Review and Onsite Photos by W.A. Demers, Senior Editor Additional Photos Courtesy of Antique and The Arts Weekly
GLOUCESTER, MASS. — The first fitful raindrops ahead of an early fall nor’easter were falling as the parking lot outside the North Shore Art Association began filling up with cars carrying patrons for Kaminski’s special single-owner sale of the William H. Trayes Jr collection of Cape Ann art on October 27. As the day would wear on, the rain would become a lashing presence outside the big red wood frame building that first opened its doors to the public in 1923. It’s a seasonal venue, hosting exhibitions by local living artists in good weather months, workshops, lectures, film presentations, concerts and the association’s annual live auction of fine art in August each year — and is unheated. As such, auctioneer Frank Kaminski’s crew brought in several electric space heaters to take the chill off the large space on the second level where the sale was conducted. Combined body heat from about 175 bidders and onlookers made it cozier.
Hung on commodious, well-lit walls on both levels were nearly 400 artworks comprising the fine art collection of William H. Trayes Jr (1928–2018), and there were a couple of tables holding choice bronze sculptures that he had assembled over more than seven decades. The marriage of the purpose-built space for displaying art and Trayes’ impressive and diverse collection made for a “magic kind of sale,” according to Frank Kaminski. “It was so nice to have an auction of material so good that, aside from about ten or so lots, everything sold,” said the auctioneer. The sale’s gross exceeded $500,000.
Bill Trayes and his wife of 63 years, Roswitha, were passionate collectors of the art of Rockport, Gloucester and Cape Ann. Bill’s knowledge of art and art history was vast, and the pair traveled to auction houses and art galleries throughout the Northeast in pursuit of their beloved Cape Ann artists. They were frequent visitors to the Kaminski Auction gallery and were often seated in the front rows bidding on another acquisition for their collection.
Trayes was an active member of the Rockport Art Association, the Cape Ann Museum, North Shore Art Association and Montserrat College of Art. He and Rowintha founded what is now the Waldorf School at Moraine Farm in Beverly, Mass.
Recalling that her uncle began collecting at the young age of 16, Trayes’ niece, Julie Virden, attended the sale, a bittersweet day for her as his life-time collection was dispersed. Also in the crowd was Jay Can-tor, who launched Christie’s American art department in the late 1970s and contributed a personal tribute to Trayes in the sale catalog, who wrote, “… after leaving an auction that had taken months to prepare, I would feel a tap on the shoulder and some attendee would ask, ‘What do you have coming up?’ But it was Bill who would make sure to see me and offer a warm and congratulatory handshake, And I think that a handshake is also present in the art and artists of [Bill’s] collection that will now be shared with a broad public.”
Frank Kaminski prefaced the day’s action with his own illustrative recollection of Bill Trayes. “Bill was generous with his knowledge. I knew him for about 30 years from my time living in Gloucester and nearby Rockport and I would always ask him for his opinion on paintings that came to auction. I had picked up a work I thought was by Winslow Homer at a country auction for about $25, but the signature looked like a six-year-old’s, so I wasn’t sure about it. When I put it into one of my auctions, I remember leaning it up against a tent pole. All the dealers were looking at it, and it kept ‘disappearing’ during the preview, which meant that they didn’t want others to see and bid on it. Bill came up to me and said, ‘Frank, I think it’s a real Homer. You should remove it from the sale and get it authenticated.’”
Kaminski followed Trayes’ advice, sent it to an expert in Boston, who supported the work’s authenticity, and Kaminski then offered it in a subsequent auction in which he netted $135,000 for it.
“Afterwards, I wondered what could I get Bill in appreciation for his wonderful advice, and I settled on buying a sports jacket from Brooks Brothers. He liked it so well, he wore it everywhere. In fact, the picture of Bill in the sale catalog shows him wearing it.”
Trayes’ collection was rich with outstanding artwork by artists like Marsden Hartley, Winslow Homer, Emile A. Gruppe, Aldro Hibbard, George Sut-ter, Henry Martin Gasser and others. There was also sculpture by Paul Manship, Anna Hyatt Huntington and Donald de Lue, among others.
It was, in fact, a sculpture by Donald de Lue (1897–1988) that secured top ranking in the sale. “Phaeton,” by the American Realist sculptor depicting the Greek mythological son of Helios, the sun god, who secretly takes the chariot on a joy ride and as a result of his inexperience, loses control of the horses and topples earthward, exceeded its $12,000 high estimate to gavel at $22,800.
Winter scenes were in the mix. Henry Gasser’s (1909–1981) “Winter Steps” received a lot of presale interest and was the second highest selling lot at $21,600. You can almost viscerally feel the winter chill experienced by the lone figure trudging along a snowy sidewalk in a townscape. An artist’s biography credits Gasser with mastery of rendering “everyday subjects that are available to most of us — street scenes, back-yards, trees, old houses, etc.
Similarly, Aldro Hibbard’s (1886–1972) “‘West River Vermont,” an oil on canvas signed lower right and measuring 40 by 47 inches in its original frame, evoked a wintry scene of snow and ice along a winding stream, cold blue mountains in the distance. It earned $10,800.
Two scenes of the fishing industry of Gloucester by Milton Avery (1885–1965), “Gloucester Wharves” and “Gloucester, Drying Racks” were offered. “Gloucester Wharves” was purchased in 1977 at the Julia Schneider Gallery in Great Neck, N.Y., and was featured in an exhibition titled “Cape Ann Past and Present” in 1987 at the Judi Rotenburg Gallery, Boston. It went out at $9,600, while “Gloucester Drying Racks” bearing a label from the Bernard Danenberg Galleries, New York City, took $21,600.
There were many notable paintings in the collection that featured waterscapes and Gloucester and Rockport scenes favored by Trayes, whose activities in local real estate contributed the wherewithal to amass his collection, Fern Coppedge’s (1883–1951) “White Sails, Summer,” which served as the cover lot for the sale catalog, finished at $12,000. Theresa Ferber Bernstein (1890–2002), another Cape Ann favorite, was represented by “Gloucester Harbor,” which was bid to $10,800.
Prices reported include the buyer’s premium, as stated by the auction house. For information, 978-927-2223 or www.kaminskiauctions.com.