Expert David Rudd is American Bungalow’s knowledgeable guide into the fascinating and often confusing world of antiques. Send your questions and photos to email@example.com and share your find with other readers. We look forward to hearing from you.
David Rudd is president of the Arts and Crafts Society of Central New York and owner of Dalton’s American Decorative Arts in Syracuse; visit his shop at daltons.com. The opinions expressed in this column are David’s own.
From Summer 2017 Issue 94
What came to be called the “revival” of Americans’ interest in the early-20th-century Arts and Crafts Movement began in 1966 with a book by John Crosby Freeman on Gustave Stickley’s Craftsman Mission furniture and gathered momentum after Princeton University’s 1972 exhibition “American Arts and Crafts, 1876–1916.” By 1980, collecting antique Arts and Crafts furniture, as well as decorative and fine arts, had begun to spawn a lively American subculture that grew through the ensuing decade. In this two-part installment of his column on Arts and Crafts collecting, David Rudd retraces the growth of the revival through his experience as the owner of Dalton’s American Decorative Arts, in Syracuse. N.Y.
PART 2: A MATURING MARKET, 1990–2017
THE NEXT 25 YEARS moved faster than I can describe. Early in that period, Deb had quit her job to come work with me at Dalton’s. This was a tremendous help; it allowed me to focus on buying and selling while she kept our spending and finances in line.
In 1996, we decided to buy the building and restore the outside to more closely resemble what it had looked like in the 1930s. We removed the old shelving and the dropped ceilings, opening up two large rooms with their intact original decorative tin ceilings, and installed track lighting and wall-to-wall carpeting. The result was a space that felt more like a gallery than a shop. Before long, we had filled it.
As the late-20th-century revival of the Arts and Crafts movement advanced from the late 1980s into the first decades of the 21st century, the popularity of the movement’s furniture, pottery, glassware, metalwork, textiles, and fine arts drew collectors and—increasingly—homeowners to rediscover the appeal of a domestic lifestyle that had been synonymous with the architecture of the American bungalow.
The bungalow itself, which had been the de facto house style for early-20th-century working-class suburbanites, found renewed popularity among aspiring homeowners for whom mid- and late-century suburbs, laid out at ever-increasing distances from urban centers, were losing their appeal. As younger families began to reclaim old-er urban bungalow neighborhoods, the appeal of Arts and Crafts furnishings spread from collectors to these new homeowners, simultaneously driving up the value of antiques and creating a burgeoning market for reproductions and new interpretations of vintage designs.
From my perspective as an antiques dealer, that period felt like the wild, wild west. Competition for exceptional material was fierce. Auctioneers and gallery owners in the larger metropolitan areas couldn’t get good pieces fast enough. Prices were climbing, and the collector base was growing incredibly fast.
To manage the easing demand, we all were learning to distinguish what was truly rare from what was more common and adjusting prices accordingly. Book publishers were responding to demands for resources on the Arts and Crafts period. Museums began mounting specialized exhibits. More scholarly research—almost more than we could keep up with—was emerging every day. This resurgence helped create a new boom in prices during the mid-to-late 1990s.
In 1995, in the midst of this market surge, we launched our first website. This was a pivotal move for us. Combined with exhibiting at antiques shows around the region, it put us in touch with more and more collectors at a time when prices were rising, and business remained strong into the early 2000s.
A BUMP IN THE ROAD
As we all learned, however, the decorative-arts market, like most other markets, has its ups and downs, and we encountered yet another recession 10 years ago, with the onset of what became known as the “Great Recession” of 2007. By mid-2008, our sales had dropped by more than half for everything but the best pieces, in exception-al condition. Fortunately, from the time I had started buying years earlier, I had focused on acquiring only ex-traordinary pieces in the best condition I could find. That helped us survive.
After the antiques markets as a whole bottomed out in 2008, they steadily recovered. The Arts and Crafts segment of the market probably experienced a shorter downturn than others; for us, the market started coming back after about two years and has continued to improve.
BACK TO THE FUTURE
At this past February’s Grove Park Inn Arts and Crafts Conference—the only show we now attend—things felt very positive. Many first-, second-, and third-year attendees were truly interested in learning and buying. When the antiques portion of the show opened at 1:00 p.m. on Friday, the ballroom filled quickly, in sharp contrast to the last eight years or so, when people would trickle in. During the entire weekend, the only complaint we heard was “We wanted to stop by your booth and say hello but you were always busy!”
Since then, the 36-year-old Dalton’s gallery has continued to hum with activity, with walk-in traffic picking up substantially as another spring segues into a new summer and fall, drawing new and returning visitors to the heart of American Arts and Crafts territory. I have to believe that the Stickleys and their band of fellow Arts and Crafts pioneers would be pleased.
David Rudd is president of the Arts and Crafts Society of Central New York and owner of Dalton’s American Decorative Arts in Syracuse (Daltons.com). The opinions ex-pressed here are his own. Contact David at David.Rudd@ambungalow.com. We also invite you to post questions and share photos on Facebook, either to American Bungalow’s page or to Dalton’s American Decorative Arts page.