Finding Lajeunesse

shadflyguy

“Chien Mechant”

You know how sometimes when you meet a person you feel a real connection to their inner spirit, and recognize in them something which represents basic goodness and beauty?  Something rare and special.  Well that’s the way I feel about having met Henri Lajeunesse, and I am grateful for having had the experience.

Over the ten plus years of regular buying trips to Quebec we would very occasionally run across a signed work of Mr. Lajeunesse,  and we began to covet them and seek them out because we really connected with his expressiveness and vision.  Although we asked everyone we knew, we could never find out much about him. Not in books or from other collectors. Then one day we bought the piece above, “Chien Mechant” or “mean dog” as it was titled in pencil along the base. I say “was” because unfortunately one day an overzealous housekeeper…

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Roger Raymond, Quebec carver of cigar store Indians

Jeanine’s brother and his wife arrive from France later today, and in our typical procrastinate until a couple of days before and then work like hell to try to clean the whole house style, we are still at it. Almost there, but still at it, so I have decided to reblog one of my earlier posts in the hope that if you haven’t read it, you will enjoy it; and if you have read it, you may have forgotten it anyway. Thank you for your patience.

shadflyguy

rr3By the mid 1980’s along with our antique business, we supplemented our income by  setting up a mail order business selling the carvings of Pierre and Claire Trudel, who we discovered had a workshop of about a dozen talented woodworkers making several lines of reproduction antique furniture, as well as copies of various decoys, and other Quebec folk art.  An average duck decoy would sell unfinished for about $15, and we would sell them finished for about $45. This commercial operation also carried a cigar store Indian which I knew was carved by a nearby artist.  I would come by every other week and buy about 50 or so carvings, including 4 or 5 Indians.

One day when I arrived Pierre said, “well I’m just going now to pick up the Indians, would you like to come along.”  “Well, of course I would”, and so off we went a few…

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For the Birds

As I have mentioned before in this blog, my wife Jeanine collects folk art carved birds.  Our kitchen is full of them.  I miss them when we are away.

Birds, for the most part are a pleasant and relaxing part of our natural environment.  Except of course when they are dive bombing you for being too close to their nest, and then they’re not so relaxing.  Otherwise, we enjoy watching them fly, and chirp, and hop around the back yard looking for bugs. They are entertaining.  I suggest that this is the reason that it is one of the most commonly carved species, and often the first carving an artist will undertake.  Birds makes for an interesting collection because there are so many approaches and attitudes to the subject.  Some strive for accuracy.  Others a stylized approach.  Some are abstracted, while others are barely recognizable.  I tend to admire skill and craftsmanship, but it’s the crazy and primitive ones that turn my crank.  After my morning coffee I took a look around the room and photographed a few of my favourites .   With some little notations attached.

I hope that you enjoy looking at them.  I do.  Every morning.

sparrows in flight

Jeanine is keen on finding more of these little carved sparrows.  We may because I have the feeling that these although hand carved, were commercially produced and sold in gift shops.  Perhaps a little cottage industry item from Eastern Canada, where we found them.  Or even possibly overseas. If so, I would think Europe or England as opposed to Asian.

Red-winged blackbird by Yvon Cote

a Cote decal. Not used on every carving.

This Cote red-winged blackbird is typical of the Gaspe artist.  I will make him the subject of a future blog, but for now suffice to say that his work is easy to recognize because he used pencil crayons for colour and then lacquered over top, and even when a piece doesn’t have his decal, you can tell it is him by the form, colour, and little wire legs.

Here’s a new addition to the family.  this friendly little Carolina Wren was created by C. Bodley of Toronto.  He was good enough to name and sign it on the bottom.  It’s a good example of a work that looks like the species, but also contains personality.  He also created this wonderful diminutive owl

Owl bu C. Bodley, Toronto

 

 

 

 

What follows is a bunch of little birds with different approaches, by different artists at different times.  Most of them are from Quebec.  You can see run the gamut in terms of approach.  Although it is perhaps the piece that looks the least like an actual bird, I love the little beige bird by Cadieux.  His name is stamped on the bottom.  I also love the little blue bird which looks almost like a cartoon.  it is made very carefully. Those wings are thin wood, not metal.

Which one of these do you like the most?

Someone even decided to make a little bird using wicker. This little fellow somehow comes across as looking quite mad.  And last but not least we have this hanging black and white bird on a perch.  Interesting construction, and can anyone figure out why his wings are on backwards?   Could this really be intentional?  Perhaps dyslectic?  Go figure.

