Corrections or additions?
This article by Pat Summers was prepared for the October 17, 2001
of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
David Rago’s "Going, Going, Gone"
First, you see the name, David Rago, as the sponsor
of an art show award. Then you hear about benefit events for
County and the New Hope Arts Commission at David Rago’s place in
— or an area artist uses the site for a weekend show. You come
across an issue of Style: 1900 (a magazine of turn-of-the-century
design) or Modernism Magazine (20th-century art and design) and notice
they are produced by editor and publisher David Rago. You wonder:
who is this guy, anyway?
Finally a friend lets you know: David Rago, with an international
auction business based in Lambertville, is an author, publisher,
and community-minded patron of the arts, and his is a veritable
boy makes good" story.
Rago’s published biography indicates he took his first steps toward
his present-day auction empire at age 16, selling porcelain and garage
sale stuff at the Golden Nugget flea market in Lambertville.
Publishing his first article in a national magazine while still in
college, Rago became a specialist on American art pottery — capped
by publication in 1997 of his benchmark book, "American Art
As an arts and crafts dealer, he has written other books and hundreds
of articles, worked in a New York gallery, and run auctions at the
Meadowlands and in Manhattan. An expert appraiser for TV’s
Roadshow," he also lectures nationally.
In 1996, he bought the old silk hosiery mill at the northern end of
Lambertville to convert into headquarters for David Rago Auctions,
Inc. Already gutted, the building 1929 glass and girder structure
of 12,500 square feet became a self-contained auction facility with
space for merchandise appraisal, storage, photography, and display
— and auctions. For Rago, these require space for telephone and
internet bidding as well as on-site bidders. Lambertville restaurateur
Jim Hamilton designed the office area that runs along one side of
the building, housing about 18 auction employees and five editorial
staff for Rago’s two quarterly magazines.
Three weekends a year are earmarked for arts and crafts
auctions; two more a year, for auctions of modern pieces; and
there are special smaller ones for pottery, antiques, and collector
items. Operating out of 333 North Main Street, Rago partners with
a few different people whose complementary specialties enhance the
range of auctions held there. For instance, his partners for arts
and crafts auctions are Jerry Cohen and John Fontaine; and with his
partner and wife Suzanne Perrault, he runs the Perrault-Rago Gallery,
a nearby venue for private sale of 20th century decorative arts and
"This is a specialty auction house," says Miriam Tucker,
chief operating officer. "Major houses know more about many things
than we do, but we know more about certain things than they do."
For instance, she says, no one on staff with a major auction house
knows as much about American art pottery as David, or about post-war
modern furniture as John Sollo. And, she adds, Rago’s guarantee is
a significant departure from that at most other houses, where "as
is, where is," and "buyer beware" prevail.
On a mild October day between weekend auctions scheduled this fall,
Rago was casually dressed in shorts and a polo shirt while he looked
over furniture just received for an auction in January — including
a long George Nakashima dining table and a Stickley mirror. John
Rago’s partner for the modern auctions, joined in. Together, they
and a few others talked admiringly about the work on hand. Rago’s
experience in this area gives him about 30 years of history to draw
on; he can look at that Stickley mirror, for instance, and mentally
compare it with the many others he has seen.
Sollo, an imposingly tall and rangy man, joined forces with Rago
the time of the building renovation, bringing his own expertise on
modern design into the mix that grew to encompass furniture, ceramics,
lighting, and glass. A folk art fancier at first, Sollo was converted
by a Paul Evans modern chair to focus instead on 20th-century design.
The two launched David Rago modern auctions in 1998, and they have
co-authored "Collecting Modern: A Guide to Mid-Century Furniture
and Ceramics," due out next month.
A solidly built, gray-haired guy with warm brown-eyes and a matter
of fact well-spokenness, Rago says self-deprecating things, but it
would seem he does so from the comfort of a successful business.
an auctioneer is definitely an act of desperation," he says,
back at his beginnings in this area. When he left the New York gallery
he had been with in the early 1980s, he realized he had lost his
"So I figured I’d hold an auction and find out who the buyers
were." Easier said than done, he soon learned.
