Dig and Ye Shall Find (the surprising rewards of tag sales)

After reading and enjoying Bob & Jack’s wonderful series about renovating Doodletown Farm, I asked them if they would return to our website as guest bloggers now and again.  Happily, here in this first blog, they share some of their impressive knowledge about how they find some of the interesting antiques they sell at Doodletown Farm. Enjoy! — Joan

[click photos to enlarge]

It wasn’t very promising. In fact, it was the kind of house sale where you pull into the driveway and then quickly back out hoping no one has seen you. But something told us to get out of the truck and wade through the jumble of Fisher-Price toys and stacks of Danielle Steele paperbacks.

Expanding the base

And there it was, poking out of a musty cardboard box.

We wouldn’t have seen it at all except that it was nestled among some old frames and we’re always on the lookout for old, interesting frames. What we found was the base of an intricately carved, collapsible tea table. But where was the top? Digging through a

second and then a third box, Jack found it. We asked the owner if they had any information on it, and they said that it had come from the house of a great aunt named Wheeler who had lived over in the Catskills.

Small cast bronze Indian deity.

Looking further, Jack also found a small, finely cast bronze figure of an Indian deity which he recognized as being of much better quality than the later versions often seen in import shops.

The collapsible base and separate top. The woods are ebony and teak.

What I recognized was the “if this is what I think it is” look in Jack’s eyes, so we gathered up our finds and headed home. Jack went to his reference books in the library. I went to the computer in the kitchen. ( You gotta love Google.) Within an hour we seemed to have our answer.

Close up of the intricately relief carved top of the tea table.

Our dusty, small folding tea stand was profusely carved ebony and teak with a great old dark surface that only age can create. The carving was characteristic of late 19th century traditional carving from Ahmadabad, India and on the underside was a darkened import paper label.

How and why had these finely made Colonial Indian objects made their way to upstate New York?

This remnant of an early inventory label indicates the series of tables produced by an Indian workshop

One possible connection was the notable painter and designer, Lockwood DeForest .

De Forest started out as a painter under the tutelage of his friend Frederick Church but later expanded his scope to include furniture and interior design. Inspired by books he found in Olana’s library, DeForest became interested in the exotic art traditions of the East. Later on his honeymoon to India he established a woodworking and metalworking studio to provide traditional Indian crafts, as well as his own designs drawing from these same inspirations for his clients back in the United States. ( DeForest was commissioned by Frederick Church to decorate several rooms at Olana in the eastern style.)

Our little table and the early bronze figure are virtually identical to others documented as having been produced in De Forest’s Ahmadabad workshops and imported into America around 1885-1890.

The assembled folding tea table is only 15" by 15" by 15"

The second piece of corroborating evidence was the name Wheeler given to us at the yard sale. DeForest was befriended by Thomas and Candace Wheeler, prominent figures in the Catskill artists circles of the period who owned a house known as “Pennroyal in Greene County” near Onteora. Candace became involved in some of DeForest’s decorative projects, particularly in the design of wallpapers to compliment the exotic décor they both embraced. Could this be the “Wheeler “ aunt we had been told about at the sale?

While we may never be able to prove beyond a doubt that the folding Indian tea table and bronze figure are related to Lockwood DeForest’s interesting career or to his artistic connections to the Hudson River Valley, it is these kinds of discoveries that make what we do so much fun.

And it just proves that you never know what you’re going to find at a yard sale or flea market. You just have to keep digging.