 

A Ludwig Black Beauty happens to be a very special snare drum

I guess everybody gets lucky once in a while if they open themselves to the possibility.  I think antique dealers wake up every morning believing that this will be their lucky day.  And most nights they go to sleep thinking “maybe tomorrow’.  But occasionally we do find ourselves in the right place at the right time and we get lucky.  It happened to me one morning in mid-90’s.

When we would go into London  to visit my sister, we liked to stop en route at a little antique mall situated in a strip mall right off the 401 and Wellington St.  Although not large, it had a few good dealers and quickly changing stock so it was worth a look.

One sunny, summer morning we were arriving in good time so decided to pop in and do a quick tour.  Jeanine went one way and I went another.  We tend to spread out and then call the other one over when we see something of interest. We are usually quite casual about it, and relaxed.  And so it was on this morning with lots of things to look at but nothing of interest jumping forward.  I looked in all the booths where I would regularly find something, and it was all “sorry, not this time.”  I wandered around for another ten minutes or so and decided it was time to find Jeanine and barring her having found something of interest suggesting we split.  Then I looked down at the floor in a booth otherwise filled with china figurines and tea cups and there on a little box sat a really interesting old snare drum. I don’t have a lot of knowledge of musical instruments, but I know that a good one can be worth a lot of money, and also that this is particularly the case in some handmade instruments such as violins, and in classic guitars and drums associated with rock and roll.  Also, as you continue in the trade if you are paying attention you continue to develop an instinct for age are rarity.

When I laid eyes on this drum, it immediately hit all my buttons.  Obviously early and in untouched but good condition, it was made of pattern engraved chrome.  There on the side above the air hole was an early Ludwig drum logo.  The heads were ripped and the springs were hanging loose but I could see that everything that mattered was there.  I anxiously turned over the price tag already calculating how many hundreds I would be willing to risk on this venture.  $28.  I  was elated.  And below it written old chrome snare drum, and the venders number, so I knew it was legit.  I clung that thing to me like a beloved baby and scurried over to Jeanine.

“Have you found anything?” I asked.  “Nope. What’s that you’re holding?”  I could barely contain myself. It’s a really cool, old snare drum, and it’s only $28.”  “But is it worth anything?  Look the top is all ripped and torn, and besides are we buying drums now?”  Well there are times when you can be patient and have a meaningful discussion, and then there are times when you just want to buy something and get the hell out of there before someone clues in, so I was a tad abrupt.  “Yes, today we are.  I know what I’m doing and we are buying this drum. Trust me”.   Jeanine could sense my excitement,  and so even though she did not share in it, she tossed me one of her famous Gallic shrugs and said “whatever”.

The guy at the checkout was suspicious.  “Where did you get this?  I didn’t see this come in.”  In that booth over there I gestured, and it is clearly priced at $28 with a description, and booth number, so I would like to buy it now please.”  He rung it up registering his reluctance, and as soon as he handed me the receipt, jeanine and I were out of there as fast as we could go. Reminds me of that great Ikea commercial that comes on around Christmas where the woman shouts “Start the car.”  No ne followed us.  So the drum came home.

Without doing any research I knew that we would at least get a few hundred dollars for the drum based on aesthetic value alone.  Then research revealed that it was a very special drum made  by Ludwig from the 1920’s until the mid-1930’s called the “Black Beauty”. It was made from a single sheet of brass that is machine drawn into a seamless beaded shell, and has a specific and revered tone.  We still didn’t know what this might mean in terms of dollar value,  but we realized that we needed to reach the widest range of  drum aficionados possible so we listed it on E-Bay.  Jeanine was listing a lot of French pottery at the time so this was not for her typical buyers, but by putting Ludwig Black Beauty in the listing we were sure to catch anyone doing a search.

I think we started it at $100 thinking that if the worst came to worst we’d be fine with that, and then we went about our business and didn’t check until the next morning.  Holy moly, it’s up to $600 already!  We were pretty happy right there.  Then over the next four days we had the great fun of checking in on advancements.  Watching it creep up and up until the hammer finally came down at $2,800 U.S.  Not enough to retire on, but enough for us to go to France for a family visit and picking trip. What we felt can only be described as ecstatic, tainted only slightly with a nagging suspicion that it was not at all likely to happen again.  At least not soon.  Lightening striking twice, and all that.  Still, I’m a big believer in counting my blessings, and celebrating the little victories.