To begin with, there were the matters of room size, set-up, and
of pieces. "It’s not intuitive. There’s no school for it."
So Rago learned by doing, guided by Eric Silver, an old friend he
describes as a "trained, old-school, English style
So well did he learn that now he can laughingly share a backhand
from another friend about his early auctioneering: "If you wonder
what not to do at auction, ask David. He’s made every mistake there
That’s hard to believe, catching him in action today. At a Saturday
afternoon auction last month — postponed from the preceding
because of September 11 terrorist attacks — there’s palpable
plenty of people, and, given the timing, perhaps the biggest surprise,
substantial sales. Rago, who had feared a negative impact, even with
his first-ever weeklong postponement, was pleasantly surprised.
watch the sale live across the country," he says. "In this
uncertain economic climate, dealers and collectors are wondering,
`what should I do?’ They’re trying to read the mood and see how this
sale goes. If it tanks, they may be out of a job."
It looked promising from the first lot: an "exceptional, rare
and large Arequipa vase, 1912." Rago says, "I knew this piece
would smoke. At $25 to $35,000, we were at least gonna get the high
estimate." (The glossy catalogs for Rago’s sales show a price
range for every item to be auctioned. Those two figures are the
estimate of what an item will sell for, and bidding starts below both
this range and the "reserve," or the confidential lowest price
the seller will accept. No lot can be sold until bidding reaches the
reserve level, though it can go beyond that figure.) In this case,
the hammer, or sale, price was $65,000. And that foreshadowed
"You got to start the sale off with a bang," Rago says.
first 50 lots are the pieces that are the best, that I’m most
about. How you structure your sale is critical for success. People
can re-think what they do based on how things are moving, the climate
of the auction — especially how it starts." And for anyone
who thinks a mid-course correction could change things, forget that
idea. "Once the auction is underway, the sequence can’t vary."
Pieces are sold in the same order as they appear in the catalog.
So September’s Arts and Crafts auction went well. Maybe, as Rago
lots of people from New York wanted to get out of the city. And there
were others from across the country who had cash because they had
sold stocks and bonds. "Long term," he says, "who
Divided lengthwise, a fifth to a quarter of the space in "the
Rago building" is offices. Running along the opposite side is
a preparation and display area, for photography and other behind the
scenes efforts, and to house merchandise for auction. During the
previews before any auction, those interested can wander around to
touch, examine, or measure anything on display — typically large
and small furniture pieces, lamps, art works, carpets.
Operations chief Tucker says, "That’s the beauty of auction
If you want to see a $15,000 vase, the cataloguer will bring it out
from the display case, show it to you, tell you about it." Each
piece in the preview period has been assigned a lot number that
its catalog number, and visitors can read the detailed information
The building’s wide center section, where at other times an artist
might mount a show, is for auction action. On one of those days,
and spectators pass through a reception area into a folding-chair
section that faces a podium on a raised platform. There, a
TV will show the item, or "lot" for sale, and next to it,
hammer in hand, stands David Rago, auctioneer.
There’s no shilly-shallying at a Rago auction. It starts at noon,
moves swiftly through the catalog, and ends after a few hours when
the last lot has been offered. The first hint of this efficiency had
come in a comment by Miriam Tucker: Rago, she said, is "a pretty
fast auctioneer," typically handling 75 to 100 lots an hour, or
well more than one item a minute. Only the activity sets the timing
off, she continued — and of course that’s just fine. "People
feel very strongly about getting in early, but really, the key thing
is to be the last man standing."
As advertised, yet with candor and occasional humor,
Rago runs the show. He must keep the bidding increments in mind —
they vary, depending on price range — and be aware of bidders
participating both on-line and by phone, as well as those on the
Off to one side, Rago employees work for those absent bidders, and
wave to signal their wishes. "It’s with me" signals an
bidder who left a bid with Rago, and "You’ve broken the order"
means his bidder has stopped and the bidding is open.
