auction was a one-of-a-kind Persian Tabriz rug; large in size at 16 feet 5 inches by 25 feet 7inches, this beauty realized $30,000. Prices do not include a buyer’s premium.
Two palatial Bohemian multi-tiered, multi-branched cut crystal chandeliers in cased glass to green featuring Moser-like hurricane shades and cut glass prisms and swags were just – wow! At 60 inches wide and 75 inches high they truly needed a special place to be displayed and that might have affected their final selling prices. One made $16,000; the other $15,000 – no small change that; but they were estimated to bring $60,000 to $80,000 each.
On the flip side, a pair of Bohemian ruby glass vases having hand-painted gilt decorations, applied handles and standing 38 ½ inches high were estimated to bring between $2,000 and $3,000 and instead soared to $17,000.
Likewise a pair of circa 1880 Sevres palace urns marked at the interior rims “Dore A Sevres” sold for $14,000 against an estimate of $4,000 to $6,000. On marble bases, the bronze mounted and gilt decorated vases wore hand-painted blue surfaces and were believed to have been acquired from Adrian Alan; a member of the British Antique Dealers Association, London, as the pair were pictured in the antique book Adrian Alan: Vol. II, on page 13.
Artwork also sold this day with an oil on canvas portrait of a bearded gentleman with that artist being unknown surprising all when it went to $12,000 against a $1,000 estimate. It had hung in Asherwood’s master suite. An oil on canvas by Guillaume Seignac (French, 1870-1924) titled A Beauty of Nature, showing a woman wearing a diaphanous Grecian-like gown gazing at a lilac blossom sold for $16,000.
With the contents of Asherwood having sold, the Great American Songbook Foundation is also seeking a buyer for the 107-acre Asherwood Estate. The estate’s upkeep cost alone is estimated at $1 million a year; more than the Foundation can take on. As of yet, no buyer has been found.
The Great American Songbook is a collection of materials relating to American music maintained by five-time Grammy nominee, and artistic director at the Center for the Performing Arts; Michael Feinstein. The foundation’s mission is to inspire and educate the public about classic American music, and it is hoped that from the funds raised via the auction and the selling of the Asherwood Estate a permanent home for the Great American Songbook Foundation can be established.
Contact: (212) 794-2280