Tales from the Past
In the course of my research for my next book, “Grant Wood: The 19 Lithographs,” I have had numerous conversations with museum curators, collectors, gallery owners, and antiques dealers across the country. None were more enjoyable than one I had last week with Ray Kross, a retired antiques dealer who previously had lived in Buffalo but who has since retired to southern Florida.
Back in the 1960s, Ray was hired by the Turgeon brothers to help remodel and restore the Roycroft Inn in East Aurora, NY. If the name sounds familiar, it is because one of the brothers was married to our own Kitty Turgeon, the Mistress of Roycroft, who served as the Roycroft historian from those early days until her death a few years ago. Ray became so involved with the remodeling that he actually lived in the Roycroft Inn for nearly a year, sharing more than a few nightcaps with our dear and delightful Kitty.
Ray also shared several stories with me, including how he found and saved the seventh and missing canvas of the Alex Fournier 1910 murals that lined the salon walls where Elbert Hubbard delivered his famous lectures. Turns out, one day Ray happened to be looking out the inn’s window just as a workman cleaning out the basement was headed to the dumpster with a trash can – with the end of a rolled up canvas sticking out the top.
Ray also recalled a time when he was doing an antiques show and, while walking the aisles, stopped amid a large crowd of people watching an exhibitor demonstrate the cleaning ability of a particular copper polish. Much to Ray’s amazement, the man was about to demonstrate how the copper cleaner could remove years of tarnish on a magnificent and unique Roycroft hammered copper smoking stand.
I could only imagine the looks on everyone’s faces as Ray burst through the crowd and demanded that the man stop what he was doing. Turns out the demonstrator did not appreciate Ray’s interference, but Ray proved persistent and soon negotiated the purchase of the Roycroft smoking stand with him.
His story reminded me of a time back in Iowa when I bought a Gustav Stickley two-drawer nightstand over the phone from a sweet older lady who lived several miles away. She had mailed me a picture, so I could see that it still had its original dark, fumed finish. We chatted for nearly an hour about the piece and its history and everyone in her family and the weather and the corn crop and her sister-in-law’s recent cruise to the Bahamas before finally setting up a time for me to drive out and pick it up the next weekend.
When I arrived that next warm Saturday afternoon, she was waiting for me, excitedly rocking away on her wide front porch. She could hardly contain herself as she led me around to the back of the house and into the garage, where she dramatically pulled a sheet off the Gustav Stickley nightstand while I stood and stared in amazement.
“You were such a nice man on the phone,” she explained, “that I decided I would strip and refinish it for you.”
Until next Monday,
Tell someone what a good job they are doing.
Top: An early photo of the Roycroft Inn.
Middle: The Roycroft shopmark.