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Auctioning Shaker Items, Finding Roman Coins, Restoring a Folk-Art Landmark

by Sandra Lee Stuart (08/02/08).

Arts and collectibles news is highlighted by a rare Shaker auction, unearthing Roman coins, controversy over a folk-art “village” and the sale of the Mount Rushmore of folk art.

Rare public offering of Shaker items

Pieces that Shakers produced for their personal use are, for the most part, in museums. This is why, as The New York Times points out, the August 2 Shaker-collectibles auction is so newsworthy and noteworthy.

Two cardiologists from Lima, Ohio, put up their 148-lot collection with Northeast Auctions.

Also under the gavel are pieces acquired by scholars Ted and Faith Andrews who amassed “the most comprehensive private collection ever of Shaker artifacts.” The Andrewses spent 40 years, starting in 1923, assembling their collection on a shoestring budget.

The Shakers were a Protestant sect that believed in absolute celibacy. That should have doomed them to one or two generations. To overcome this, the Shakers sought converts and took in orphans, thus allowing the group to stick around and produce some great furniture and artifacts.

Lucky strike

A 14-year-old British boy was testing out his new metal detector with his mother and a friend last fall when suddenly there was a whole lot of beeping going on. As an article on CoinLink tells it, the friend started digging through the dirt and came up with a 1,700-year-old Roman coin. Then another and another until 62 were unearthed dating back to the reigns of Emperors Diocletianus, Maximianus, Constantius and Galerius.

This week, it was ruled that the coins are “treasure”—more than 300 years old with less than 10% gold or silver. The lucky treasure hunters are now waiting to see if a museum will buy the coins. If that doesn’t happen, they get to get to split the proceeds of any sale with the property owner.

One woman’s junk, another woman’s folk art

In 1956, for reasons unknown, Tressa Prisbey started carting her 1,700 pencils, whirligigs, dolls, chairs and other assorted stuff to Simi Valley, Calif., a city northwest of Los Angeles. Prisbey used bottles she found in dumps as the material to build structures to house her collection.

Eventually “Bottle Village” was created and placed on the National Register of Historic Places, one of nine such folk-art environments to be so designated.

But as The Ventura County Star reports, Bottle City fell into major disrepair after a 1994 earthquake. There has been controversy ever since over whether public funds should be used to restore it. As it is, people may tour the village “at your own risk.”

Folk art is misunderstood, contends Sonja Cendak, exhibitions coordinator for the Craft and Folk Art Museum in Los Angeles.

“While not as lofty as fine arts, [folk art] is connected on the heart-to-heart level. You don’t need a fine arts degree to do it,” she said.

Speaking of folk art

The “Mount Rushmore of folk art” went up for auction recently, reports The Toledo Blade. In case you’re not familiar with the Mount Rushmore of folk art, it consists of enormous sculptures of Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman, Teddy Roosevelt, Abe Lincoln and other luminaries that were carved in Braughman Memorial Park, about sixty miles from Columbus, Ohio.

The sculptor was a local undertaker whose property sat on an old stone quarry. What with material right at hand, he began carving in 1898 and didn’t stop for 22 years.

The park on 62 acres sold for $380,000. The gas-and-oil rights brought in another $60,000.

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