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Trash or Treasure: Stuart Whitehurst charms crowd with appraisals, stories

Museum of Primitive Art and Culture hosted VP & Director of Rare Books and Manuscripts at Skinner, Inc. for their annual fundraiser.

The of Peace Dale played host to Stuart Whitehurst, Vice President and Director of Rare Books and Manuscripts at Skinner, Inc. of Boston. He appears regularly on the PBS show “Antiques Roadshow”.

Tickets to the event, held at the Dunes Club in Narragansett, included one free appraisal of an item by Whitehurst.

“If I use the words cute or sweet, be prepared for a low value” Whitehurst warned the crowd that was gathering around the appraisal table. He kept everyone laughing as he wowed with his seemingly unending knowledge of the items brought before him. Whether it was an inlaid table or a tobacco tin, he could rattle off dates, manufacturers, materials and the explanation of any markings found. This year brought less choice items than last year when there were two paintings appraised at $16-20,000 each, but there were a few nice surprises.

A carved wooden eagle head with the US flag jutting out to each side had hung over the door at one couple's grandparent's “camp” or summer house in Wakefield years ago. Whitehurst remarked that it was similar to the style of artist John Haley Bellamy and was a very nice example. Despite a small nick out of the bottom, which he recommended not to fix, his estimate was that it was worth around $3,000.

A sterling silver vase turned out to be more than appeared at first glance. The marking read Tiffany & Co. makers, which meant they actually manufactured it instead of just retailing it. It was also marked with 925-1000, which was the sterling amount, as well as a script initial M.

Whitehurst told the tale of how Tiffany & Co. decided that a neat way to date their products would be to use the first initial of the last name of the company president at the time. M would date it to between 1871-1892. He advised the owner not to polish the acid etched vase any more and joked that because it was dented on the lip, having been used to clonk an errant husband on the head at one time, it was still worth about $1,500.

The biggest find of the night was a portrait miniature by American artist Laura Coombs Hills. The woman who presented it said it was a portrait of her great grandmother. It resembled a large pendant. Whitehurst told the tale of two artists by saying that if you saw Hills' early work (the portraits) and her later work (soft, pastel florals and still lifes), you would think you were looking at two different artists. What really happened is that she lost a great deal of her eyesight and that changed her style. The miniatures were highly detailed and very collectable. His estimate of the one presented on Sunday was in the range of $5-10,000. There weren't any instant millionaires, but the education was priceless.

The museum was founded in 1892 by Rowland G. Hazard II. Since 1930 the collection has been housed in the Peace Dale Office Building. It is open to the general public on Wednesdays from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. or by appointment. Many school groups visit during the year. The museum is the host to more than 15,000 objects from around the globe representing world culture.

The Fall lecture series at the museum begins on Oct. 6 with Africa Through A Camera Lens. Professional photographer Vic Dvorak and his wife Susan, a Peace Corps volunteer, of Charlestown, will share their memories of their visits to Africa.

On Oct. 13 Susan Jerome, the manager of URI's historic textile and costume collection, will explore how textile history influenced our culture and attitudes toward items made of fabric.

Tuesday Oct. 18 brings a talk on “The Language of Kilim”. Kilim is a tightly woven textile produced from the Balkans to Pakistan and the hand woven type is considered a folk art, dyed with plant materials from their regions.

Finally, on Oct. 27, Plains Indian (nomadic inhabitants of the North American Great Plains) descendant and now Westerly resident John Paul Cutnose will speak about the history and arts of the Plains Indians. If you have an example of Plains Indian art you are welcome to bring it with you to be discussed and admired.

For more information on the museum visit http://primitiveartmuseum.org or call (401) 783-5711

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