Want to Collect Genuine Originals?
Like American Folk Art?
Find & Buy the Real Thing
& Avoid the Mass Produced Chinese Copies!
My next blogpost was going to be about a very interesting MCM work of art in our inventory by a woman artist (in New York). The work’s provenance is fascinating. Its original owner (from whom I purchased it years ago) was one of the developers of the atomic bomb on the Manhattan project. That blog post will have to wait.
Today we have just put two works of genuine American folk art for sale here on our new website --- and one of them features New York’s iconic landmark, the Statue of Liberty. So we have decided to take this opportunity to comment on an important issue.
The work of many exceptional American artists and craftsmen has been copied (without permission) for many years. Nowadays these “fakes” are often presented in both brick & mortar stores and online as genuine (many sellers remove the “evidence” -- the MADE IN CHINA labels). Even online sales venues that once exclusively featured wonderful and high quality original art and fine crafts are now flooded with unauthorized mass produced copies. The actual fine artists and craft artists are often in competition with copies of their own work – being presented by other sellers/artists as their own. Often the copies are barely a faint “shadow” of the originals in terms of quality and substance (although the appearance might seem identical in photos).
If something is sold and knowingly purchased as a cheap imitation (made in China or elsewhere) that is fine (the buyer has made the decision to go with a known reproduction), but whether sold/purchased as an imitation or as an alleged original, the actual artists whose works have been “hijacked” ultimately suffer. The artists’ legal rights to their creations are left in the dust as factories in China churn out copies. The flood of fakes everywhere has a devastating impact on the vibrant life of the creative and inspired souls who create art.
Even after my many years as an artist and creator of fine crafts (my time was later consumed by the obligations of graduate studies and work in art history for a number of years), I made it a point in subsequent years to go to as many art (and art & crafts) shows as I possibly could. I went to shows and exhibits both large and small --- and both near and far (sometimes driving several hours to get to a show). I kept exhaustive files on thousands of artists/artisans. I even kept notes on those who weren’t among the best, just in case anyone ever asked me about them in the future.
I made periodic purchases that fit my budget. In some cases, artists/craftsmen were even willing to permit collectors like myself to purchase pieces on an installment plan (so remember that when you are next speaking with an artist whose work you love but think you cannot yet afford). I encouraged many of the best and brightest – whether young or old. I often suggested which juried shows they should enter and which galleries and exclusive shops they should approach. My volunteer “consulting advice” lead some of those splendid artists to incredible opportunities. A number of them enjoyed quick success with stratospheric increases in their fame and prices.
But some of those artists, like many others, experienced the scourge of the Chinese copyists. In the 1980s I first met Donald White, an exceptional tinsmith/coppersmith from the Eastern Shore of Maryland. His work was extraordinary --- and I remember being stunned when I learned from him that cheap copies of his creations were being mass produced abroad and imported – all without his permission and without any payment. He showed me some of his originals that had been copied (down to the most minute details). Over the years, I purchased quite a few pieces from him. Most ranged from small to mid sized. One of the larger pieces I acquired was inspired by the dove of peace on the cupola of George Washington’s Mount Vernon. I was saddened when I subsequently saw a low quality “fake” of Donald White’s unique dove creation. Presumably the Chinese were not able to copy his much larger major commission work (such as chandeliers) he did for museums and historic buildings.
Reputations and legacies of exceptional artists are also diluted by the “fakes”. Since many people in good faith might think they are buying an original (when it is actually a copy), they never have the genuine experience of handling, experiencing and enjoying the true & legitimate original. So the artist and the artist’s reputation is really demeaned and undermined when the sub-par copies are being handled and evaluated as the originals. Once one of my customers was stunned to see some of Donald White’s original copper Christmas ornaments in my inventory. They were, of course far superior to ornaments she had purchased elsewhere as his -- but she obviously had been sold some of the dimestore quality “frauds”.
In the 80s and 90s there was an extraordinary craft artist who exhibited periodically on the east coast. On her trips from the Midwest, she brought her amazing snowbabies, Christmas paper cottages and porcelain dolls. They were absolutely exceptional and unique. After a few years, she made a deal (certainly not the deal it should have been) with Dept. 56. Her own production of certain items ceased. When I occasionally saw the mass produced copies in stores, it was sad. They were barely a fraction of the quality of her splendid originals. It was also somewhat amusing when, in subsequent years, people would reveal to me that their valuable Christmas collectibles collections included originals by this artist and others I knew -- all purchased in the Christmas departments of major department stores. When I looked at their collections, I politely had to break it to them that the items of real (and increasing) value were those actually made by the artist (not those made in the factories in China)!
So take a look at the listings we posted today --- the Lady Liberty / Flag / Heart by Virginia artist Lydia Bosse and the beautiful heart & hands scherenschnitte by Pennsylvania artist Marie Gottshall. Read the descriptions, look at the photos, and enjoy the opportunity to see and buy “the real thing”. Whether you are buying something directly from an artist, or a piece that has passed through the appreciative hands of other owners/collectors, your purchase / enjoyment / appreciation of originals is important. Also, the more you carefully study (and when possible, handle) originals, you will develop a better "eye". You will improve your ability to determine what is genuine and what is "fake". You will gradually become a more informed and skilled connoisseur.
Even though you might like the “look” and price of a “copied” craft or art work in your local discount home decor store, think instead about seeking out originals --- that can be found in all price ranges. The authenticity and integrity of the real painting, the real woodcarving, the real hand woven basket, the real handblown art glass, etc. …… will bring more true enjoyment, integrity and value to your life than the copy. Your allegiance to maintaining the legacy of artisans and artists (of past generations as well as those of today) is appreciated by those whose existences are defined by their drive and need to create.