Tag Archives: Folk Art

Bookends for Desert Lovers

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The California and Arizona Deserts are in high bloom this 2016 Spring.  Saguaro Cactus, Skulls, and Brown Earth are the symbols we usually associate with the deserts of the Southwest and here are two pairs of vintage bookends that represent those symbols.

Desert Scene: Bronze deposited on gray metal, Height 6 inches, Shopmark: J.B. 1357. circa 1930.

Desert Scene: Bronze deposited on gray metal, Height 6 inches, Shopmark: J.B. 1357. circa 1930.

These bookends were produced by Jennings Brothers, a well respected foundry which functioned from about 1891 to about 1955 in Bridgeport, Connecticut.  A dramatic steer skull is shown against a backdrop of Saguaro cacti.

The desert of the Southwestern U.S. supports a small number of grazing cattle, and it is not surprising to find their skulls bleaching in the sun on the desert floor.  The Saguaro cactus is found only in the Sonoran desert of The Southwest U.S. and Mexico.  A plant can grow up to 60 feet tall and live up to 200 years.  Bleached skulls are available commercialy as decorative pieces or Indian artifacts.

A Saguaro and a type of Opuntia (Prickly Pear) cactus stand in this scene.  The bookends are  fashioned from a solid block of wood and painted.  Wood bookends are generally not as desirable as those from metal, and these were very inexpensive.  But, a close exam shows they have some merit.  First, they are signed M.M. The wood is heavy and coated with gesso.  The face is made concave which helps the mountains to recede.  The scene of desert floor with mountains in the background rings true.  The painting is very careful, and the scenes on the pair match very well.  The pair is very pleasing to collectors who love the desert.



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Guardian Spirit Bookends

Photo of Guardian Spirit Bookends

Northwest-Coast Indian Guardian-Spirit Bookends.  Red Cedar and paint, Height 6.5 inches, probably folk art, probably twentieth century.

The figures on these bookends look like movie animation creatures, but they represent traditional guardian spirits of the Norhwest Coast Indians.  Guardian spirits protect their owners from evil spirits and from dangers in general. We have owned these bookends for a number of years and during that time our home has been safe from evil or damage, so, obviously, the bookends are powerful and doing their job.  We will keep them, and continue to enjoy their protection.


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Bookends as Works of Art

Whenever possible, we like to identify each pair of bookends as to the art style in which they were created. We do this in order to create the perception that bookends are objects of art, not simply collectibles.  Of course, all bookends are art work, sculptures created by artists, so there is no doubt here.  If the art world accepts bookends as an art form, they will keep their value into the future, and not slip into obscurity along with collectibles such as beanie babies, cookie jars, and telephone pole insulators.

Our 2012 book, BOOKENDS: Objects of Art and Fashion, is devoted to promoting bookends as an art form.  Check out some of our favorite bookend works of art in this slideshow:

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ARTCRAFTERS Mineral Bookends

ARTCRAFTERS  Bookends made of a cement-covered clay body hosting specimens of local pegmatite minerals specimens and a grey-metal elk head.  Height 5 1/4 inches, Width 5 3/4 inches.  Each weighs approx. 3 lbs.

ARTCRAFTERS Bookends made of a cement-covered clay body inset with a grey metal elk head and specimens of minerals from local pegmatite deposits. Height 5 1/4 inches, Width 5 3/4 inches. Each weighs approx. 3 lbs.

From the Black Hills of South Dakota come these bookends made for sale to the early tourists visiting the great western National Parks.  Fashioned by THE ARTCRAFTERS of Custer, South Dakota, the center-piece of each bookend is a well-cast elk head and antlers from an unknown commerical source.  Surrounding the elk head are a variety of gemstones found in the pegmatite seams of South Dakota.

Pegmatite is a granitic rock that contains a variety of gemstones, some quite valuable.  The city of Custer, SD  is bordered by several pegmatite mines, and the decorative stones were gathered from these local sources.  We asked Jeff Swanger, CEO of  Oceanview Mines, LLC, a group of famous pegmatite mines located in the Palomar Mountain foothills at Pala, CA,  to identify the gemstones on the bookends for us.  He found lepidolyte, mica, black tourmaline, beryl and rose quartz and a copper-bearing ore.  (If you are visiting in San Diego or Riverside areas and want a special adventure, sign up for a dig at Oceanview Mine.  The scenery is real backcountry Southern California and the chances are that you will find your own tourmaline, beryl or kunzite gem and  you’ll have a real good time!)

