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Feather art won't fly as a treasure

Feather-art panels were likely made in Mexico sometime during the mid-20th century. The pair is valued at $100 to $150.
Feather-art panels were likely made in Mexico sometime during the mid-20th century. The pair is valued at $100 to $150.
Scripps Howard News Service

Dear Helaine and Joe: These two treasures were my husband's grandmother's. The name "Beethoven" is on a nameplate on the frame. There is a paper on the back that mentions Mexican feather craft. What information can you give me? Thank you. — J.V., Chicago, Ill.

Dear J.V.: Tourists are interesting creatures. Locals often see them as swarms of human locusts who are tolerated mainly because they bring wads of money and the burning desire to spend it relatively indiscriminately.

There is no question that some tourists buy and bring home wonderful souvenirs. Think of Marco Polo, who introduced the Western world to a number of extraordinary things he brought back from the Orient; and in more modern terms, think of the tourists who brought back vibrant Haitian art in the earlier part of this century that is now much appreciated by a large number of connoisseurs.

As tourists ourselves, we know there are great things out there in the wide world to be purchased, but we also know that there is a great deal of schlock and kitsch to tempt the unwary tourist as well. In the Western Hemisphere, some of the greatest tourist meccas are Hawaii, Mexico, Florida and the Caribbean, and there is certainly no shortage of tourist-related items to buy in these warm and scenic spots.

In all of these places, it is possible to buy a wide variety of craft items — some that were made locally and some that were imported because they suggest the tropical nature of the locale. In days gone by, two of the more interesting types of crafts were items made using butterfly wings as decorative elements and objects made using the feathers of exotic birds.

In recent times, tourists have become more ecologically in tune with the environment of the exotic places they visit, and butterfly-wing items have largely disappeared as have pieces made using "feather art." The butterfly pieces are already attracting some collector attention, but the feather items have until quite recently been a little too kitschy to be accepted widely.

That seems to be changing somewhat now, but tropical "feather art" pieces are still not as appreciated as they may be some day. This particular pair was probably made in Mexico sometime during the mid-20th century, and we think that a circa 1950 date is probably about right (i.e. made in 1950 plus or minus 10 years).

The pair belonging to J.V. appear to be particularly nice, and the current value is enhanced by the chunkily carved pine frames and the vibrancy of the feathers. We have no idea what the name "Beethoven" might refer to, but we are sure it has nothing to do with the famous Austrian composer by the same name.

Each of these pieces appears to be artist-signed, and the current insurance replacement value is between $100 and $150.


Helaine Fendelman and Joe Rosson are the authors of the "Price It Yourself" (HarperResource, $19.95). Questions can by mailed to them at P.O. Box 12208, Knoxville, TN 37912-0208.