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Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Look for Kellogg Collection to Kick Start the Folk Art Market

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Lot 690: Chalk cat, est. $6/8,000. Lot 690: Chalk cat, est. $6/8,000.
MANCHESTER, N.H. –  Predictions are always dangerous but I am betting that the Kellogg Collection of American Folk Art, slated for sale at Northeast Auctions on August 6, will be a shot in the arm for the Americana field.
The sad news emanating from the American Folk Art Museum, whose shaky finances forced it to shutter its stylish headquarters at West 53rd Street in Manhattan on July 8, has contributed to a general sense that folk art has lost its fizz.

Truth is, many buyers are sitting on the sidelines. Auctioneers will tell you that the business relies on high-profile, single-owner catalogued sales to generate excitement.  Such consignments have been scarce in the past three years, the slack only partly offset by estate properties.
From the point of view of the market, the collection formed over the past four decades by Steven Kellogg, the author and illustrator of children’s books, and his wife Helen, a scholar of American folk painting, ticks all the boxes. Exercising a keen eye for color, form, pattern and surface, the Kelloggs chose pieces that spoke deeply to them and made them smile. They were especially drawn to folk portraiture, painted surfaces and American Windsor chairs.
The Kellogg collection contains a little more than 200 lots, most of which are moderately priced to appeal to exactly the sort of retail shopper who attends Antiques Week in New Hampshire, which begins at Northeast Auctions on August 5 and continues for eight days. I am told that the Kelloggs and their advisor, Pennsylvania dealer Patrick Bell, never seriously considered auctioning the collection anywhere but in New Hampshire in August.
The Americana crowd is one big, mostly happy family. Besides New Hampshire, it gathers in New York in January and Philadelphia in April. All three destinations were developed by show promoter Russell Carrell, as Northeast Auctions chief Ron Bourgeault reminded me, beginning in the late 1950s.
“Russell gave those of us in New England, particularly, the opportunity to find these objects,” says Bourgeault. Chronicled by trade publications like Antiques and The Arts Weekly and Maine Antique Digest, a community of kindred souls developed. At its heart and representative of its spirit are the Kelloggs.
Assembled by Bell, Northeast’s catalogue, A Product of Passion: The American Folk Art Collection of Helen & Steven Kellogg, is a colorful record of the country Americana collecting movement. With contributions by Bell; the actress Helen Hunt, a Kellogg family friend; the dealer Stephen Score; the collectors Charles Santore, R. Scudder Smith and Joan Johnson; the scholar Elisabeth Garrett Widmer; and Steven Kellogg himself, it documents the couple’s personal journey while honoring an era when enthusiasm ran high and buyers were altogether less cynical and more daring in their tastes than they are now.
Stephen Score shares the Kelloggs’ soulful rapport with folk art. One recent afternoon, the Boston dealer offered his recollections of times spent with the collectors, who a decade ago moved from Connecticut to Steven Kellogg’s boyhood home of Essex, N.Y.
“Working with them was so natural it was like breathing in and out. They made interesting choices. They didn’t want generic portraits of children. They wanted to live with children who had interior lives, who were quirky and charming and expressive. Some of this goes to Steven, who because of his work had a ready-built preference for simplified line and shape, color and the expression of real spirit in an economical way,” said Score.
“Helen has a very referential intelligence and was able to discern an artist’s development over time. One time in Boston, we spent the evening on the floor looking at watercolors upside down. She was trying to tease out the characteristics of the noses, eyes and mouths and did not want to be prejudiced by the constellation of the other facial elements. She is a contrarian, willing and eager to challenge conventions to get to the truth.”
Score concluded, “The late 1960s and early 1970s were a time when things were coming out of the woodwork with dazzling speed and regularity. You might find a great watercolor. Then you would trip over some fabulous piece of furniture. With the freshness and excitement came a kind of generosity. The Kelloggs were open and sharing. Everyone liked them and enjoyed working with them.”
Over the years, the Kelloggs donated a few pieces and sold others when they moved. For the most part, the collection is intact, says Bell.
Arrayed here are a few of the highlights:

  • Lot 567 – Purchased from Wayne Pratt, this 66 inch tall carousel figure of a giraffe is attributed to Daniel Muller of the Dentzel Company in Philadelphia. In wonderful old paint, it is estimated at $50/70,000.

  • Lot 572 – Illustrated on its top with game boards and its underside with kittens climbing a tree, this early 19th century chair table with late 19th century painted decoration passed from dealer Bill Samaha to collector Virginia Cave, who auctioned it for $21,850 at her landmark sale at Northeast in 2000. It is presently estimated at $20/25,000.

  • Lot 512 – Helen Kellogg identified the husband and wife painters Samuel Addison Shute and Ruth Whittier Shute in research published in 1978. Only a handful of signed Shutes are known. This unsigned double portrait on paper came from Stephen Score and is estimated at $20/25,000.

  • Lot 642 – Joel and Kate Kopp chose this mid-19th century chenille shirred pictorial rug for their 1985 book, American Hooked and Sewn Rugs: Folk Art Underfoot. The Kelloggs purchased it from the dealer-collector Allan Daniel. It is expected to bring between $10,000 and $15,000.

  • Lot 503 - This 19th century blanket chest is grain painted and embellished with crisp architectural details. It brought $8,000 at the Miele sale in 1984 and $14,950 at the Feldman auction in 1998. It is currently estimated at $15/20,000.

  • Lot 544 - This great writing-arm Windsor chair with two drawers is branded with the name of its maker, E.B. Tracy of Lisbon, Ct. Illustrated in Charles Santore’s book, The Windsor Style: Volume II, it is estimated at $8/12,000.
The Kellogg collection may be viewed at Northeast Auctions in Portsmouth, N.H., between July 25 and 30. The public preview begins on August 5 in Manchester, N.H., prior to the sale.
Write to Laura Beach at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
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