In a macabre case on this occasion he announced, wrapping up one sale,
"Sold to buyer number 9-1-1," and everyone gasped. Rago said
only "Goosebumps" into the mike, and moved on. Problems with
another piece had come to light after catalog production, so Rago
detailed the flaws, said dryly, "other than that, mint," then
withdrew it from the sale.
The second of two sons, Rago was born in Hamilton Square and grew
up on a tomato farm on Whitehorse Avenue, off Route 1. His mother
was a nurse and nursing instructor at St. Francis Hospital; his dad,
a draftsman with RCA, worked on satellites in the early ’60s; and
his older brother, Donald, works in computers.
Of his experience as an English major at the College of New Jersey,
he says, "I got 100 credits before they kicked me out." A
quarter-century later, he says, "There’s nothing you can do in
life that an English major won’t help with," and confides,
if my competitors could write, they didn’t have the confidence they
As luck would have it, a major modern auction, presented by David
Rago and John Sollo, is scheduled for October 20 and 21. "Piece
for piece, it’s the best modern sale we’ve ever held," says Rago.
"It’s a selection of several hundred pieces of high-end designer
furniture by the best names in the 20th century: Frank Lloyd Wright,
George Nakashima, Carl Evans, Gaetano Pesce, George Nelson, Charles
Eames, Florence Knoll, the Memphis school, right on down the line,
it’s a Who’s Who list."
"Look," he continues, "obviously I’m a promoter. It’s
my sale, and I’m not gonna tell you horrible things about it. But
this is no BS: this is a great modern sale. It’s a compendium, a
even, of major pieces by major designers in excellent condition at
really reasonable prices."
Leaf through the catalogs for this auction weekend — the 120-page
bound edition (with a Miro, no less, on the cover, lot 280) for
one on Saturday, when high-end items are sold; a thinner one for
session two, when good, moderate collectibles can be had. With such
covetable things as Mies van der Rohe chairs, a George Nakashima
slab coffee table, a Harry Bertoia sound sculpture, and Bakelite
to be seen and considered, the catalogs are modern wish lists or dream
books, with full-color illustrations.
— Pat Summers
333 North Main, Lambertville, 609-397-9374. Two-day auction of
art and furnishings. Www.ragoarts.com.
October 20 and 21, noon to 5 p.m.
Street, 609-924-8777. "Home," a theme show juried by architect
and designer Barry Richards. On view weekdays, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
To October 19.
Ivanov exhibition of new paintings. A graduate of the Serv Art College
in St. Petersburg, Russian, he finds inspiration in Russian fairy
tales, architecture, and history. To October 20.
609-921-0434. Oil paintings by Cynthia A. Dawley.
"Artista Cuba," contemporary Cuban folk art from the
of Jorge Armenteros who has been studying and collecting Cuban art
"Modernism, Mr. Magoo, and More," featuring works by master
animator, artist, and filmmaker Jules Engel. The Hungarian-born
who began his career at Walt Disney, and was part of the team that
created 1950s cartoon favorite Mr. Magoo, also created lithographs
at the Tamarind Workshop and Tyler Graphics. Tuesday to Saturday,
11 a.m. to 5 p.m. To October 20.
Women," a selective survey of the history of photography from
the perspective of the woman photographer, with works from the
by Julia Margaret Cameron, Anna Atkins, Gertrude Kasebier, Tina
Sherrie Levine, Cindy Sherman, and others. To January 6.
Also "What Photographs Look Like," the annual teaching show,
to November 11; "Seeing Double: Copies and Copying in the Arts
of China," an exhibition of Chinese art, to November 4. Open
through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday 1 to 5 p.m. Free tours
every Saturday at 2 p.m.
