Folk art means unique pieces by everyday artists

Folk art is just that -- art made by common folks. There is no special age, no special type. It is anything unique made by an individual. In the 1950s, books about American folk art discussed 18th- and early-19th-century paintings by untrained artists, wood carvings, decoys, cigar-store figures, quilts, early painted furniture, tombstones and decorated stoneware. Today, folk art includes this and more, from fretwork carvings and life-size sculptures made of concrete and broken bottles to almost anything handmade for personal use that's different enough to cause comment. Folk-art pieces that auctioned recently include a memory jar a plaster-covered pot decorated with charms, broken dishes and hand-drawn sketches from a diary. Also look for whirligigs, weathervanes, carousel figures, chains made of bottle caps, boxes made of matchsticks, purses made of folded gum wrappers and figures made of carved soap. A major piece of folk art that sold at auction this year is a clock in a fretwork house. The coin-operated clock has moving figures inside. It is 40 inches high and runs on an electric motor, so it must be from the 20th century. It sold for more than $2,000.
Q. Sixty years ago, I bought a three-piece serving set of ceramic dishes marked "Russel Wright, Mfg. by Steubenville." I have a water pitcher, serving bowl and platter. All three are chartreuse and decorated with hand-painted red roses, daisies and leaves. Friends say the flowers must have been added later. What are the dishes worth?
A. Your dishes are from Steubenville Pottery Co.'s American Modern line. The line was designed by Russel Wright (1904-76), one of the most famous American designers of the 20th century. American Modern was Wright's first line of dinnerware; it was manufactured from 1939 until about 1959. Steubenville called the color of your dishes "chartreuse curry." Very few decorated pieces of this line were made at the factory. The few that were decorated were covered with very simple, one-color patterns. Your dishes were very likely hand-painted by a home craftsperson. The painted decoration decreases the value of your dishes. Undecorated and in excellent condition, the bowl is valued at about $30, the platter at $50 and the pitcher at $140.
Q. I have a small, wooden cupboard that's 25 inches tall and 10 inches wide, with nine 9-inch-square metal shelves inside. The single door on the front is glass with a wooden frame. The back has a label that reads "Property Y-M-Pies," but the shelves don't seem wide enough to hold a pie tin.
A. Your cupboard was once used in a bakery, diner or country store to display pies that were for sale. A 9-inch tin would not fit into this cabinet, but 7- or 8-inch tins would. Old store fixtures are very collectible.
Q. I work at a charity thrift shop. We were left several items from a local estate. One of them is a riveted gold-plated bracelet in its original box. Also in the box are a small screwdriver, two tiny screws and a paper insert explaining that the bracelet is a 1970 Charles Revson edition of an original 1968 gold Cartier "Love Bracelet." Is this Revson bracelet worth a lot?
A. Charles Revson and his brother, Joseph, founded Revlon in 1932 to manufacture and market nail polish. Over the decades, Revlon has sold all kinds of products, including copies of the Cartier Love Bracelet designed by Aldo Cipullo. The bracelet's design was based on an Irish legend. The giver placed the bracelet on a lover's wrist using the two extra screws to symbolize the couple's commitment to each other.
Original Cartier Love Bracelets sell for around $900. Revson copies can sell for up to $90 if they're in mint condition, with the original screwdriver and screws, and the original box.
XThe Kovels answer as many questions as possible through the column. By sending a letter with a question, you give full permission for its use in the column or any other Kovel forum. Names and addresses will not be published. We cannot guarantee the return of any photograph, but if a stamped envelope is included, we will try. The volume of mail makes personal answers or appraisals impossible. Write to Kovels, The Vindicator, King Features Syndicate, 888 Seventh Ave., New York, N.Y. 10019. For more information about antiques and collectibles and free price information, visit
& copy;2005 by Cowles Syndicate Inc.

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