In reading Carson McCullers’ “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter”, there is a torpid quality to the present for each of the characters. Mick Kelly, the thirteen year old girl who longs to learn about and play music, is the only character who remotely seems energized by the moment and her future. Even she, however, seems under some restraint that prevents her from being herself.

The future for an 18th century Englishman varied according to class. Laborers had very little future. Skilled craftsmen were slightly better off and shop owners inprisoned in class strictures. Professionals who endeavored to advance their knowledge such as the men of the Lunar Society basically lived the future through the scientific method.

Our future is certainly clouded by the economic crisis. The future is both longed for and expected and it is invariably rosy. The moment of now, of uncertainty and anxiety, is explained and examined, but it is deemed that it will end. Of course, that is true just as it is true that more crises exist as well. Perhaps we should focus on the now and fix it properly before we find ourselves in a Carson McCullers novel.


One of the great thing about traveling is seeing new things. I was able to go to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) nine days ago and was pleased with the building, display and with the special exhibition of William Kentridge. Kentridge is an intriguing artist whose work is probably best suited to a museum where you can see a lot of it, particularly his video installations. I can’t say his images touch me profoundly, but I did enjoy watching his videos.

There is English furniture from the 18th century that is probably better seen in museums than anywhere else. On Thursday, I went to the Victoria and Albert Museum in Kensington, London and looked, again, at the famous wall hanging, padauk veneered and ivory inset medal cabinet made by William Hallett for Horace Walpole. It is a really lovely little object that I would love to own and even more to sell, but it is such a spectacular thing, that I think it best for it to be in a museum.

Contemporary art is intriguing for its utter lack of discipline. Of course, aficionados will say that I have an untrained eye, among other things, and that if I don’t understand it, I should move on. My problem, if one could call it that, is that I want to look at things that don’t necessitate any intellectual baggage, meaning that I want my art to look good, not require a handbook to understand. Could the same criticism be leveled at English furniture? It could to some extent and therein lies a rub for all of the arts. You have to get into it first and then you can be a critic.


Ayn Rand clearly did not suffer fools lightly. If her protagonist in “The Fountainhead”, Howard Roark, is anything to go by, she believed in the unswerving commitment to the ego and following it at any cost. Pity, in her eyes, was another four letter word and most of the emotional dimensions of a human being seem more necessary to defeat than to abide. But most of all, she abhorred submission and you can see why as Adolf Hitler was taking charge in Germany as she was writing this book.

Most of the antique dealers I know are humbled by the business they are in. Dealing in some of the things we buy and sell is clearly a privilege. Having knowledge about them is also a privilege. Coming across them unloved in an auction is a uniquely wonderful feeling. Seeing great things in another dealer’s possession is both aggravating and gratifying. Having someone acknowledge something great that you own is extrarodinarily gratifying. The ego in all of this has to know its place.

Rand is a good storyteller, but “The Fountainhead” reads a bit like a morality tale and feels just a shade dated for the 20th and 21st centuries. Perhaps not, but I am not rushing out to buy her more famous work, “Atlas Shrugged”, just yet.


The nature of the moment has a great many people, if not scared, then extremely uncertain. It is hard to imagine how unexciting life was only a year or two ago by comparison. But that isn’t the way it is now and, as anyone who has lived through any tragedy knows, it will eventually pass.

Tragedy, in the form of war, was a recurring theme of the 18th century. England did, however, manage to avoid war for nearly twenty consecutive years under the first Prime Minister, Robert Walpole (1721-1742). As far as furniture goes, it was a period of great maturation of style. Never again, at least from 1740 onwards, would England be beholden to slavishly copying the style of another country. Its craftsmen and designers could hold their own with those of any nation, Italy and France notwithstanding.

The economic slowdown is, I believe, as much a crisis of leadership as anything else. There is the need for those in the position of authority to look to how they do things. Their leadership must be based on thoughtful action. That would be nice for a change.


