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. Eighteenth century furniture was made with hand tools and decorated with carvings, inlay and the selection of attractive grain in the woods. The 19th century increased the amount of carved decoration. 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 unique 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. 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 have two gunpowder dispensers that I believe are from the Civil War era and belonged to a relative who fought in that war. One is made of copper and the other of leather. Both are in great condition and work well. One still has grains of gunpowder in it. Is there any monetary value to these items?
A: First, get rid of the gunpowder! Old explosives can be dangerous. You can take the powder flask to a gun range and ask them to dispose of the residual powder. Re-enactors and people who collect Civil War memorabilia might be interested in your powder flasks, especially if you can give them information about your ancestor Powder flasks that are signed or have decoration sell for more than plain powder flasks. A signed copper Civil War powder flask sold for $47, and another for $135 recently. Leather powder flasks with historically significant decoration sell for $100 or more.
Q: I recently bought a bankers chair by W.B. Moses & Sons dated 1914. What can you tell me about the company?
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, $50-$100.