Trash or Treasure?

Trash or Treasure?


Col—Waterman1Victorian Balloon Back Settee and Screen Paintings

Q: I have inherited my grandmother’s couch and footstool (I believe it is called a settee?) It is about 100 years old as it belonged to her mother. It was reupholstered 40 years ago, after a house fire, to resemble the original fabric. I am at a point in my life where I know it is time to sell, and I would like your input regarding what you think is a fair asking price and where to begin the selling process. I have attached photos of the furniture. Thank you for any help you can give.

A:  Your Victorian “Balloon Back” settee (or loveseat) and bench are from the 1920’s. From the picture, the wood appears to be walnut. There are many examples of Victorian furniture for sale and the settees generally sell around $400 (depending on condition) at auction. Expect to pay 20% to an auction house (there may be additional fees for pick up, storage, etc.) or you could try a consignment shop.

Col—Waterman2Q. These are window screens from a house built at the end of the nineteenth century. When viewing the screens from the inside of the house during the daytime, you see all that goes on outside. At nightfall these amazing images appear. I have them on the walls in my home and have installed black fabric on the back to simulate night. What are your thoughts?

A. Screen painting was a folk art style of painting which originated in Baltimore, Maryland. William Octovec is credited with making this art popular. A frustrated artist, he opened a grocery store to make ends meet. He painted the screens on the doors to the store with images of the meat and vegetables he sold inside. The screens kept out the bugs, while offering a form of advertising. His store drew many admirers who asked Octovec to make screens for them. The screens were decorative from the outside and provided privacy for the interior. He opened an art shop in 1922, made screens by the thousands, and offered art classes. Other artists followed and sales reached their peak in the 1940’s and 1950’s. During the two world wars materials were limited, and the screens fell out of fashion further when the air conditioner was invented. This is the 100th anniversary of Octovec’s initial screen paintings. Screen paintings were rarely signed and very few remain today. For more information in identifying your screens further and general information on the history of screen painting, go to

Karen Waterman is a fine art, antique furniture and decorative arts appraiser in the East Bay area and will answer as many questions your own “hidden treasures” as possible. By sending a letter of email with a question, your give full permission for use in the column. Names, addresses or e-mail will not be published and photos will be returned if requested. Send e-mails (digital photos are encouraged) to [email protected] Send snail mail to East Bay Newspapers, Att. Karen Waterman, P.O.Box 90, Bristol, RI 02809.