“Time seemed to fly by” – the work of Wallace Murdoch

murbookIn reading the excellent report by Larry Thompson in the latest Canadian Antique and Vintage Magazine  of Tim Potter’s auction of the collection of the late Ken Murphy, I was happy to see that several of the pieces by Wallace Murdoch which I had sold to Ken drew strong prices.  This in spite of the fact that nobody seemed to know much about him.  It occurred to me therefore that it may be of interest to those who bought the works and more generally to those of us interested in Canadian folk art for me to tell the story of buying the collection and what I came to find out about Mr.  Murdoch.

It was May of 2000 when dealer and show promoter John Forbes called me and told me that I should get on up to his Guelph home to see a collection of folk art he had just acquired.  “Yup, I’ll be right over”‘.  Jeanine and I went the next afternoon to see him and there on the harvest table was about 30 pieces of excellent carving, mostly centered around horses. We were duly impressed and quickly came up with a figure we could both live with.  John didn’t have or at least wasn’t sharing much information about the artist. Only that he had carved in the sixties, had lived in Shanty Bay, had died recently, and that a picker had bought all the works available from the family. No matter.  The work was strong and beautifully rendered and we were happy to have it all.

Then I did some nosing around and found out that the picker in question was Bob Creighton whom I knew, but when asked Bob was holding his cards close to his chest and added nothing, presumably so he could go back to see if he could find others.  So I decided to take a trip up to Shanty Bay which is near Orillia, Ontario to see what I could find out.  I went into an antique store there and the woman informed me that Wallace’s sister was still the post master in nearby Guthrie, so I went there, and sure enough found her working.  She was pleased to provide me with the details of Wallace Murdoch’s life and the copy of a 1966 Toronto Star article..  Equestrian jumper

Wallace Manson Murdoch was born April 24, 1893 in Bobcaygeon, Ontario. Before he was a year old his family moved to South River.  In March 1917 he married Myrtle Boyd.  They moved to the Barrie area in 1927, and then to Shanty Bay in 1930.  Here he stayed for the rest of his life.

He had a service station and auto repair shop.  Then he had the idea to start a school bus service which he did initially with horse and wagon, and then continued to operate this business for another 27 years.  Wallace and Myrtle had two son’s and five daughters.  In 1959 Wallace had a severe heart attack and was forced to retire and was forbidden to do any heavy work.  He found it difficult to just sit around so he started carving.  At first he just drew horses on plywood and cut them out.  Then he advanced to carving the complete forms out of blocks of white pine. Then he moved on to adding harness and sleighs, wagons, carts, and stage coaches.  He often fashioned his own knives to fit his needs.

Wallace Murdoch

Wallace Murdoch

In the Oct 1, 1966 article, Dean Hughes points out that Wallace, although surrounded by hundreds of carvings, mostly horses that he had accomplished over the last six years, was reluctant to sell his work.  And since Murdoch obviously didn’t do it for money, what did he get out of it?

“I seem to leave a little of myself in everything I carve.  The time just seems to fly by.  It takes me about fourteen hours to carve a horse and I love every minute of it – from the minute I get up in the morning until I go to bed. And I get to love these horses I carve so much that I don’t like to part with them. Wallace Murdoch died November 3rd, 1966

An inspiring visit

windchairOver the past few weeks of summer I have been encouraged by the number of younger people coming into the shop and not only having a look around but on some occasions making what appears to be there first serious antique purchase. The other day a couple who seemed just short of thirty came by, and I was surprised when the fellow said to his partner This is one of those tramp art boxes I have been talking about”,   Then he went on to give a pretty good summary of the genre.(look it up) Even better, he bought it.

But this story is about another type of encouragement, and a big reason why I continue in this business after arguably being a full time antique dealer for thirty years may seem punishment enough for most people. 

