Toomey & Co. Auctioneers sets auction records for works by Chicago artists

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Toomey & Co. Auctioneers sets auction records for works by Chicago artists
In a stunning collaboration, William Day Gates, who founded the American Terra Cotta & Ceramic Company in Crystal Lake, had a matte green glazed ceramic Teco lamp base topped with a Prairie leaded glass shade by Orlando Giannini that climbed to $93,750.

OAK PARK, IL.- Toomey & Co. Auctioneers has often found considerable success selling art and design of historic importance by Chicago artists and makers or those with local ties. In its Tradition & Innovation sale on Thursday, December 3, in which just 65 lots combined to realize $1.24 million, a wide range of significant material went to the highest bidders with multiple auction price records set.

“Toomey & Co. has been based in Oak Park since 1982 and conducted auctions since 1987,” said President John Toomey. “As a proud member of the community, we are pleased to bolster the art and design legacy of Chicago with collectors from all over the world despite these challenging times.”

Chicago Highlights of Tradition & Innovation on December 3
The top lot in the auction was a small yet captivating painting by Chicago surrealist Gertrude Abercrombie, whose prices have soared recently. In Tradition & Innovation, Toomey & Co. sold Abercrombie’s oil on masonite, Levitation, 1964, for $112,500 over a $10,000-20,000 estimate — the second-highest auction result ever for Abercrombie. This cryptic work shows a figure reminiscent of the artist floating horizontally above a chaise lounge while a black cat hiding underneath looks wide-eyed at the viewer.

“Gertrude Abercrombie has long been a favorite regional artist for us to represent at auction,” said John Walcher, Toomey & Co.’s Vice President & Senior Specialist. “It is an honor to be a part of this important American female artist’s rediscovery, with interest now forming on an international level.”

Other Chicago-related artwork that performed well in the auction includes: a monumental abstract stoneware sculpture ($16,250) by Ruth Duckworth, who taught at the University of Chicago and had studios in Pilsen and Lakeview; a Laguna Beach, California landscape, Artist’s Paradise ($87,500), by impressionist Joseph Kleitsch, who studied and taught at the Art Institute of Chicago; and an iconic porcelain Balloon Dog, 1995 ($7,500), by Jeff Koons, who also trained at the Art Institute.

Jewelry and metalwork by American Arts & Crafts designers from Chicago saw unprecedented demand. Three pieces set all-time auction records in any category for their makers: a Kalo Shop sterling silver and blister pearl tiered pendant necklace ($22,500); a James H. Winn pendant necklace on an original chain in 14K yellow gold, black opal, seed pearls, and chrysoprase ($23,750); and a sterling and chrysoprase pendant necklace on an original chain by The Jarvie Shop ($28,750). Robert Riddle Jarvie also had a pair of early Art Nouveau bronze candlesticks that brought $7,150 and Jessie M. Preston had a candlestick reach $4,875.

Walcher added: “Each of the necklaces we offered in the sale were sourced from The Paul & Terry Somerson Collection of 20th and 21st Century Metalwork and Jewelry, which contains some of the finest examples of American Arts & Crafts jewelry ever assembled.”

Lighting by Chicago Arts & Crafts and Prairie Style makers likewise attracted many bidders. George H. Trautmann, whose studio was in the Fine Arts Building downtown, fashioned a copper and leaded glass table lamp that sold for $23,750. In a stunning collaboration, William Day Gates, who founded the American Terra Cotta & Ceramic Company in Crystal Lake, had a matte green glazed ceramic Teco lamp base topped with a Prairie leaded glass shade by Orlando Giannini that climbed to $93,750. This lamp was formerly in the collection of Timothy Pearson, a Teco enthusiast, who was the historian and caretaker for both Frank Lloyd Wright’s Oscar Balch Home in Oak Park and the Gates’ retirement home, Trail’s End, in Crystal Lake.

Tradition & Innovation also featured a very rare Frank Lloyd Wright table lamp, one of only three such examples, made from copper, mica, and brass mesh ($56,250). Wright’s mentor, Louis Sullivan, so central to the history of Chicago and modern architecture, had two lots in the sale: a decorative stair baluster that he designed with his partner Dankmar Adler from the demolished Chicago Stock Exchange ($27,500 — an auction record for such an object) and Sullivan’s last-known illustration, The Christmas Spirit of Joy, drawn for Common Clay, 1923 ($37,500).

Early modernist Warren McArthur, who grew up in a Wright-designed house in Kenwood, had a machine-age, tubular-aluminum chaise that sold for $6,500 and the versatile mid-century designer Edward Wormley, who studied at the Art Institute of Chicago before working for Dunbar furniture, had an elegant tri-leg mahogany Janus table with Tiffany Studios Favrile glass tiles on its top that reached $11,050 — an artful blend of innovation and tradition.

Full auction results with buyer’s premium included from Tradition & Innovation on December 3 are available online at

Upcoming Auctions and Consignments
Toomey & Co. will open its 2021 schedule with two auctions in late winter: Modern Design + Post-War & Contemporary Art on Thursday, February 25 and Fine Art + Furniture & Decorative Arts on Sunday, March 14. Consignments are now invited and photographs of items may be submitted for estimates to

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