Nick Offerman's Top 10 Pieces of Americana

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Before Ron Swanson, there was Nick Offerman, the actor and woodworker. In fact, the beloved Parks and Recreation character's fondness for Shaker furniture and red meat is largely based on his real world counterpart – especially when it comes to that first bit. Offerman has spent a lifetime pursuing his passion for fine furniture and woodwork. In 2001, he opened the Offerman Woodshop in LA and has written several books on the subject, most recently Good Clean Fun. Today, he splits his time between the shop, which is run with a team of artisan-collaborators, acting and travelling as a humourist. Ahead of Sotheby’s Americana Week, we spoke with him about his favourite pieces in the upcoming auction. –Alexandra Owens

Important Americana including Property from the Collection of Joan Oestreich Kend
20–21 January | New York

PHOTO: EMILY SHUR.

Nick Offerman's Top 10 Pieces of Americana

  • An American Silver-Mounted Blackjack Pitcher and Set of Six Matching Mugs, Gorham Mfg. Co., Providence, RI, Circa 1910. Estimate $4,000–6,000.
    “There’s a wonderful hobbit-like or elfish quality to these items, like they’re designed for the most renowned guest at the Prancing Pony Pub in the Shire. They caught my fancy, and although we don’t really drink any beverages in the house that would necessitate a pitcher and mugs, I immediately began to strategize how I could use them. I love the leather, copper and silver materials. They’re simple, but long-lasting.”



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  • The Highly Important Lee Family Chippendale Carved and Figured Mahogany Desk-and-Bookcase, Possibly by George Bright, Boston, Massachusetts, Circa 1765-1785. Estimate $200,000–300,000.
    “From everything I’ve read, carving a piece of furniture such as this one is like a rite of passage. You’re considered a full Jedi when you can achieve all of these techniques. One thing I can’t wait to do someday is a ball-and-claw foot. It’s an awesome furniture detail that’s rife with mythology and appeals to the romance that I do my best to fill my own creative work with.”



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  • Chippendale Carved Walnut Desk-and-Bookcase, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Circa 1770. Estimate $5,000–8,000.
    “The thing I love about big standing desks is that they would act as a vault and the centrepiece of a household. All of your correspondence, bills, family’s revenues and so forth would be housed in this secretary. So there’s a whole score of cool compartments created in pigeonholes and little drawers where you could keep banknotes and other things to protect them from thieves. I’m kind of dubious that I will ever get to the level of making something so intricate. It all depends on how the rest of showbiz treats me. But we’ll see – I’m still pretty young. I’m not giving up hope.”



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  • Pine Corner Wall Box, New England, Circa 1820. Estimate $300–500.
    “On the other end of the spectrum, I was really moved by the simplicity of this corner wall box. It’s just meant to hold some sundry items or maybe some sewing accessories or cobbler’s tools.  That, to me, speaks to the ingenuity of early human households. I love to see how, long before electricity ever showed up, people could fashion materials like wood to serve their needs.”



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  • Green-Painted Pine Blanket Chest, New York State, Circa 1800. Estimate $500–800.
    “I made a version of this green pine blanket chest out of walnut for my sister a couple years ago. It’s just a really charismatic form. It can serve as a coffee table or a storage box. I’ve always enjoyed the substantial feeling of that furniture piece. I’m also a sucker for the colour green. It’s really handsome.”



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  • Pair of Cast-Iron Sunburst Figural Andirons, Bradley and Hubbard, Circa 1886. Estimate $800–1,200.
    “These andirons speak to me. They make me want to build a great room in a stone and timber lodge. That’s what I love about fine craftsmanship – or I should say fine craftspersonship, since I’m on-board with keeping the ladies involved at every turn. If you have just one beautifully handmade item and you look at it and allow it to inspire every day, it really improves your overall inspiration and gumption. You begin to think, ‘I want to make today worthy of this sugar bowl.’”



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  • Very Fine and Rare Red-Painted 'Pipe-Stemmed' Comb-Back Windsor Armchair, Newport, Rhode Island, Circa 1770. Estimate $5,000–7,000.
    “There are a lot of incredible chairs in this sale, but this singular form was a bucket list item for me. I had the great fortune to attend a Windsor chair class with Peter Galbert at the North Bennet Street School in Boston. When making a Windsor chair, you work with green wood, which means you can cut down an oak tree and immediately rive the logs into sticks. So there’s very little power tool use – you’re sculpting each piece. You make all the spindles by hand and carve each seat. The Windsor chair is such a testament to human ingenuity.”



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  • The Nicholas Brown Important Chippendale Carved and Figured Mahogany Scalloped-Top Tea Table with Open Ball and Talons, Newport, Rhode Island, Circa 1765. Estimate $800,000–1,200,000.
    “I’m so in love with all the details on this tea table. The ball-and-claw feet are awesome. But the most impressive thing is actually the facade of the apron pieces, because when you think about the curves that are sculpted into them – especially on the sides – you can imagine how thick the piece of wood that you started with had to be. And to do that before power tools ever showed up is just really incredible.”



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  • Very Fine Chippendale Carved and Figured Mahogany Side Chair, Massachusetts, Circa 1785. Estimate $2,000–3,000.
    “Of all the American forms and styles, I think Chippendale is so handsome. [My wife] Megan [Mullally] is an incredible decorator, and her style is very fresh and fun. Some of my pieces fit into our house well, but they have to be complementary to a modern style. So the more explicit a period style is – like if I ever make a cool Chippendale chair – I probably have a much better chance of getting it into Megan’s design if I use one and treat it like a singular sculpture, rather than put six or eight around a table.”



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  • Very Fine and Rare Chippendale Carved and Figured Mahogany Slant-Front Desk, Attributed to John or Jonathan Townsend, Newport, Rhode Island, Circa 1770. Estimate $40,000–60,000.
    “I was moved by the catalogue description of the furniture maker John Townsend. It says he was known for, among other things, ‘a preference for labour-intensive methods of construction.’ I think the downside of the American dream can be the idea of making as much money as you can by doing as little work as you can. I contrast that with the life I grew up in, and the writings of Wendell Berry, who celebrates a reverence for simple, plain, hard work. So I’m moved to see this incredible piece from more than two centuries ago. These masters were not known for their speed or their money making savvy – they were known for preferring ‘labour-intensive construction methods.’ Also, this is neither here nor there, but Townsend’s wife was named Philadephia Feke. That’s one of the greatest names I’ve ever heard. I’m probably going to keep that and use it in a future script.”



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