The Barnaby and Karen Beck Collection of American Folk Art


  • Live Online Auction: Sunday, September 11, at 11:30 PST
  • Online Preview: Through September 11

Turner Auctions + Appraisals is pleased to present the Barnaby and Karen Beck Collection of American Folk Art.  Offering over 115 lots, the online sale features contemporary and antique folk art, primarily from the East Coast of the United States, plus additional pieces from Europe and Asia.  Turner Auctions + Appraisals begins its online auction on September 11 at 11:30 am PDT; sale items can be previewed online now until the sale starts.  The online auction will be featured live on LiveAuctioneers and Invaluable. 

Barnaby and Karen Beck’s diverse collection features numerous contemporary works of American folk art from noted artists such as Vermont’s K. William Kautz, Ohio’s Dan Noyes, Maine’s Barry Norling and others.  These works include trade signs, whirligigs, weathervanes, sculptures and more – some commissioned by and customized for the Becks. 

The Beck collection also includes folk art in wood from the 19th and 20th centuries, like painted trade signs, a carousel ride, a cigar store Indians, Pennsylvania Dutch corner cupboards, children’s chairs and more.  Some of the antique items were made from the 1850s to 1920s by skilled German carvers for shipbuilders – often from the Black Forest – who were forced to find other work as their industry changed significantly and their talents were no longer in demand.  Before steam power, all boats were made of wood, with a wooden figurehead at the projecting prow that represented the owner, a deity or other symbol to bring good fortune.  However, with the increasing shift to metal ships, the expert carvers, looking for new means to feed their families, transitioned from adorning ships to crafting carousel rides, cigar store Indians and trade signs. 

Also featured in the sale are Toby Jugs, English trophy rowing oars, Spanish Colonial Santos figures, Southeast Asian carved panels, Staffordshire and Prattware pottery, and pearlware figures.

Both natives of California, Barnaby and Karen Beck began collecting folk art about 20 years ago.  Mr. Beck’s appreciation of older things began when he was growing up in Berkeley:  a noted Persian rug collector lived across the street, storing about 80 rugs in the garage.  Over the years and multiple visits to his neighbor, Mr. Beck not only learned much about Persian rugs, he also developed a lifelong interest in and appreciation for items with a history and a story.  Coupled with his wife Karen’s eye for design, honed working at Herman Miller, the Becks began collecting – first Persian rugs, then Toby Jugs.

Their interest in folk art was a “happy accident,” says Mr. Beck.  Attending a trade show in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, on restoring 18th–century houses, he happened on a secondary exhibit there that featured folk art, starting the couple on an extended collecting journey.  Initially, they acquired contemporary folk art sourced from large fairs in the east, including Zoar, Ohio, and Waterford, Virginia.  In Pennsylvania, they attended juried shows featuring traditional and contemporary folk art, becoming friends with many artists and fellow collectors.  Living for several years in Chicago, their proximity to antique folk art in the eastern U.S. expanded their interest in original works from past centuries.  Over time, as they became more knowledgeable and discriminating, their collection became more refined.  Today, with a house full from 20+ years of collecting and family members not eager to manage or curate the collection going forward, the Becks have decided to downsize, keeping special pieces for themselves and moving into new areas of interest.  For American folk art collectors and enthusiasts, the Becks’ decision is a noteworthy opportunity.

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