by Kate Nixon
This week’s Arts & Crafts Profiles peers into the world of auctioneering – with Toomey & Co. Auctioneers in Oak Park, Illinois. A family business now in the second generation, they are considered a premiere specialty auction house with a focus in Modern and Contemporary Art and Design while still offering works from many different art periods, which does include an important presence of Arts & Crafts collector’s items. Sunday’s Art & Design Auction catalog – which you can view online – shows more than 700 lots of valuable pieces for the collector and/or enthusiast. If you’ve ever seen an auction house at work during a live auction or have seen an online session, then you may be all too aware of how quickly it goes in all its behind-the-curtain organized chaos, having hundreds of lots to handle in a matter of hours. Have you ever wondered what it takes to run an auction house? Lucy Toomey could tell you a few things.
Ms. Toomey, CEO of Toomey & Co. Auctioneers, has been in the auctioneering business since childhood and gained a truly comprehensive understanding of all processes involved in keeping an auction house going and indeed, thriving. Accommodating for the incoming tech-savvy generation of online bidders, collectors, and enthusiasts through the creation of a new website and their online marketplace Toomey plus, they have celebrated success both local and outside their city known to many for its legacy in art and design. But getting back to our question: what does it take to run an auction house? Lucy Toomey took some time to answer a few questions on her professional life in the busy “cyclical” world of auctions, how she feels about continuing the family legacy, and what trends she sees for a new generation of collectors.
A&CC: How did you get started in the auctioneers business?
LT: I grew up in the business. I’ve always been involved in some capacity. From a young age I helped at auctions and began working in the office during school breaks and holidays. I really learned all aspects of the business — from shipping to photography to accounting. It’s an exciting and dynamic industry with the flexibility to adapt and grow as the market changes.
A&CC: What’s a typical day like for you?
LT: The auction business is somewhat cyclical so there’s really no typical day. Our day to day varies based on where we are in the auction cycle — I spend a good amount of time each day corresponding with clients by email and telephone and planning for upcoming auctions.
A&CC: You have an Art and Design Auction coming up in September. During an auction, are you on the floor or directing things backstage, or on the stage somewhere? What is a Toomey and Co. auction like through your eyes on that particular day or evening?
LT: I am at the bid table during auctions speaking with clients and bidding on their behalf. The day of the sale for me can best be described as organized chaos. There is always a flurry of activity at the last minute — clients registering for bidding, making last minute updates, calling or emailing with questions about the property, etc.
AC&C: Tell me about a project or a certain element of your business that you are particularly proud of.
LT: I’m very proud of our rebranding at the beginning of this year and the new website that goes along with it. We were overwhelmed with positive feedback from clients in response to the new brand and website. Building the new site with my team at Toomey & Co. was an enormous project — I don’t think any of us realized how much truly goes into putting together a site of this size. I’m very happy with the finished product but we’re constantly updating and trying to continue to improve the user experience on our site.
A&CC: Are you seeing any trends for an up and coming generation of young arts and crafts collectors and fans?
LT: Anonymity is a real trend — the younger generation of clients often prefers to bid online. There is definitely a convenience factor to bidding online but we love to talk to our clients before they bid — discuss condition, provenance, answer any questions and send additional photographs. We want our clients to be informed, educated bidders and to be happy with their purchases and the overall experience.
A&CC:Do you have a favorite art period or favorite designer in 20th century art or architecture?
LT: Being from Oak Park, I have a fondness for Prairie School designs. Our online marketplace, Toomey+, has some great examples of furniture and decorative arts by Frank Lloyd Wright, Louis Sullivan, and George W. Maher.
A&CC: What does it mean to you to carry on the second generation of your business? What did you learn from the first?
LT: I want to continue to uphold the reputation that my father has built for himself and for the company. It’s been a great privilege to be able to work closely with and learn from my father. I respect his integrity in business and the way he treats both clients and employees.
A&CC: Anything big coming up for Toomey & Co?
LT: We have a great fall auction schedule beginning with our September Art & Design auction, followed by our inaugural Interiors sale in October, which will offer more decorative art and design at a lower price point. In addition to our December Art & Design, we will have a Tradition & Innovation sale featuring exceptional examples of art and design including works by Frank Lloyd Wright, Greene & Greene, Charles Rohlfs, Teco, and Grueby, to name a few.
To read more about Toomey & Co Auctioneers and their Art & Design Auction this Sunday, September 16th, please visit their website: