C from San Francisco has two wonderful hippie—era cases that he purchased from furniture maker Evert Sodergren in Seattle in 2010. These pieces have excellent provenance, as C has the signed receipt from the craftsman himself. Since the Western world is experiencing a craze for midcentury modern, I thought I'd share my thoughts about what's going to be hot next. And this American craft furniture, dating from the 1970s to the 1980s, is it.
The other term for this style is West Coast regionalism, and specifically, because this is so redolent of Seattle style, Northwest regionalism, circa 1960—70. If you've visited Seattle, you have witnessed the landscape from which these pieces sprang. Northwest regionalism is known for its interpretation of forests, views, water and rain, and plenty of free—form atmosphere. As early as the 1930s, Pacific Coast regionalists looked to Japanese—style architecture, which traditionally embraced natural woods, rocks and pieces for the landscape. The 1930s saw its own regionalism, California regionalism, including the state's ranch and Monterrey furniture and architecture.
All regionalism movements owed a debt to the previous generation of Arts and Crafts architects and designers, who thought simple and natural was best. But the Northern California and Pacific Northwest designers were influenced greatly by the craft tradition of handmade Scandinavian furniture, which used natural woods. A blend of simple wood, handmade elegance and Japanese aesthetic can be seen in C's double chests.
Thus, the landscape movement in architecture married Scandinavian handmade design with Japanese elegance, and a regional "look" emerged. Sodergren (1920—2013) was a leading artist, designer, craftsman and teacher (30 years at the University of Washington) whose studio furniture is worth thousands today, and rightfully so. It was exquisitely made.
The artist worked out of his house on Lake Washington, designed by himself and Ralph Anderson in 1972. It recently sold for $1.7 million. For the sake of the new owners, I hope the house was sold furnished: An early and rare Evert Sodergren "sculptured" chair, 1955, is listed for sale at $25,000.
Since we are experiencing high prices for midcentury modern at auction, I predict that the market may soon dry up; there's only so many pieces from the 1950s—1960s out there. I predict our next style craze with accompanying high values will be the American studio craft movement objects of the 1970s. Think flowing natural wood organic lines, heavy hand—thrown ceramics and studio glass, tones of browns and ochres, and rough textures — all those pieces you sold at your yard sale in 1990.
True, C's cabinets are at the top of the heap in regard to execution and design, but the whole market for American studio will be hot in a few months, so be on the lookout for anything 1970s.
Two other designers to look for in this style: George Nakashima and Arthur Espenet Carpenter. Their furniture is worth six figures today, but lesser known studio furniture designers will soon be hot and joining the auction room. American art furniture of the 1970s has entered the Smithsonian Renwick Gallery, The Museum of Arts and Design in New York and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. So watch out.
C's pieces are reminiscent of Japanese tansu chests, and it's a skill he taught his apprentices up till the year he died. He instructed designers on the furniture of his heritage (his family immigrated from Sweden). Sodergren followed in the footsteps of Scandinavian modern designers of furniture such as Hans Wegner, Bruno Mathsson and Finn Juhl.
Sodergren's wife, Edith Fairhall, was also a free—form Seattle artist, and her canvases painted between 1970—1980 hung in his studio and are now in the process of being sold. I predict good paintings by regional American artists of the 1970s and 1980s will rise sharply in value because the artists of the 1950s and 1960s are becoming either too expensive or too geometrical and cold. Simply put, soon we will see the midcentury modern market being overbought and overwrought.
So, C, you have two treasure boxes, about to be valuable and continuing to increase in value to the tune of $40,000 for the pair. C is interested in selling these pieces and I have recommended contacting David Rago Auctions in Lambertville, N.J., a premier auction house in the sale of mid— and late 20th century designer material, as well as Arts and Crafts objects.
Certified appraiser for estates, inheritances and trusts.
Dr. Elizabeth Stewart's column appears every week in the Salon & Style section of the Santa Barbara News Press. Email her your questions and high-resolution photos at ElizabethAppraisals @ gmail.com
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