Sunday, March 8, 2009

What Is In A Name?

This is a story about a ghost artist invented by two men who began a business entity specializing in decorative arts made mostly of metals. Over 40 years ago, Jerry Fels operated Renior of California; a jewelry house that designed and produced collections of copper jewelry. Teaming up with Kurt Freiler, they began a company which designed a variety of home accessories including wall sculptures, andirons, portrait busts, lamps, etc., and made from various metals including copper, steel, brass, bronze and other mixed medias. Combining their two names Jerry and Kurt, they created the fictitious art mark Curtis Jere (pronounced Ger' ray) which is displayed on all pieces.
It is not uncommon for an art house with more than one artisan to produce under a signature. Lee Reynolds was the signature of multitudes of "original paintings" and other decorative arts that was produced for three decades by Vanguard Studios. Certainly, any art house that gains national and international appeal and produces mass quantities could not be created by the individual who signs it. In fact, the "Curtis Jere" stamp always bears the same signature in black, "c.jere" followed by the copyright symbol and the year it was produced. I suppose a name that suggests a European background would be considered far more avant garde than using the names of an unknown team or company such as the name Artisan House, which is the company Curtis Jere pieces are still produced.

If you think the explanation of who C. Jere is somewhat complicated, try calculating the value of the works. Five years ago, I began collecting pieces uncovered from antique malls and ebay auctions all across the country, fetching anywhere from as low as $5 for a tabletop metal sculpture from the 1980's to $500 for a wall sculpture from the 1970's. Today, you can find the identical pieces listed on (a web host of antique retailers) for as low as $700 and hovering well over $5,000 for the sought after"raindrops" wall sculpture.

Now a retailer can ask $10,000 for their C. Jere but it doesn't mean it is worth it or they will ever get it. The piece is only worth the most recent of auction records which is largely relative to the collectors bidding, the demand and economy at the time of the auction. The most sought-after Jere pieces tend to be the copper and chrome abstract (starburst, raindrops, etc., ) and organic shaped (leaves, trees, etc) wall pieces, lamps and tall scultpures produced in the 60's and 70's. The more tourist-scene pieces such as the "Paris Cafe" or bird sculptures fetch far less amounts generally under $100 on ebay. So the value of a C. Jere greatly depends on where you buy it and what it represents.

Buyer Beware: A retailer may attribute their piece to C.Jere just because it is made of metal. I've seen this happen very often, in fact, there are C. Jere attributions currently on 1stdibs that clearly are not but there is no law against false attributions on these web hosts, including ebay. I've sold pieces that exceed the quality of any "C.Jere" production but sometimes, for some it's all in a name, albeit a fictitious one. If that is how you roll than be sure to identify a signature, every authentic piece will bear it, unless it has been replated.