At the Cabildo, you can see this mahogany Louis XV-style armoire made in Louisiana, circa 1810. Photo of Armoire: Skip Bolen
Barbee Ponder caught the collecting bug early, back in 1991, when visiting estate sales and browsing funky Magazine Street antique shops could turn up some real finds in Louisiana antiques.
“It was easy to do in New Orleans,” says Ponder, a Covington attorney. His prize possession, a 1830s mahogany bed from Louisiana, was the reward for one of those early expeditions. “You would always find things on Magazine Street or at one of the estate sales. It was the thrill of the hunt, and you would almost always find a great piece of furniture at a good price.”
That’s getting tougher to do, as Louisiana antiques—not only furniture, but paintings, decorative objects and the Native American basketry of the Chitimacha Tribe of South Louisiana—have become increasingly prized by collectors. This fall, an auction at Neal Auction Company set a record price for a painting by New Orleans artist William Henry Buck (1840-1888), when a landscape featuring cabins along a shoreline sold for nearly $345,000. In the same auction, a 19th-century rosewood bed by New Orleans furniture dealer Prudent Mallard sold for $42,000, and a matching duchesse went for nearly $13,000. Neal also holds the record auction price— $82,500—for a piece of Newcomb pottery.
“Three Cabins Along Shoreline,” by William HenryBuck, was just auctioned at Neal Auction Company.
The booming market for Louisiana antiques is a testament to the quality and distinctiveness of the state’s craft-making heritage. It’s a tradition that reflects the South’s vibrant history: what Jim Cottrell, vice president at M.S. Rau Antiques, calls “the cultural aspects of furniture and the development of the South.”
Louisiana antiques also bear the traces of the state’s French, Spanish and Caribbean influences. “Great pieces do have great histories,” Cottrell says. “And great histories produce great pieces.
It works both ways.”
Some of the most prized pieces of furniture are those with histories that can be traced to Louisiana’s elegant plantation homes or French Quarter mansions. But Acadian furniture—simpler in form, and often made of painted cypress—has also become highly sought after, especially by Louisiana collectors, says Katherine Hovas, a vice president at Neal Auction Company in New Orleans.
“An awful lot of Louisiana furniture goes to Louisiana collectors, and that’s been interesting to watch,” says Hovas. “It’s a finite pool of collectors, and they tend to know each other.”
Fortunately, you don’t have to be in the bidding for a rare armoire or cypress sideboard to actually see Louisiana antiques. Local historic homes such as the Pitot House, Gallier House and Hermann-Grima House have unique collections from different eras that the public can view. The Cabildo, 1850 House (by appointment) and Old U.S. Mint (which is still under repair)—all part of the Louisiana State Museum in New Orleans—have an eclectic array of indigenous antiques, including an 18th-century armoire by Celestin Glapion and a mahogany chest of drawers by Dutreuil Barjon Jr., both free men of color who lived in New Orleans, and a bedroom suite by Mallard that Sue Fischer, the museum’s curator of material culture, calls “absolutely stunning.”
Decorative arts also figure big in Louisiana antiques, most notably, perhaps, with Newcomb pottery, which enjoyed a renaissance of sorts after turning up on the PBS series “Antiques Roadshow.”
Newcomb pottery that was recently for auction at NealAuction Company(left to right): Vase decorated by Sadie Irvine, circa1929; vasedecorated by Sessums McCoy, circa 1916; bowl decorated by“NH,” circa1910. Photos of Potteryand Paintings courtesy of Neal Auction
“Newcomb’s popularity has really skyrocketed since ‘Antiques Roadshow,’” Fischer says. Silver collectors also seek out Louisiana-made items, she adds, most notably work by the 19th-century silversmiths Hyde & Goodrich, Henry Hausmann and Adolphe Himmel.
“Louisiana Bayou in Autumn” by Alexander
John Drysdale was up
for auction at Neal
Paintings by Louisiana artists, particularly those working in the 18th and early 19th century, are fetching handsome prices at auction. Along with William Henry Buck, notable names include George Louis Viavant (1872-1925), Alberta Kinsey (1875-1972), Alexander John Drysdale (1870-1934) and Charles Wellington Boyle (1861-1925). What connects many of the state’s early painters, Hovas says, is a shared fascination with Louisiana’s “exotic landscape.”
“Part of the appeal of [Louisiana] paintings is the way they play on that exoticism,” she says.
Collectors, likewise, are drawn to the exoticism and beauty of Louisiana artifacts—especially collectors who have deep roots in the state. “People who collect Louisiana furniture are also very interested in Louisiana history and heritage,” says Ponder. “It’s almost a scholarly pursuit, going after these things. You want something that was produced locally, and reminds you that craftsmen here, 200 years ago, were creating these things of great beauty.”