Stephen Gray, a retired publishing executive, filled a 1790s farmhouse in upstate New York with such a cohesive collection of American Arts and Crafts furniture that it was the subject of an entire museum show last year.
He lent about 140 pieces from the early 1900s, including oak desks, hammered copper trays and woven bamboo lampshades, to the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford for the exhibition “At Home With Gustav Stickley: Arts and Crafts From the Stephen Gray Collection.”
The show proved somewhat controversial. Shortly after it opened, in October 2008, The Art Newspaper reported that Mr. Gray, a fixture at Arts and Crafts sales and conferences since the 1970s, intended to sell much of his holdings, and the Atheneum was unwittingly helping him increase values. An article headlined “Wadsworth Exhibits Private Furniture Collection Destined for the Market” stated that the show “appears to contradict” museum association ethics guidelines and quoted Mr. Gray as saying, “There will be a liquidation,” and the proceeds will “take care of my family.”
Susan Talbott, director of the museum, said at the time of the show that she had been told the collection was not for sale.
When the controversy broke, Mr. Gray said he was misquoted. “I have no intention of selling anything,” he said then in an interview. He added, about his participation in the show, “I didn’t do this to make money.”
Yet in the last few months Mr. Gray has cleared out and sold the farmhouse and is auctioning off about 100 objects, many of which appeared in the exhibition and its catalog. Last Sunday Treadway Toomey Galleries in Oak Park, Ill., offered about 70 of Mr. Gray’s pieces, including magazine racks, earthenware vases and copper lanterns, which reached prices mostly below $10,000. On Thursday Sotheby’s New York is auctioning 25 lots from Mr. Gray, with estimates between $3,000 for woodcuts of forest scenes and $60,000 for a Stickley oak plant stand with a green tile top.
In an interview last month Mr. Gray, who has moved to a condominium in Connecticut, maintained he started planning the sales only after the Wadsworth show closed in January. (He has pledged to the Atheneum as gifts 37 of the antiques he exhibited there.)
“I just decided: boom,” he said. “I did what I had to do. This is a heartbreaker for me. But look, you have to move on.” He added that in some ways he had begun breaking up the collection and detaching himself emotionally a few years ago, during a divorce. His former wife, he said, got some of the best pieces in the settlement. “That kind of took the heart out of me,” he said.
Ms. Talbott said some of the gifts would be on view at the museum within a year.
Manufacturers cheered up consumers during the Depression by pumping out relatively affordable imitation luxuries, like metal mesh purses that looked like crystal and resin bracelets modeled after jade, onyx and coral. To hearten consumers in this holiday season’s hard times, two auction houses are selling collections of 1920s and ’30s simulations of finer materials.
An online sale closes on Wednesday at collect.com of a few hundred mesh handbags from Dennis and Terri LaMothe, retired government workers in Florida. The purses’ interlocked squares, enameled with geometric, floral, bird and skyscraper patterns and movie stars’ portraits, hang from filigree metal frames. Each fringed sack could barely hold a cellphone and car keys.
The LaMothes, who bought their first mesh bag on their honeymoon, in 1982, have traveled the country acquiring about 1,500 pieces, researching original chain-link patents and interviewing handbag factory workers. (The couple are preparing two books about their finds.) They have displayed up to 1,000 purses at a time in cases around their home.
“There were no duplicates,” Mrs. LaMothe said. “I would play with them. I was like a kid. I would change the colors of the ones we had up to suit the seasons.”