Last week I received a phone call on this continuous arm Windsor chair which had long been listed on my Collectivator site.  The gentleman phoning told me his name was Ray and that he was a collector of early chairs, and he proceeded to ask me a couple of intelligent questions about the chair.  “Is it a two board seat or a cracked one board seat”  “Cracked one board”.  “Has it been cut down” . “Nope, full legs and no rot”.  “Are there any replaced parts or repairs”.  “No replaced parts but it’s been re-glued”, and I proceeded to describe the primitive, early repair to the seat which involved a couple of thin boards with beveled edges glued and screwed underneath”   Ray said it sounded interesting and worth the drive from his home which is near Windsor, Ontario, and a three hour drive.  “Are you there Friday afternoon?”  “Yes Friday eleven to five”.  “Good, if it’s a decent day I’ll be there about two”. 

Sure enough,  right about two Ray came into the shop and went directly to the chair.  I noticed that Ray is a well dressed mature gentleman, with gold framed aviator glasses, and an I Phone in a leather pocket strapped to his belt.  We exchanged greetings and talked a bit about his trip etc, and then we settled into to the serious business of checking the chair out. Flipping it this way and that and turning it upside down.  All the while I was telling Ray what I knew of the provenance, and repair history.  I told him all I knew, which is that it most recently belonged to a buddy of mine who had bought it about twenty years ago from Ron O’Hara, who was an excellent dealer/collector from Saint Mary’s. Ron had bought it in the states several years earlier.  I eckoned it to be pre 1800, but not by much.  Maybe New York State or Connecticut. Definitely American.  “Hmmm,  nice chair”, says Ray, I’m going to have a look around.”  He checked out several items and then focused on a nice little salt box with a wagon wheel motif on the back piece. “O.K., what’s your best price on the chair and wall box?”  I gave him a decent discount because I liked him.  “That’s fair.  Done”.  At which point he pulled out his wallet and it was cash on the barrel head.  Now I really liked him.

We continued to chat. “How long have you been collecting early chairs?”  “I bought a log house on two acres of land ten years ago and I thought I’d died, and gone to heaven.  I restored it myself.  It took me two years to tear out the inside paneling and re-chinked the logs.  I found evidence that it existed in 1820 but I suspect that  it may be a bit older.  I really like to buy only items that fit the house’s time frame.  I have several Windsors, but this is my first continuous arm.  I’m delighted”  Would you like to see a photo of my house?” at which point he pulls out the I Phone.  “Cool looking place Ray, and to think that you did all that work yourself”.  “Well I was a lot younger then, remember it was ten years ago.”  And this is where I realized that although it can rightfully be seen as a pushy question, Ray was dying for me to ask  ” So how old where you then Ray?”  “Eighty”. “Wow really,  man if I live to be ninety I want to be you Ray. That’s amazing, I would have put you as a healthy 70.”  “thanks”.

He smiled, and said “would you like to know more about your chair, which is now mine?”  “”You bet”. He then pulled out his book on American WIndsor chairs and flipped to the page were the exact chair was illustrated.  “It was made by Ebenezer Turner in Connecticut in 1780.  I’ve checked all the measurements.  It’s a match” .

I am so inspired and grateful for having had the opportunity to meet Ray, a ninety year old with the intelligence and life force to get in his car and drive three hours each direction to buy a chair he was obviously delighted to add to his collection and to his home.  This is what it is all about my friends? Being ninety and being that much alive.  Keeping your mind active with a serious interest in collecting will do that for you.

“Would you like a coffee Ray”   “No, I’ve got to get home.  I’ll be back one day when I’ve got some more money”  he said with a wink.


The Shadfly Customer Appreciation BBQ and Sale

a beautiful day and a good turn out

a beautiful day and a good turn out

It happens to all collectors and dealers.  You go about your business, buying job lots, or whole collections to obtain some great pieces, and along with the “great” comes the “not so great”, but the “good enough” to  be put aside in your overflow area, be it basement or barn for future consideration.  Then along comes the day when you can no longer move in those places and that’s when it’s time to download.  Seriously, do not even consider renting more storage space because you will just fill it up in no time. So you can either take the stuff to the auction, or have a yard sale, or a bonfire.  My experience with auctions suggests that although they do provide finality, with this type of stock you are looking at maybe 5 cents on the dollar.  I could never burn even lousy furniture so why not have a yard sale?  And why not combine it with a customer appreciation BBQ.  Since we no longer do field shows, we have been missing those opportunities to have friendly negotiations and casual exchanges.  Plus customer Good Will is a valuable commodity which must be nurtured. .

