Flickr Widget

Monday, March 21, 2011

C. Jere'...laughing all the way to the bank

Every time I say "SEE Zhair-AY," I smile a little. I picture Jerry Fels (1917-2007) and Kurt (aka Curtis) Freiler (1910- ), close friends who married sisters, sitting around one night, having a drink or two, and figuring out a way to capitalize on the "Paris chic" craze of the 60s. People were in love with Brigitte Bardot, Leslie Caron and poodles, right? So why not a French designer of home furnishings?

And so it was that Artisan House was launched in 1964, and that mysterious designer with the French-sounding name was born...or at least that's the way I like to imagine it. Yes, C. Jere', the designer whose name was combination of Freiler's and Fels's first names. The same designer who never seemed to be available for interviews...or even photos, no matter how badly the public wanted to know who he was. He may have been fictitious, but Fels's talent and Freiler's ingenuity were very real.

Fels and Freiler were jewelry makers who decided to start an interior decor company when a cigarette caused an explosion that destroyed their jewelry factory and all their inventory. Fels supervised the design of their pieces, while Freiler figured out how to mass produce them and still make them look handmade and hired people who could do it. Although best known today for their metal wall sculptures, the company also produced small table sculptures and lamps which were at first distributed by Raymor and sold in high-end department stores like Gump's in San Francisco.

I can't help but think that Fels and Freiler smiled a few times themselves...just a little at the success of their ruse and a whole lot at the success of their business. In fact, wherever they both are today, they're probably still smiling...but this time at the renewed interest in their work and the unbelievably high prices some of the wall sculptures are fetching.


Eyelash mirror
1stdibs.com

Antelope
merrillantiques.com

Brass lamps
1stdibs.com

Peacock
1stdibs.com

Raindrops
1stdibs.com

Snowball table lamp
christies.com

Tree of Life
nyshowplace.com

Spray
bondandbowery.com

Skyscraper chrome lamp
fatchancemodern.com

18 comments:

  1. Another great post. I have a c. Jere steamboat that I found at a yardsale for 2 bucks. I miss the days of good finds. Hopefully with spring coming we all will find some great things. Love all the pictures of your store. It makes me want to jump in the car and head to Texas. I wish my area had a store like yours. However people tend to be in shabby chic and all things chippy.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Wow - so informative. I had never even heard of C. Jere. What clever designers: their work is stunning.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Great story and what gorgeous pieces. Love looking and learning in one great post.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I see these Jere wall sculptures and such allll over eBay, fetching some high prices.

    Funny, back in the 60's you'd see them in peoples homes, and I thought they were ugly! (Just my opinion). The awful looking thin brass colored metals, mostly shaped into things like peacocks and fake country store fronts that hung on the wall. I equate it to the craze of welding horseshoe nails into sculptures which were also popular back then.

    I had a cattail Jere I stuck in my fishpond about 10 years ago. I paid $1 for it at a Thrift, and that's about what I'd pay for another Jere today lol...

    A very few have nice designs, but the prices they sell for are far more than they are worth, in my humble opinion! Other opinions may vary. =)

    ReplyDelete
  5. I love C. Jere! I have a knock off of the flying flock 'o birds wall sculpture. Some day I'd love the real deal.

    ReplyDelete
  6. @1950sarh: Wow, if you find a real Jere these days for $1 at a thrift store, you'd better snatch it up fast and resell it for a huge profit.

    ReplyDelete
  7. @Rhan: I can't deny that the cafe scenes and such can be a little on the hokey side, but some of the other designs are very tasteful and beautiful, and, like you, I love them.

    ReplyDelete
  8. @DearHelenHartman: Thanks! I'm so glad you've become a regular around here and that you're enjoying the posts.

    ReplyDelete
  9. @Tanya: There are a number of the C. Jere' pieces that I think would look great in your home.

    ReplyDelete
  10. @Leah: Yes, I miss the day of great finds to. I really think that the Mad Men craze has played a part in driving the prices of mid-century items sky high.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Hi Dana! I need your genius. I found a pair of C Jeré Onyx Doves in Olive Branches (signed and dated 1982). Sadly, one birdie has a tip of it's beak missing but I didn't even notice (eagle-eyed mom did).

    I found this 1st dibs listing: http://www.1stdibs.com/furniture_item_detail.php?id=420197

    But don't really understand how 1st dibs works. Did I find a treasure?

    ReplyDelete
  12. I will preface everything I say by telling you that what you found would be worth quite a bit of money if in pristine condition, though nowhere near the price that 1stdibs dealer has on it. Dealers have to be approved to list on 1stdibs and then pay a pretty hefty monthly fee to be there. They usually set very high prices for their merchandise, aiming their listings at decorators with very wealthy clients. Those prices generally tend to be considerably higher than you will see the items sell for anywhere else. I would say their $2600 price is incredibly inflated, especially since the piece is only 16" x 13". However, it is definitely one of the nicer Artisan House pieces, and we would probably put a price tag of $300-400 on it if undamaged, depending on how rare it really turned out to be. (Some 1stdibs descriptions are misleading at best, and some are completely incorrect, so you can't always take at face value what you read there.) With the chip, we would probably put a $175-200 tag on it. For comparison, we have a C. Jere piece that's over 5 feet tall priced at $2500 and one that's about 36" long for $450.

    I'll give you an example of what I mean about the inflated prices. There's a contemporary artist who generally sells her mid-century inspired paintings on eBay for around $100-200. Joe sent me a link yesterday showing them listed on 1stdibs by one dealer from $495-$3750. This is pretty typical of 1stdibs pricing.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for taking the time to reply, Dana, I really appreciate it! I thought $2600 was a bit outlandish!! But it was the only listing I saw for these. I really liked the pair, so figured if they weren't worth anything I'd be happy to keep them. Mom & I are thinking of opening an etsy shop, just for the treasures we've bought and have no room for (plus some of the artwork and sewing we do - as per reader requests!)

      I learn so much from your blog!! Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge.

      Delete
    2. I think you and your mom would do extremely well with an Etsy store. I hope you do it!

      Delete
  13. I also picked up a C. Jere wall hanging (Square Labryinth) at a garage sale for $6.00. Signed! Cannot find a similar sculpture anywhere. 4' x 2' approx. varying sized rectangles welded onto a frame. I love it, I has hung in our living room for years. Just decided to look it up for giggles. Any idea what it might be worth?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Since so many factors affect a piece's worth...condition, scarcity, the market in your location, among other things...we rarely hazard a guess as to something's value and leave that to licensed appraisers. It's a sure bet, however, that it's worth many, many times the $6 you paid for it. Congratulations on such a great find!

      Delete
  14. At least one (Spray) and possibly the Tree of Life, given what I've seen of her other work was only under the nom d'plume of C.Jere, when in fact they were done by B.J. Keith, my mother. She was the Artisan House designer for 30 years after Jerry Fels, who designed all of the non-objective wall sculptures, standing sculptures and table sculptures. Her work was and is fine art and far, far more prolific than her mentor, Jerry Fels. 90% of the catalog today is BJ Keith sculpture using the name C.Jere.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Very interesting information. Do you know if your mother designed the large cranes and the 5-foot tall standing sculpture of birds?

      Delete