With a little help from our friends – Closing Shadfly

last day sale

last day sale

Today, September 30th marks the one year anniversary of the sale of the Shadfly Antiques building, and as it happens the 11th anniversary of our purchasing the building in 2005.  We had a great run of it, and loved having what we considered to be a great little antique shop, but the upkeep of the building and dealing with tenants had taken it’s tole on our enthusiasm, not to mention the downturn in the antique business.

last day sale

last day sale

As planned, we did a review of operations at the end of 9 years of operation, as well as hiring a professional building inspector to look over what needed to be done to the building, and when we looked at the figures we decided we it was time.  We bought the building reasonably and did not have to invest much money to set up two upstairs apartments and the main floor shop.  Not much money, but a lot of time and effort, and the building had been “good to us” for nine years, not requiring any major repairs, but it was getting harder to find good, reliable tenants, and when a blocked sewer pipe cost us $1,200 to repair with a warning from the plumber that it might soon need to be totally replaced at an estimated cost of $12,000, we started to get nervous.  Then the building inspection presented many more problems like an impending roof replacement, etc., so we took the practical step to get out before a large investment would be necessary.  We priced it reasonably and it sold within two weeks.

last day sale

last day sale

We were able to establish a four-month period before the deal closing, which allowed us time to clear the larger stock, and move the smalls and folk art which we would continue with on-line into the basement of our house next door.  It was a very busy four months I can tell you.  My side-kick Albert and I had a lot of cleaning up and painting to get the basement presentable, and there was all that furniture to move.  We held a big clearing sale for the month of August with a last day celebration and sale the weekend of September 6/7 which was a great successful in terms of sales and saying goodbye to our many local friends and customers.   I can attest that nothing improves sales like closing shop.  We were motivated sellers, and many realized that it would be their last, best chance to score a few items that they had been eyeing over the years. It was a great last day. A mixture of joy, celebration, and a little sadness; and when it was over we closed the door for the last time and started to take apart the shop in earnest the very next day.

last day sale

last day sale

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Paul moving books

We chose Tuesday September, 22 as the day to move the remaining stock from Shadfly to our basement, planning to take the remaining stock the following day to a storage unit which we decided we would need for a couple of months to deal with the surplus.  We were surprised and delighted when hearing of our plan, some friends offered to help.  People can be so wonderful, can’t they? It’s one thing to have a couple of buddies help you move to your college digs.  It’s quite another at our age to be slogging heavy boxes. Many hands do indeed make for light work.  Jeanine and I spent many days packing so that on that fateful morning when 6 friends, as it turns out, arrived all we had to do was get everything from point a to b.  We thought this might take until about 1p.m. and then it would be pizza and beer, and thank you folks, but we were so efficient that when 11 o’clock rolled around everything was moved over, and instead of quitting, our friends decided that they would continue and would help move the three truck-loads of items to the storage unit.  What a team.

Carma and her new friend

Carma and her new friend

There was a natural and relaxed order to things. A person received the boxes in each of the basement storage rooms, Albert got everything down the stairs, Jeanine and I loaded people from the Shadfly end and the rest of just carried things over.  We had considered a “human chain” passing the boxes from hand to hand but it was rejected as a concept being too hard to keep the timing right, and with too much passing of things from hand to hand.  The difference between theory, and practice.  It was a beautiful morning.  The crew remained cheerful; and by 2 p.m we were sitting down to pizza and beer with a warm glow of gratitude and relief filling the room.

Jan passes to Jeanine

Jan passes to Jeanine

If that wasn’t enough, another friend who coudn’t make it on the moving day, came a couple of days later to help Albert and I move the final things to our garage and clean up the place.

Jan passes to Cindy

Jan passes to Cindy

orangesign

Mission accomplished.  Many thanks and deep gratitude to those involved.  You know who you are.  It is a wonderful fact that in our hour of need, our friends came forward and made what seemed an unsurmountable task, a piece of cake.  We’ll get by with a little help from our friends, with a little help from our friends.

“It’s not saleable!! It doesn’t get made in a minute” – The art of Edmund Chatigny

chat4We unfolded ourselves slowly out of the truck after the grueling ten-hour drive from our home in Wyecombe Ontario to Alan Chauvette’s picking barn near Victoriaville, Quebec.  We were met by a particularly animated Alan. He was excited, even for Alan who tends to run a little hot.  “What perfect timing.  I’ve got something exciting to show you.  Follow me to my house and we’ll come back here after”.   Ten minutes later we are entering Alan’s back yard and everywhere you look there are chip carved, splatter painted, flowers, birds, and other wildlife generally with a large figure at the center and a multitude of smaller components coming off in every direction.  Wild.   The total affect was that of a fantasy garden.  We were mesmerized. chat5