We picked Saturday and Sunday June 15,16, and we put an ad in the Upper Canadian, the local paper, and posted the dates on-line.  No turning back now.  Naturally, we were hoping for a successful day, but reckoned that even if the sale was a wash (torrential rain anyone) it would at least provide us with the motivation to clear out the clutter, and that alone was worth it.

Well  happily it turned out much better than that,  it was a beautiful weekend,  we were well organized with lots of help from family and friends, and gratefully a lot of people came.  The feeling was very positive, we had a great time, and most importantly we moved out a lot of stuff,  When the price is “right”, the stuff really flies.

We are very grateful to everyone who worked hard to pull it off. Everyone worked on set  up and tear down. Jeanine and Pat Hall took care of food. Out daughter Cassandra was head of sales.  Her husband Anson cooked the sausages and did a lot of running around.  My amigos John Hall, Marty Osler, and John Ingram were all on hand to haggle, and charm.  Everyone had a wonderful time.  It lifted our spirits that so many who came were local, and everyone seemed to want to buy something.

In the end, yes it was a lot of work, but it really paid off.  Next time, and considering we can’t stop buying there probably will be a next time, It will be a one day event, not two, and maybe in the spring or fall instead of June. But otherwise, let the good times roll.  If you would like to see more photos please go to the Shadfly Antique Facebook page.


Tod and his 1941 one ton tow truck

look what pulled up front

look what pulled up front

One of things I love about living in Port Dover is that there is no lack of authentic characters.  It’s a beautiful sunny day and I was working out back in the garden when I heard the door buzzer go.  When I came around the corner I saw this parked right out in front of Shadfly, facing the wrong way,  right in front of the no parking sign. Hmmm,  I went inside to greet the owner.  I found a pleasant man with his young daughter quietly studying a hand made merry go round which had come from nearby Haldimand county made from an old chicken feeder.  “That’s my neck of the woods” the man offered.  “Oh, so you are a local” I replied. “That’s a pretty sweet old truck you’ve got going there. Could you tell me about it.” We exchanged names and pleasantries, and Tod went on to say,
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA“Glad to.  It’s a 1941 Chev one ton which I have built onto a 1978 chassis. It’s got the original 1978 350 V8 in it. It took me a year and a half to put it together, which was as fast as I could go because I needed it for my scrap metal business  It’s a working truck you see. I use it every day and drive it everywhere. . It weighs 8,000 lbs, and I put 17 leaf springs in her on both sides so I know she can lift anything.  I had one of those car carrier type rigs before but the government demands so many damn permits for those things now that it’s just too much bother and expense to have one.  I work alone and there’s so many guys in the metal business now that I have to keep my costs low.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA”  “Look inside, I’ve got a lot of Lana Turner pin ups in there.  She was the real thing”

I had brought my camera over to take some photos for the Collectivator site so I asked if he minded if I took a few shots. Tod was happy to comply for as you can see, he’s proud of his truck. Why wouldn’t he be.

When asked, he told me that he collects car related things such as old oil cans and such.  Turns out he has a big barn full of such items which he has collected from “back in the time when you could buy things for not much money”,  I suggested he may have quite a valuable collection by now.  He told me that occasionally people have wanted to buy from him but he always refuses, and he has turned down a visit from the Canadian Pickers show guys a couple of times.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA“I’m obviously not into it for the money .  I put a greater value in the delight of just having these things around me.”  A man after my own heart.  As he drove off in spite of the fact that I had nothing to sell him, I couldn’t help but feel richer for the experience.  Another day in Dover.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Antiques I love, and why I love them – wire basket

wibask1As you can see we love citrus. What I also want you to see is that I love the wire basket that the fruit sits in, and around.

This basket is hand made from the mid 1800’s, and it delights me every time I look at it. Look at the detail photos and marvel at the workmanship and design.  From the bumpy texture of the wire itself, to the delicate little folds that hold the pieces in place, it is a marvel.