I am getting a kick out of reading Ayn Rand’s, “The Fountainhead”. Her characters are all caricatures with broad brush attributes, none of which seems entirely wholesome. Roark, the protagonist, is unflinchingly honest to his muse which is architecture, but in every other way is lacking in humanity. Keating, the antagonist, spirals downward with Faustian deal after Faustian deal, with hardly a moment of introspection.

We all have a muse. People come into my gallery just to look because they like looking at old things. I enjoy the people and I enjoy telling people about my antiques. This is my passion and I am able to live it. Not many people are.

What I most enjoy about “The Fountainhead” is how modernist architecture, the book was published in 1943 and is written about the 1920’s when New York’s skyline was in its infancy, is the cause celebre and classicism, the evil stepfather. If Ayn Rand could have seen the modernist victory over classicism, the roles of the two schools of thought just might have been reversed. The pendulum does, however, continue to swing.


It occurs to me that being worried about socialism at this point is a little like being worried about the sky falling. The U.S. Government has been in the socialism business for years and in such a way that conservatives, and quite a few liberals, think is just dandy. The Defense Department is the most inept socialist experiment that we have and everybody loves it. Projects are consistently over budget, virtually every procurer is a target for some form of lobbying, unprepared for war (“You go to war with the army you have…,”) and everyone loves it. They all want to throw more money at it. We might just as well do a similarly inept health system as well. It can’t be any worse than the current system.

As a business person, if I ran my business like the Defense Department, I would need a credit line of titanic proportions as well as a regular plan of debt forgiveness. I don’t think, as an antiques dealer, that I will ever get either of those which means I have to be accountable.

This is the word that all those ideologues on the right and the left leave out when they talk about doing what needs to be done. I see accountability going out the window when corporations get so large that they don’t know what they are doing, viz Enron, Madoff Securities, the list is just too long. Where were the accountable executives in those businesses? Why should I even have to ask? And the Defense Department? Keep on rolling……………….


As a tall person, I find a number of disadvantages to being big. Trains and boats and planes are all uncomfortable forms of transportation. Clothing is made for average sized people making it quite difficult to find things that fit. I like being tall, but it is not a piece of cake.

William Doyle Galleries had an oversized Mason’s ceremonial chair from the 18th century (I think–I didn’t look at it too closely) in their January sale and I have to say that it looked freakish. Items that are out of scale, particularly overscaled items, can often look freakish.

Companies that get too large can also have a freakish side. That side is lack of control. It is clear that our banking system veered out of control. So did AIG and there are probably quite a few more ticking time bombs out there.

Ronald Reagan’s belief that “government is the problem” has an ironic twist in these days. It is very clear that big business has an equal propensity to big government for screwing things up, ideology notwithstanding. I am quite certain that government does not have all the answers, but I am equally certain that big business doesn’t have many either. Being big is not as easy as it looks.


I remember the great delight I had upon seeing the Guggenheim in Bilbao. It is an appealing sight, sort of quirky and unusual and distinctly eye catching. However, I thought the interior prosaic and no advance whatsoever on the display of art. Some friends disagreed with me, but they admitted that they were on a romantic weekend and said that they were biased for whatever else was happening in their lives. I do remember a program I saw on Gehry’s building at MIT where he forgot to include closets. I think that observation reminded me of the exhibition space in Bilbao.

I know function when it comes to furniture. Chairs that have seats higher than 19″ do not sit well with most people. Table tops over 30″ that you sit at are also non-starters as a rule. I am not a stickler for detail, but functionality has boundaries for all of us.

I remember wandering around Buenos Aires thirty or so years ago and happening on a high end clothes shop one Sunday morning. I was the only person in the shop and the sales lady was determined to sell me a coat that was three sizes too small for me. Upon getting me into it, she, sweating from the effort, said, “magnificent”. I took the compliment, but not the coat.


In Wilkie Collins’, “Moonstone”, there is the delightful sentence of a thought unspoken by the head of Lady Verinder’s household servants, Gabriel Betteredge, “I am (thank God!) constitutionally superior to reason.” There is nothing like an English servant in literature, and Betteredge is one of the better edges that I have found. I recommend the hubristic Betteredge for a good read.