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Cincinnati art-carved cabinet by Fry sizzles at Cowan’s auction
By Susan Emerson Nutter

CINCINNATI — Cowan’s Auctions kicked off the summer by conducting auctions on June 7 and 8. The June 7 event was a Live Discovery Auction featuring a wide range items that constitute decorative arts with almost 600 items being offered. The June 8 session was the Premier Auction with more than 450 lots being presented for bids that included everything from furniture to folk art to fine art with the in-house, online, phone and absentee bidding being extensive and constant.

The top lot of the sale was just what one would expect to find at Cowan’s. Being bid to $18,750 was a Cincinnati art-carved cabinet by Henry Lindley Fry (1807-1895) and his son William Henry Fry (1830-1929).

The cabinet was made of walnut with oak as its secondary wood and featured an upper case which boasted a projecting cornice and two beveled glass doors that opened to show three adjustable shelves. Under this upper case was a lower case having one dovetailed drawer, raised cabriole legs and lion’s paw-feet. The entire cabinet was then decorated with hand-carved grapes, grapevines, and grape leaves as well as stylized rosettes, leaves, and two figural heads.

Its naturalistic, extensive and Italiante-style carving echoed the work of other Fry-carved pieces.

Originally from Bath, England, Henry L. Fry worked as a cabinet carver in Cheltenham, England, in the late 1830s and 1840s according to Cowan’s. Known for creating large pieces in the favored styles of the period, including Gothic revival, Elizabethan, Italianate, and more, Henry’s love for his work resulted in his teaching his son, William, the art of carving.

This father and son duo came to the United States in 1849 and eventually made their way to Cincinnati in 1851. One of the wealthiest cities at this time, Cincinnati became “one of the most important centers in the United States for the production of furniture,” according to Cowan’s. It was the perfect place for the Frys to set-up shop.

It is no surprise the Frys soon came to know Joseph Longworth, whose daughter Maria Longworth, later founded The Rookwood Pottery Company. The Frys carved the interior of Rookwood, Longworth’s country villa — which included a mantel featuring a grapevine motif; not unlike the cabinet sold at this June 2019 event.

But as Cowan’s notes, “Henry and William Fry’s importance extended beyond their individual commissions to their roles as teachers and they are credited with launching one of the most important manifestations of the Aesthetic movement in the United States, the Cincinnati art-carved furniture movement.”

Today collectors eagerly seek out examples from this Cincinnati art-carved furniture movement and know to find such an example on the open market is becoming a rare occurrence as is reflected in this cabinet’s final selling price.

Another offering with an Ohio connection that sold strong was an early 19th century Read & Watson tall case clock which sold for $7,813. Made of cherry, the clock featured a broken arch pediment with inlaid rosettes and three bulbous finials. The bonnet had free-standing columns flanking the original glass door over a waist and box base with canted corners. The waist door featured a double-cyma curved top edged with burled walnut inlay finishing in a paneled base with French feet.

Wearing its original polychrome paint and gilding, the dial was signed Read & Watson (prior to the partnership in Cincinnati circa 1810-1816), and the movement seat board for the thirty-hour wooden movement was stamped OR four times (for Orascus or Oliver Roberts, who also worked for Luman Watson). Most interesting and informative was the pencil inscriptions on the back of the dial which read Sam Wallens 1861 and Bought by Erskin R. Hayes Oct 1909, and a pencil inscription inside the door which reads “James Kelly Belfast, Oh 1860 Clermont Co Jan 5th.” The clock was 94 inches high, 18 ¼ inches wide and 9 ¼ inches deep.

A 19th century Canadian-made pine cupboard with a rectangular molded surface and a molded case having two aligned dovetailed drawers over two-hinged doors was a surprise at this auction. Estimated to bring between $400 and $600; this lovely cupboard soared to $5,313. Its spectacular painted blue surface surely played a factor.

Fine art was a major force at this Cowan’s event. Leading the way in this category was the oil on canvas of a Thai pagoda by M L Poum Malakoul (Thai-French, 1910-1973) dated 1960 which sold for $8,960. Another image by this same artist; in this instance a street scene done in oil on wood and also dated 1960 realized $6,250.

A Kentucky landscape with a path done in watercolor by American artist Paul Sawyier (1865-1917) sold within estimate at $7,680; and an untitled oil on canvas by Adalbert (Bela) Erdelyi (Hungarian-Ukrainian, 1891-1955) was bid to $6,400 against an estimate of $2,000 to $4,000.

Decorative arts were aplenty with a 20th century American six-piece sterling silver tea and coffee service by Gorham being bid to $11,875. Included in the set was a teapot, hot water kettle, coffeepot, creamer, lidded sugar, and a tray. Each piece was done in a lobed form with repousse scroll and flower decoration and mask handles. Each piece was also monogrammed.

A Baltimore needlework sampler by Eliza Ann Suter, dated 1826 sold for $6,250. Large in size at 31 by 36 inches, the sampler was done in silk and chenille threads on a linen ground; and as described by Cowan’s “with an all-around border of roses and other vining flowers, a blue bowknot centered in the lower border, surrounding a busy yard scene of a large two-story brick home with blue shutters on the windows at the side of the house and tan shutters on the front windows, the house flanked by a palm tree on the left and weeping willow on the right, a male shepherd and his dog and a seated lady with a parrot on her arm below the palm tree, the yard filled with grazing sheep, fowl, cows, and other farm animals, as well as flowers and bushes, the front of the yard bordered by a fence rising from a brick wall, signed beneath the yard scene Eliza Ann Suter.”

Cowan’s Auctions next Fine and Decorative Art, Including Americana live auction will take place Sept. 28

Contact: (513) 871-1670

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