We bought it about 30 years ago from Peter Baker at a show we were both participating in at the St. Jacobs arena.  This had once been a mighty show but had stopped for a couple of years, and this was the first year they had tried to revive it.  Unfortunately, it didn’t happen.  The crowds, or lack there of allowed us plenty of time to chat amongst ourselves.  Jeanine took a bead on this basket the moment Peter set it out, but it was in the second day of the show, when there was absolutely nothing happening that she opened the subject of the basket, and her possible interest in purchasing.  Peter who is always a pleasant fellow did his best to facilitate the deal, but Jeanine played it cool. It was late in the third and gratefully final day that they came to an arrangement.

Quite often I will look at this basket, and admire again the beauty of the form, and the integrity of the craftsmanship, and I am grateful that Peter and Jeanine were able to come to an arrangement.

wibask5 wibask2 wibask3 wibask4

What to do with a dirty, old cupboard – Part 1. Give it a bath

grcup1 Recently, I was asked my opinion on how to best “gentrify” this quite dirty old cupboard owned by Collectivator dealer Dana Hergott, of the Ojiibik collections. I’ve cleaned hundreds of cupboards over the past thirty five years so I thought this info might be of wider interest . I asked Dana if she would mind me including her photos, questions and results  while conveying the information here, and she generously agreed, so over this, and a couple more entries I will make my suggestions for the restoration of this fine old piece, report on her progress doing the work, and eventually show the finished result.

Dana’s question,  I’m going to send along pictures of that cupboard and would like your opinion on stripping it. (yes/no).  If needs a really good scrubbing so it looks dirty in the photos….also one of the legs is rotted off…

My response,   My gut feeling is to go with what you’ve got. Actually that’s my default position unless it is obvious that there’s something better underneath, or it’s just so ugly the way it is that it must be changed. Also, one can never be sure what one will encounter under the top paint, and there can be some very unpleasant surprises. I find the green quite attractive actually, and it’s got a nice “crackle” going on between the green and the light grey underneath. Poor thing.  It does needs some help, doesn’t it. The feet, the cut off side trim, not to mention the upside down right door, all need fixing, but not to worry.  The first stage is easy enough.

Clean it thoroughly using Murphy’s oil soap (or other)  Inside and out. If the top or other parts are quite raw, with paint missing try not to get these areas too wet, using damp, soapy rags followed by damp clean rags. This so as not to raise the grain on the raw wood.  Otherwise, wherever  there is a good layer of paint,  and especially if it is filthy, you can work much wetter, even using a hose outside on a warm sunny day. Power washers are tempting, but they can really screw up the surface if you are not very careful and use them on there most gentle settings. Of course in this Canadian winter  the best one can hope for is a warm, well lit, garage, or the like, so you have to work drier. Now, you have to do what you have to do to get it clean but try not to over scrub or clean too thoroughly, and importantly try not to let it stay wet for too long.  Have lots of dry rags (old towels are great) around to wipe it down as you go. Keeping a fan or heater blowing on it helps too.  I find it best to clean the inside first , paying mind not to let drips stand too long on the bottom boards or doors.  Then clean one section at a time starting on the top and working down.  Always conscious of wiping down the drips.

On very greasy surfaces it may be necessary to mix a little T.S.P. (tri sodium phosphate) with the soap and warm water.  But this mixture is to be used only where necessary,  and sparingly,  followed with the straight soap and water rinse.  A strong TSP solution has the potential to leave lighter bleached out marks where it runs down a surface, so be careful how you use it.

If possible it’s best to soldier on and clean it all in one session so it all dries at the same time . But if it’s too much work, then split the two sessions between inside and outside.   Remember, the trick is to clean it all to about the same amount.  Where the paint is good, you can initially get it quite soapy.   Clean a whole section at a time with rags, sponge or a soft bristle brush to the point  were it is uniformly “quite” clean”.  Not “super” clean. On the really grungy spots you can Use those green, plastic scratchy pads, but go gently. Follow this with a rag clean up and damp cloth rinse.  Keep going over it with dry rags as it dries.  When it’s dry buff the surface a bit and your done this first stage.

I’ll follow soon with “Part two – Fix it”, but for now I need to go down and make supper.  We take turns depending on who feels like doing it. Tonight I do.  Good luck with it and let me know how it goes.