609-620-6026. Faculty exhibit featuring Brian Daniell, Jamie
Amanda Kamen, Ed Robbins, Allen Fitzpatrick, Leonid Siveriver, William
Vandever, and others. Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; except
Wednesday and Saturday, 9 a.m. to noon. To November 16.
609-586-4800, ext. 3589. "Sub/Urban: Landscapes of the City
and Suburbs," with works by MCCC faculty member Jeff Epstein and
guest artists Violet Baxter and Ken McIndoe. Tuesday to Thursday,
11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Wednesday evenings 6 to 8 p.m.; Thursday evenings
7 to 9 p.m. To November 8.
609-896-5168. "Moments of Seeing" paintings and drawings by
artist and medical doctor Frederick Franck. Monday to Thursday, 2
to 8 p.m.; Friday to Sunday, 2 to 5 p.m. To October 28.
"Urban Scenes," a shared show by B.A. Keogh and Lisa Mahan,
two Bucks County artists working in a representational style. Part
the show sales donated to the New York Firefighter’s Fund. Friday,
Saturday, and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. To November 5.
609-773-0881. Members’ art show at gallery in the historic mills.
Thursday to Sunday, noon to 6 p.m.
Fall show featuring Mike Filipiak, John Loeper, and Harriet
Open Wednesday to Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. To November 11.
collection of Walter Emerson Baum paintings. Gallery hours are
to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 6 p.m. To November
James T. Lang, lithographs, colographs, and mixed-media works on
in the Artworks Building. Gallery is open noon to 9 p.m. daily.
"Monster Mash," a show of creepy snarling, and bug-eyed
by Dave Burke and Stephen Blickenstaff. Website: www.tinmanalley.net.
Gallery hours are Thursday to Monday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. To November
exhibit features Sarah Grove Antin, Helen Bayley, Lisa Fuellemann,
Charles Viera, M.A. Zullinger and others. Gallery hours are Monday
through Thursday 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Sunday 1 to 4 p.m. To October
The 32nd annual show of the Garden State Watercolor Society juried
by Bruce Currie and Joanne M. Kuebler. Open Tuesday through Saturday,
11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Sunday, 1 to 4 p.m. To November 4.
609-586-0616. Fall/Winter Exhibition. Open Tuesday through Sunday,
10 a.m. to 9 p.m., year round; Sunday is Members Day. Adult admission
is $4 Tuesday through Thursday; $7 Friday and Saturday; and $10
Annual memberships start at $45. To February 24.
609-292-6464. "American Indians as Artists: The Beginnings of
the State Museum’s Ethnographic Collection," October 6 to December
15. "The Farming Landscape," to November 11, "Natural
Selections: Sculpture by Elaine Lorenz," to December 30. "Art
by African-Americans in the Collection," to August 18, 2002.
Museum hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 4:45 p.m.; Sunday
noon to 5 p.m. Website: www.njstatemuseum.org.
On extended view: "New Jersey’s Native Americans: The
Record"; "Delaware Indians of New Jersey"; "The Sisler
Collection of North American Mammals"; "Of Rock and Fire";
"Neptune’s Architects"; "The Modernists"; "New
Jersey Ceramics, Silver, Glass and Iron"; "Washington Crossing
Upcoming Exhibitions: "George Washington and the Battle of
The Evolution of an American Image," November 4 to February 24,
2002. "Images of Americans on the Silver Screen," December
1 to April 14, 2002. "Historic Trenton: Exploring the History
of the Capital City."
609-252-6275. "Up the River," an exhibition of works by more
than 40 Bucks County Impressionists and Modernists, members of the
New Hope and Bucks County art colony now regarded as national
Catalog by Brian Peterson of the Michener Museum in Doylestown.
hours are Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and weekends and
1 to 5 p.m. To November 25.
Artists represented include Edward Redfield, Daniel Garber, Walter
Schofield, Charles Ramsey, Louis Stone, Charles Evans, and Lloyd Ney.
& Johnson Plaza, New Brunswick, 732-524-6957. "Laying on
paintings by Jersey City artist David William Cummings. By
To November 5.
