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Icon of American antique scholarship has died

An icon of American antique scholarship passed away on Nov. 14. Wendell Garrett, long known for his appearances on The Antiques Roadshow, died in Vermont at the age of 83.

I had the privilege and honor of first meeting Wendell when I attended the Tuscaloosa Antiques Symposium several years ago. Wendell was the keynote speaker. It was the first time I had been exposed to his speaking.

Seated in his by then iconic wheelchair and bundled up in his usual black coat, he held us riveted as he spoke movingly about George Washington and his life and philosophy during the Federal period of American history.

But before he began his talk, he announced that he was honored to be the kick-off speaker for this brand-new symposium, which he dubbed the “First Annual Tuscaloosa Antiques Symposium … FATAS for short.” The crowd went wild, the ice was broken, and “FATAS” went on for several more years until the original developer of the symposium, my colleague Molly Snow, couldn’t continue to spearhead it any longer.

Wendell was a part of the Antiques Roadshow since its American inception in 1997. He always brought to it more than just a discussion of the value of a piece. His unique ability to bring social history and context to anything he examined and valued made him a scholar.

Wendell was born in California and was going to be a doctor. When he went off to college, apparently organic chemistry made him change his major. I think we are all glad he did.

Although he had been a senior vice president at Sotheby’s in the American Decorative Arts Department and for many years the editor and publisher of The Magazine Antiques, Wendell was approachable and accessible. He always had a twinkle in his eyes, despite being crippled by a form of muscular dystrophy since he was 19 years old.

His voice was low and thoughtful, his delivery clipped and precise. No question was ever silly, stupid, or beneath him. Like many of the wonderful antiques he had the privilege of seeing and valuing, he was the best that America had to offer. But unlike so many of those antiques, he is gone. May he rest in peace.

What I’m reading now: Caveat Emptor. This is the story of Ken Perenyi, for many years an art forger whose work was good enough to fool the experts at Sotheby’s, Christies and other major auction houses and galleries.

Perenyi lives in Florida, where he creates frankly fake reproductions of famous artists’ work on commission — I presume for princely sums of money since he is allegedly that good. And he is a prime example of why we appraisers do not attempt to authenticate anything we appraise.

Happy holidays to all and looking forward to new columns next year!

Beth A. Kinstler, ISA-CAPP is president of Avalon Appraisals & Estate Sales and also a partner in Cents & $ensibility, a consignment shop on Wilmington Island. She can be reached at 912-238-1211, 897-4961 or Avalonant@aol.com.

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