Glass, pottery, bronze, silver and, of course, paper and canvas are all used to make important, and often expensive, works of art. But wood has been somewhat neglected as art, though highly regarded for useful furniture.
Eighteenth-century furniture was made with hand tools and decorated with carvings, inlay and the selection of attractive grain in the woods. Carved decoration increased in the 19th century. By the 1890s, there were Black Forest benches, tables, hall trees and other furniture held by life-size carved wooden bears.
Twentieth-century craftsman and artist George Nakashima (1905-1990) made his wooden art furniture from slabs of wood. Wendell Castle (born 1932) made modern furniture, including a carved wooden coat and hat rack holding a wooden coat, and a park bench that appears to be growing from a tall tangle of vines.
Artists today are using wood to make sculptures, statues, puzzle boxes and huge burl bowls that are sold at art galleries, not furniture stores.
Now is the time to start collecting wooden art. There are artists making everything from realistic to abstract and science fiction-inspired carvings. Go to art shows, or just browse the Internet and find the carvings you admire. Trust your taste. There are caricatures, humorous figures, life-size statues and tiny imaginary animals.
A talented Italian artist, Livio De Marchi, makes lifelike carvings of everyday items. He leaves them unpainted so the wood grain and defects will show. A golf bag with six clubs, a single piece of carved wood, sold for $3,240 at a recent Skinner auction in Boston.
Q: I recently bought a bankers chair by W.B. Moses & Sons dated 1914. There doesn't seem to be much information about their furniture. What can you tell me about the company and its furniture?
A: W.B. Moses opened a furniture store in Washington, D.C., in the 1860s. Business expanded, and by 1898 W.B. Moses & Sons occupied several buildings, including shops and manufacturing facilities. The company redecorated some of the rooms in the White House in 1881, supplying new carpeting, drapes and furniture. Value of your chair is $50 to $100.
Tip: Don't wash Barbie; just wipe her off. Water gives her a bad hair day and if her body soaks, it could be damaged.
Terry and Kim Kovel will answer as many letters from readers as possible through the column only. For return of a photograph, include a self-addressed, stamped (55 cents) envelope. Write to: The Kovels, c/o King Features Syndicate, 300 W. 57th St., New York, NY 10019. The website is kovels.com.
Prices from shows nationwide:
Clarice Cliff pottery vase, Bizarre shape, My Garden, painted, yellow, multicolor flowers, 5 by 3 1/2 inches, $120.
Royal Bayreuth figural pitcher, lobster shape, painted, green handle, blue mark, 1900s, 7 inches, $230.
Trench art paperweight, artillery shell, mounted on stepped base, patinated relief spelter, about 1918, 2 3/4 by 5 1/2 by 4 1/4 inches, $275.
Stand, elephant foot, wood top, 7 3/4 by 8 by 8 inches, pair, $305.
U.S. flag, 40-star, parade, glazed cotton muslin, inscribed Dr. Crawford, printed, hand-stitched elements, 1889, 84 by 49 inches, $315.
Electric lamp, two-light, reverse painted shade, shepherd and sheep, umbrella shape, Art Nouveau, Jefferson, 1920s, 23 1/2 by 17 inches, $320.
Rookwood vase, iris glaze, mistletoe design, Laura Lindeman initials, about 1904, 4 1/2 by 3 1/2 inches, $420.
Inkwell, figural, grasshopper, cast iron, painted, about 1900, 12 inches, $1,035.
Shutter, wood, louvered, two tiers, painted blue green, rounded top, about 1880, 114 by 36 inches, $1,355.
Toy, Teddy's Safari Troop Photographer, wood jointed, cloth clothes, holding camera, rifle, Schoenhut, 8 1/2 inches, $1,535.