609-895-7386. Garden State Watercolor Society associate members show.
Open Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. To November 30.
"Two Dialogues with Nature," featuring Heinz Gartlgruber’s
abstract floral studies and M. Jay Goodkind’s black-and-white images
of trees. Gallery hours are Saturday, Noon to 6 p.m. and Sunday, 1
to 5 p.m. To October 28.
Show by nine artists of The Art Group, formed in 1992. Members are
J.N. Betz, Judith Koppel, Nadine Berkowsky, Liz Adams, Seow-Chu See,
Helen Post, Stephanie Mandelbaum, Edith Kogan, Gloria Weirnik, and
Edith Hodge Pletzner. Shop hours are Tuesday to Friday, 10 a.m. to
5 p.m.; Saturday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. To November 10.
Road, 609-921-3272. In the main gallery: a solo show featuring
by Gail Bracegirdle, member of the Philadelphia Watercolor Society,
to October 30. Gallery hours are Tuesday to Friday, 10 a.m.to 3 p.m.;
Sunday, 1 to 4 p.m.
Georges Road, South Brunswick, 732-524-3350. "Mixed," a show
of works by South Brunswick artists Elizabeth Endres, Tufani Mayfield,
Helen Post, Steve Levine, Stephanie Barbetti, and Dan Choman. Web
preview at www.aroundtownonline.com. On view Thursday through
Sunday, from 1 to 4 p.m. To October 28.
609-737-7592. "Sense of Place," an exhibition featuring the
fine art and illustrative photography of Phil Moylan, Andy Chen, Marc
Stempel, and George Vogel. To November 10.
New Brunswick, 732-846-5777. "A People Cried Out: The 1956
and Fight for Freedom in Hungary," an exhibit with photographs
from the Budapest Museum of Military History, curated by Karoly Nagy
Middlesex County College, commemorating the 45th anniversary of the
Hungarian Revolution. Museum hours are Tuesday to Saturday, 11 a.m.
to 4 p.m.; and Sunday, 1 to 4 p.m. To November 4.
908-735-8415. "Compelled," a multidisciplinary exhibition
of sculpture, painting, fiber, and ceramics by artists including
Booker, Ruth Borgenicht, Giovanna Cecchetti, Paul Edlin, Jacob El
Hanani, Jane Fine, Gary Gissler, and Seong Chun. Museum hours are
Tuesday to Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. To November 4.
215-340-9800. "Artists of the Commonwealth: Realism in
Painting, 1950 to 2000," an exhibition featuring the work of
recognized realist artists and educators who were born and trained
in Pennsylvania, or who spent their professional careers there.
artists include Diane Burko, Sidney Goodman, Alice Neel, Philip
Nelson Shanks, Andy Warhol, Neil Welliver, and Andrew Wyeth. To
& Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and Wednesday evenings to 9 p.m. $6.
Branch Station, 908-725-2110. "Small Impressions," a national
juried exhibition featuring printmaking, photography, and alternative
media selected by printmaker Zarina Hashmi. Open Wednesday through
Friday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Saturday, 1 to 4 p.m. To October 27.
Brunswick, 732-932-7237. Exhibitions include: "Peeling Potatoes,
Painting Pictures: Women Artists from the Dodge Collection," to
November 4. "From Whistler to Warhol: A Century of American
to November 25. "Robert Motherwell: Abstraction as Emphasis,"
to December 9. "Boxed In: Plane, Frame, Surface," to December
2. "Mother Goose’s Children: Original Illustrations for Children’s
Books from the Rutgers Collection," to December 9. Museum hours
are Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday,
noon to 5 p.m. Admission $3 adults; under 18 free; museum is open
free to the public on the first Sunday of every month. Spotlight tours
every Sunday at 2 and 3 p.m.
Continuing exhibitions include: "The Uncommon Vision of Sergei
Konenkov (1874-1971)," to November 14. "Japonisme: Highlights
and Themes from the Collection," ongoing.
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