Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIII, No. 46
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
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It’s New to Us by Jean Stratton

20th CENTURY SPECIALTIES: “We specialize in 20th Century art and design — paintings, sculpture, furniture, wood carvings, etc.” Judith Budwig, co-owner of a priori in Lambertville, is seated in a chair designed by French architect/designer Charlotte Perriand. Nearby is a George Nelson credenza, and above the credenza, a print by Margaret Patterson.

New a priori Gallery Opens in Lambertville With a Focus on 20th Century Design and Art

Twentieth Century art and design is on display at the newly-opened a priori gallery at 16 Church Street in Lambertville.

Owners Judith Budwig and Jeffrey Preston opened a priori the end of September, and it is an exciting new venture for both of them.

“Jeffrey is a writer, and I was a librarian at the Chapin School for 11 years, then got a masters in communication at Rutgers, and became an editor/writer at ETS,” says Ms. Budwig. “We have always been collectors, however, and we love 20th Century art and design, especially Arts and Craft furniture. Then, this space became available, and it was an impulse decision. This is a new adventure.”

The gallery’s name, a priori, has already attracted a lot of interest, she adds. “Jeffrey thought of the name, and it is actually a philosophical concept, which basically means ‘from before’.”

Intriguing Array

The gallery features an intriguing array of items “from before.” Special paintings, prints, bronzes, chairs, tables, wood carvings, and pottery are among the featured pieces.

“The fascinating thing about 20th Century art is the blurring of the traditional dividing lines,” explains Ms. Budwig. “This is seen in music, art, furniture — all across the board. The 20th Century saw a blurring of the traditional lines generally. There was dissonance in music, in art, and literature, and contrast and resolution by people’s changing perspectives.”

Ms. Budwig points out this can be seen in the cross-over from architecture to furniture to art. “In the 1920s, Paul Frankl, a trained architect, began making furniture. We have an iconic Frankl ‘G’ chair from the ’30s. Wendell Castle was a pioneer in furniture cross-over into art in the 1950s, and George Nelson, a trained architect, also made furniture from the 1930s on. We have pieces from all of them.”

a priori also carries a 1901 Arts and Crafts chair by famous furniture designer Gustav Stickley. “The Arts and Crafts movement began in Europe in the early 20th Century,” explains Ms. Budwig. “It was a philosophy, a reaction to the Industrial Revolution. They wanted to enhance the beauty of natural materials through hand craftsmanship characteristic of earlier times. The emphasis was on home and hearth.”

Moving ahead in time, a handsome, 96-inch Dakota Jackson laminated maple dining table from the 1990s would be perfect for a large number of guests on Thanksgiving.

Ms. Budwig is very pleased with the blend of items at a priori. “I love the variety we have, including prints and pottery. I love it all. We have prints by Margaret Patterson, who was very influenced by Japanese art. There is also a print from the 1940s by Raul Anguiano and a work by Swiss painter Eugen Bracht, who is known for his Orientalism and his realism.”

“City Scene”

A large oil on canvas “City Scene” by Walter King Stone depicts a diverse group of people waiting to cross a New York City street in the 1940s. “He was working in New York at the same time as Diego Rivera,” points out Ms. Budwig. “This painting has a lot of energy.”

Sculpture includes the fascinating abstract expressionist bronzes of Larry Steele, “one of the few living artists whose work we exhibit,” she adds.

The eclectic selection also includes “a fabulous piece that is a wooden cello case from 1910, with brass hardware. It is amazing, and we carry wood carvings by Miles Burkholder Carpenter, whose work is in the Smithsonian, and who also influenced Alexander Calder,” says Ms. Budwig.

Also available are wood carvings from premier wood carvers Dan and Barbara Strawser, including a hard-to-resist sitting dog and a family of three turkeys of polychromed carved wood, signed, and dated. Wouldn’t those turkeys be fun for Thanksgiving?

Quality is very important at a priori, and Ms. Budwig makes a point of offering the finest pieces. “Nearly all our artists are listed artists. A listing adds value to an artist’s work. Art is a great investment right now because prices are down, and it will only appreciate.”

Attending auctions and estate sales to find unusual pieces is a pleasure for Ms. Budwig, who enjoys the search, and “I also love the research about the artists. And I love meeting the people who come in and the sharing of information about art. Many of the customers are very knowledgeable. And the response has been great. People come in all the time, and one said about our gallery: ‘This was sorely needed.’

Discerning Eye

“We’ve been getting a lot of word-of-mouth and also a lot of customers from Princeton and many from New York. We’re more like a New York gallery. Many people who come in are looking for something different, and they find we have a discerning eye for rare 20th Century pieces of quality. They often say, ‘You have a great eye!’”

Items are available at a very wide price range, from $65 to $8500, and everything in between.

Ms. Budwig is delighted to be in Lambertville and at this particular location. “Church Street is the best kept secret in Lambertville. Right next door to us is Richard, who specializes in 20th Century glass, especially Italian glass, and there are artists all down the street. I love being on Church Street with the camaraderie of the other gallery owners.

“We’re off to a great start,” she continues, “and I look forward to the time when the business is established and successful. I am so glad I can offer 20th Century pieces. 20th Century design is part of the poetry and music of the 20th Century. It moves together. That is my joy.”

a priori will have an opening reception with refreshments on Saturday, November 21, from 4 to 8. p.m. Regular hours are Monday, Wednesday, Friday 11 a.m to 4 p.m., Saturday and Sunday 11 to 6. (609) 773-0606.

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