Edited from ADA Dealer Profile - for full profile please click here.
O ne minute in conversation with Steve Powers, and you'll understand how he got to be the country's leading specialist in historical treen. His passion for compelling American treen, folk and fine art, and choice smalls, has driven him to see and study as much material as he can get his hands on.
"It's a love before it's a business," he says of his company, Steven S. Powers, based in Brooklyn, New York which he founded in 1996.
Vice President of the ADA, and NHADA member, Powers has been collecting what he calls "great little pieces of wood" since he was 21 years old. Raised in Maine, he inherited the collector gene from his parents. Powers recalls being first drawn to early carvings and complex surfaces of intricate works right out of college—particularly functional, everyday household objects made from the burls or knotty cancerous outgrowths of trees.
When Powers has a significant bowl, folk art carving or snuffbox he studies it intently, mentally cataloging the distinctions, features and irregularities. This heightened awareness, constant study and near photographic memory is supported by a digital archive Powers has been creating. In addition, Powers compiled and published a comprehensive study in 2005, North American Burl Treen: Colonial and Native American.
Among his most thrilling finds:
• A highly important 17thC Algonquian Human Effigy Ladle from the Alexander Thompson House, Orange County, NY
• The only known metalwork by Abraham Higgins (1738 – 1763) which is a brass snuffbox bearing his name and the date June 9th 1757, Barnstable, MA
• Dr. Samuel Johnson's Ivory Snuffbox in the form of a gloved fist
In Jackson Heights, New York, Peter Brams has been a collector for over 40 years. Working with all kinds of dealers in that time, Brams considers Powers a curator as well as a dealer. "He's not just selling you things, he's helping to build your collection. He's not a generalist, Steve is really responsible for developing and elevating the categories that were not considered before- not just through his book, but by being the first to deal with treen as a singular category."
When talk about fakes come up, Powers responds, "You can't fake surface- well you can, but it doesn't look quite right - wood really needs years to oxidize and patinate correctly. Accelerated oxidation, from chemical means, is easy to spot." Steve adds, "As recently as the past 3 years, I have seen more than one object, sell for 6 figures that I knew to be fake."
"Remember, the antiques business is a full century old," adds Brian Cullity (ADA dealer and former museum curator), "and so some fakes have been around for a hundred years too. This means some of the fakes can look really good. More than just a look, Steve focuses on who made it, the associates- it's very time consuming, but he's really good at research - he wants to learn about it and the information he uncovers helps you to appreciate an item in many more aspects."
Powers exhibits at some of the country's leading art and antiques shows, including: The Philadelphia Antiques Show, The Metropolitan Show, The Delaware Antiques Show, and the ADA / Historic Deerfield Antiques Show.
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