Notes From An Appraiser May 2017
You can tell much about a person’s knowledge of what they collected by looking through the personnel property left to heirs. I went through a home of modest size, with surface tops moved to the side of the room (tables, cabinets, end tables) with all like material on the top. Property owners had accommodated my wheelchair access, and my assistant Susie, was there to do carrying, lifting, or simply handling of the objects. The property was primarily of Japanese origin; antique, vintage and new. The purpose of my visit was to discuss quality first and next approximate value for equitable distribution, the heirs were not interested in selling.
At the front door were iron lamps and metal garden ornaments. Inside on the first shelf, were gathered all the bronze property. There were two very nice bronze flower arranging vessels and two small incense burners, both having a patina that suggested years of loving touch. Perhaps used in front of one of the portable shrines for one’s ancestors that was on another table or in the preparation of tea. On the next shelf were two bamboo baskets, one in the shape of a boat with the copper insert to hold water still in place and used for ikebana, or flower arranging, and the other a gourd shaped bamboo wall vase.
This gentleman, father of two daughters, had implements for making and drinking green tea. There were half dozen tea bowls, each chosen for a particular distinction. Given the collection of tea bowls, utensils, teapots and such, this man knew tea and the overall quality of the personal property was above average.
His focus on tea explained his choice of style of flower vessels, including bronze and bamboo. Ikebana, and the vessels used were important to drinking and enjoying tea. The small, simple woven bamboo wall vase, to hold a single flower suggesting the season, would be an important tool in the art of tea. The bamboo boat, certainly alluding to water and the mood, is perhaps to suggest a poem or a well-known folk story.
I’m not an expert on tea bowls and when presented with one, I have a small panic attack. Most fine tea bowls are in the low hundreds with a few that are of four figure value. Here was a group of five, and then the daughter showed me one her father had given her. Because of my history since 1975 in Asian Art in the Bay Area, I do know an unlikely dealer that is quite knowledgeable about tea bowls, himself a tea drinker.
Among the flat drawings and paintings, was an approximate 24” square watercolor by Chiara Obata, Professor of Art at UC Berkeley from 1932 to1954. Obata was interned during WWII, one time becoming friends with the tea drinker who also spent time in an internment camp. Obata is represented in museums including Asian Art Museum and SF Fine Arts Museums among others so this painting had value.
This property owner surrounded himself with accessories used to further enjoy his tea moment. The objects spoke of higher than average interest and the knowledge of tea important. I had an overall sense of a gentle soul.