“They were all made by this crazy old guy in St. Isidore de Beauce who covered his yard completely. He’s gone into the retirement home and the family is selling the house, so I got them all.”  We were still looking around trying to take it all in.  “As you can see there are hundreds of pieces and I am selling them all as one lot. None of this picking the best, and leaving the rest.”  I was almost afraid to ask the price, but had to.  Alan gave me a serious look and a number in the high four figures. It was pretty much what I expected due to the quantity, but the first thing that sprang to mind was “We think it’s wonderful, but I wonder if anybody else will.  This is pretty eccentric stuff.”   We looked at each other for a moment, then I said to Alan.  “We’ll discuss it on the way back to the barn and give you an answer there.”  That was a pretty intense ten minutes that followed. We both loved the work, and “got” that his complex assemblages which could be reconfigured in different ways and still ‘work” was an exciting concept.chat1  Still, it was a lot of money to put down on an unknown horse. We talked it out and as we pulled in we concluded “What the hell. Let’s trust our instincts and do what we are here to do, so it was all big smiles and laughter, as we concluded the deal.  There were a couple of pickers standing nearby that we saw regularly, and they laughed at us.  “They’ll be burying you with that stuff”.  We didn’t care.  We owned the entire contents of Mr. Chatigny’s yard, and although we had never heard of him, we knew that it spoke to us as so few things do in this life.  We were half way home, somewhere around Brockville before we started to question ourselves.  We needn’t have.  Within a month we had sold enough to pay back our investment, and there was still a good half left.chat2

Edmond Chatigny was born in 1895 in St. Isidore de Beauce, Quebec. He was creative from an early age. “When I was young I used to take a knife and whittle.  My mother used to say “I think you could end up making something”.  He became a farmer. Married and had thirteen children.  Then the day came when he retired.  “When I was on the farm I used to work hard, then when I retired I had nothing to do and I became bored. That’s what decided me to start making little things – wooden flowers, birds, then all kinds of things. I do it with a little saw and a pocket knife.chat7 Sell them? They are not sellable. They are not made in a minute. It’s all green, white and red with a little brown. This year I think I am going to put a lot of green and white.  In the summer when I cut the grass, I clear them all off, then I put them all back.  It takes two days.” chat3

Although I never met M. Chatrigny, I am sure that it would bemuse him to hear me say that I think he was a uniquely innovative, and an important artist in his own right; and since I first laid eyes on his work, until present day, he remains one of my favourites.chat8

Remembering the Marjorie Larmon auction

Lot #197 selling price $75,000

Lot #197
selling price $75,000 Cigar store Indian, 2nd half, 19th cent.

This September 23 marks ten years since the historic clearing auction of the Marjorie E. Larmon Collection.  Based on Marjorie’s reputation (discussed in my blog of July 29), there was enormous anticipation building up to this one-time event.  The buzz continued to growing since the announcement of the auction months before, and it was clear that they would need the full capacity of the Simcoe Curling Club where it was being held.  By the time the Friday preview arrived the atmosphere was electric, and the place was crowded with dealers and collectors closely examining and considering their items of interest.  Whispering to each other. Some with poker face. Others unable to contain their excitement. Everyone jotting down little notes in their catalogues.  I noticed some dealers gathered in a quiet corner, privately sorting out how they might divide the spoils by not bidding against each other. Kidding themselves really, into believing that this may help against this determined crowd.

lot # 162 selling price $40,000 artist's box

lot # 162
selling price $40,000
artist’s box

Our strategy at auction previews is to focus first on the work, and leave the chatting until later.  This is tougher than it sounds in a room full of people you like and who rarely, if ever turn up in these parts.   I find it best to have a short friendly exchange and then be upfront with a “let’s get together and have a visit once we’ve finished looking.  I can’t wait to see the stuff”.  Most people are relieved because they are feeling the same.  And so it was that after a couple of hours of inspection and note taking we spent another couple of hours just getting caught up with old friends.  Many of whom we invited to drop by the following day after the auction, for a beverage and commiseration on the porch.  We had no idea who would want to take the time to come by rather than beating a path home, but we realized that there would probably never be another occasion when so many of our dealer and collector friends would be drawn to our area.  With the help of our daughter Cassandra, and her husband Anson who were also attending the auction, we got a lot of snacks together, and brought the giant metal wash tub for ice, and the folding chairs up from the basement to the porch.  We spent the evening discussing our wish list, and our strategy.

Lot #104 selling price $24,000 60" x 41", Perth County, 19th cent.