Paper Label on the base of the ARTCRAFTERS Bookends


THE ARTCRAFTERS was the business owned and operated by Monte and Lillian Nystrom between 1925 and 1936.   Monte was a well-known local stonemason. He was responsible for the magnificent stone fireplace in the Custer State Park Lodge that functioned as Grover Cleveland’s Western White House during the summer of 1927.  Monte built the small but distinctive Artcrafters shop which is still standing today and houses the Artcrafters jewelry firm of Kathryn Fitzner.  Kathryn generously shared her knowledge of the Nystroms with us.

Margie Nystrom was an untrained but talented artisan. She ran the souvenir design and manufacturing production of THE ARTCRAFTERS studio, and probably created these bookends.   These bookends have been donated to the 1881 COURTHOUSE MUSEUM in Custer, South Dakota.


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ANNOUNCEMENT!!! – BOOKENDS: Objects of Art and Fashion by Robert and Donna Seecof

Robert and Donna Seecof wrote the first book on bookends in 1995 (Bookend Revue, Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 1996). At that time we briefly addressed bookends as works of art. Since that time we have become more aware of bookends as a medium of art and fashion, and we have attempted to show these relationships in this new volume, BOOKENDS: Objects of Art and Fashion, available now from Schiffer Publishing, Ltd.

We owe special thanks to Charles DeCosta, who generously allowed us to present some of the bookends from his outstanding collection, which can be viewed at

Over 350 vivid color photos and engaging text reveal that bookends have been a medium of art from the turn of the twentieth century to today. The photos illustrate 350 pairs of bookends from principal art styles, and the research places them in historical context, creating an illustrated art history of the twentieth century.  Accompanying the photos are identification of the production date, the foundry, sculptor, art style, commentary, and values. The bookends presented have documented American art fashions for the past one hundred years. This novel guide also organizes bookends by art style and historical period, rather than subject matter, which gives the reader new insight into the evolution of bookends in a dynamic culture. Reader will come to regard bookends as works of art and will be knowledgeable about their rightful place in the art world.

Front Cover of BOOKENDS: Objects of Art and Fashion by Robert and Donna Seecof

Front Cover of BOOKENDS: Objects of Art and Fashion by Robert and Donna Seecof


Back Cover of BOOKENDS: Objects of Art and Fashion illustrating some of the fashionable bookends of the 20th Century


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Grenfell Mission Inuit Bookends

Photo of Grenfell Bookends

Grenfell Mission Bookends

In 1892 medical missionary Wilfred Grenell sailed up and down the Labrador coast as an emissary of the United Kingdom’s National Mission to Deep Sea Fisherman investigating the medical needs and welfare of the local fisherman while delivering medical care from his base on the medical vessel Albert.  Grenfell returned to Labrador and Newfoundland in 1893 and established the Grenfell Mission providing care to the itinerant fishermen, their families and to the local native inhabitants (Inuits/Eskimos).

As the Mission(s) expanded through the region an industrial works program was established to encourage the production of crafts by the local population and to create a source of income.   The  Grenfell Missions native people developed a handicraft tradition and created hooked rugs, knitted goods and bookends for sale.  The bookends shown here are carved and painted wood.  Identical bookends were created as early as 1909.

Dr. Grenfell used photographs and lantern slides lectures to promote the work of the missions and to solicit donations.  In doing so he left a photographic record of the earliest days of the Grenfell Missions and the products they produced.  The Rooms, a combination of provincial archives, art gallery, and museum in St. John’s, NL Canada houses an excellent and digitized collection of these lantern slides that can be viewed on line.  A set of bookends can be viewed midway down the far left of the picture on THE IGA Lanternslide Show: IGA 12- 28 “Pictures and handcrafts”.  Just click on the foregoing link.

The Maritime History Archive, Memorial University, St. John’s, NL also houses photographs and lantern slides from the International Grenfell Association.  The photograph, “Unidentified Inuit Man” bears a strong resemblance to the faces painted on the Grenfell bookends.

Photo of Unidentified Inuit Man

“Unidentified Inuit Man” PF-323.038 – in the International Grenfell Association Lantern Slides Collection at the Maritime History Archive, Memorial University, St. John’s, NL. Used by permission.

Today the missions still function under various auspices as the International Grenfell Association.  The bookends and other goods are considered valuable folk art by collectors and sell for relatively high prices.


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