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The Lucy Maxym Collection of Russian Lacquer & Art

Turner Auctions + Appraisals is very pleased to present the Lucy Maxym Collection of Russian Lacquer & Art. Offering over 100 lots, the online sale features Russian lacquer boxes and jewelry, icons, a Faberge cigarette case, and reference materials from the personal collection of Lucy Maxym, noted author and expert on Russian lacquer art. The sale also includes a selection of silver items from Russia and Asia, cloisonné, books and other collectibles.

Lucy Maxym was born in a small town in Russia near the Ukraine and emigrated to the U.S. as an infant. The family first lived in New York, then Japan and then San Francisco, where Lucy grew up. After she married renowned bassoonist Stephen Maxym, the couple returned to New York, where they had two children and lived for over 45 years before returning to California. The family’s life was rich with music, culture and travel.  

Creative and adventuresome, Lucy Maxym further expanded her interests in the late 1950s when she and her sister founded Siamese Imports, sourcing items from Thailand, where their brother lived. Their import and wholesale business added a new destination when Lucy happened to see a Russian box on the coffee table of a friend. She became fascinated with this art form, launching a passion, curiosity and desire to know more that lasted for the rest of her life. After her sister passed away, Lucy and her business began to focus more on Russian lacquer and art, Kashmir lacquer, and fine crafts from all over the world.

Although such travels were uncommon at the time (for a man, let alone a woman!), Lucy was a pioneering entrepreneur and intrepid traveler – to the U.S.S.R., Kashmir, Burma, Vietnam and other exotic destinations. On her frequent journeys to the USSR, she would travel to small villages known for these unique lacquer crafts – primarily Fedoskino, Palekh, Kholui, and Mstera – each with a distinctive style. On these trips, she would search out the talented artists who painted in miniature, and bring their wares back to the U.S.  

According to the Sitka Sentinel in June 1985 regarding her then-upcoming exhibit in Sitka, Alaska, Lucy Maxym was “the only American authorized by the Soviet government to purchase the boxes from Russian artists for resale in the U.S.” As she exposed these hand-crafted Russian artworks at trade shows and elsewhere, buyers were very curious about the beautiful boxes. Because she was constantly explaining the Russian stories that were the subjects of the miniature paintings, she decided to write a book – so in 1981, "Russian Lacquer, Legends and Fairy Tales" was born. Five years later, Volume Two shared new stories of Russian myths and life. 

In addition to the lacquer boxes, Lucy also became interested in icons and was one of the first persons allowed to take icons out of Russia. Long held and worshipped in religious homes or churches where soot or grime would accumulate over time, the icons would be removed, then carefully restored to their original effulgence for sale to avid collectors. In this way, Lucy acquired some superb icons and so did her clients. This interest led her to a book on icons that she commissioned and edited.

Lucy was instrumental in elevating the lacquer boxes to an art form. This was not only a benefit to those in America who enjoyed them, it had a major impact on the lives of the artists’ themselves:  they were able to make a living from their artworks and to buy homes for their families. Her efforts made a difference is many people’s lives and even helped revitalize the towns they lived in. After a long life full of adventure and discovery, Lucy Maxym passed away in 2017 at age 99. 

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