Lot #104
selling price $24,000
60″ x 41″, Perth County, 19th cent.

lot#71 selling price $24,000 F.P. Gould, Brantford

lot#71
selling price $24,000

Basically we didn’t feel we would be buying much for resale.  We would watch for things that may fall through the cracks, but it was unlikely for this to happen often given the overall quality of the items, and the hyped up crowd determined to take something home of Marjorie’s.  We would keep our eyes open, but decided to focus on a half dozen things we would love to add to our own collection.  Realizing we would be happy to get one or two of them.   We didn’t want any of the big furniture for ourselves, so we decided to focus on a few smaller items like hooked rugs Lot 128 an 1888 rooster, and lot #104 a rug with five black cats, Also lot #162, a spectacular poly-chromed artist’s box, and lot #101 a beautiful example of a Ceinture fleche or Assumption sash from Quebec.  We loved the Pirate weather vane dated 1846, lot # 74, but most of all we loved lot #217, described as a pair of folk art carved and original painted pine figures, a face and upper torso of a white man, and a face of a black man with a hand below. They were attached as pilasters to an old chest of drawers and were thought to be from Quebec.  I didn’t much mind where they came from, I just thought and still do that they are extraordinarily beautiful and mysterious objects.  Plus, they were obscure enough that I imagined they would have limited appeal, and so we hoped that we could get them for four or five thousand dollars.  Tops.  I mean with everyone fighting over the cigar store Indian and the chair table who was going to notice “our” little men.  That is what I dreamed that night.

Lot #74 selling price $24,000,

Lot #74
selling price $24,000,

At 9:30 on that fateful morning, we were seated in our chairs, catalogues in hand, coffee at our side, ready to roll.  So were a few hundred other people.   Marjorie was seated front and center, ready to observe and keep track of who bought what.  The auctioneers Jim Anderson and Jerry Brooks kept their opening comments short and sweet, and so after a big round of applause for Marjorie we were away to the races.  Within minutes the pattern was set.  Every important item realized astronomical prices.  Even most lesser things went through the roof.  It was relentless. Our first targeted item #74 the pirate weather vane realized $24,000.   By the time the Ceinture fleche sold for $13,500, and the cat rug sold for $24,000 we could read the writing on the wall.

lot# 101 selling price $13,500 Ceinture Fleche, Quebec, c1800

lot# 101
selling price $13,500
Ceinture Fleche, Quebec, c1800

Then the 1888 rooster rug sold for $15,000, and we gasped along with everyone else when #162 the artist’s box sold for $40,000.  Over the afternoon we did managed to buy a few pieces of tole and pottery, and a couple of rugs for resale but in terms of our own collection our last hope, and greatest wish was #217 the strange painted men.  As we soon learned, out projected hammer price of $6,000 was wildly optimistic.   Things looked good as the bidding began and there was a point where I thought we might get them for $3,000.  It seemed there was just us and a couple of other bidders, who seemed to stop.  Then a painfully long stretch of “do I hear $3,500. Someone give me $3,200.  Are there any further bids?”  My heart was pumping.   “Any advance on $3,000?” Going, going…. and then from the back I hear “I’ll give you $3,200.  Well there you go.  It was a new bidder. An American dealer I knew from New York who had been laying in wait.   I was disappointed, but not defeated as Jeanine and I had already upped our projected top bid to $10, 000 based on the rest of the auction and our lack of success with other items.  So away we go.  My preferred bidding method is to bid fast, with just the occasional slow gap right up to my top bid. It sometimes works especially at a local, lower profile auction because people realize you are serious and determined, and the quickly climbing price is intimidating.  It didn’t work here.

lot #217 selling price $14,000

lot #217
selling price $14,000

We said goodbye to our dream at $10,000 plus one bid as planned and then watched as it carried on up between two American dealers to a hammer price of $14,000.  You know it’s true what they say.  You never regret the things you stretch your budget to buy.  You only regret the things you let get away.  $4,000 isn’t much in the overall scheme of things, but then of course there is no saying how far past this we would have to go to get them.  Would my life be more fulfilled if I was able to look at them there on the living room wall every day?  The answer is both yes and no.  I’m not a guy who gets excited by a new car or sports jacket, but I truly do love being around items that inspire me so yes, but I am also happy enough to reach a predetermined point and walk away.  You can’t take any of this stuff with you contrary to what the Pharaohs believed.

About thirty people came back to the house afterwards and it was wonderful to compare war stories.  A lot of laughs and comradery, and a fair amount of B.S.   It was a special day in many ways. For the genuine feeling of community, and because it would be the last time we would be together with some of the dealers, who have since passed on.  I wish I had taken some pictures.  I was too busy just living in the moment. It was a great moment.

auction catalogue cover

auction catalogue cover