Ashley Thornberry Questions
-How did your mom come across such an unusual piece?
My mom, aka “Lil Momma” and my dad acquired the piece from Duke University in October of 1971. They were getting married in November of ’71 and realized they had no furniture! My dad worked at Duke and Duke was in the process of remodeling and updating the library and various classroom buildings across the campus. The Duke faculty and staff were invited to purchase used University furniture being replaced. I believe they paid $9.00 for the desk. But don’t quote me.
-When did she notice the signatures?
Lil Momma noticed the signatures in the desk almost a year after she and Daddy purchased it. She thought they were interesting, but didn’t think too much of them. It wasn’t until about 1981 when we were moving from Durham, NC to Winston-Salem, NC that she took a good look at the signatures. It was then that she thought they might be important and decided to place scotch tape over them to “protect them” just in case. The Nixon desk has been a part of mom’s sewing room since I can remember.
-How long has it been in the family?
Since October of 1971
-Did your family have a Duke, Trinity or Nixon connection?
We are actually lifelong UNC fans, but my dad did worked in the accounting department at Duke University for awhile. He was strongly encouraged not to wear his UNC gear while on campus. He worked for Duke until February of 1977. Mom was not pleased with his decision to resign from Duke b/c he had 5 children and at that time, Duke employee benefits included free tuition for children of faculty and staff. OH TO BE A FLY ON THE WALL FOR THAT CONVERSATION!
-Did you ever try and get in touch with the Nixon Library about the desk?
Lil Momma has actually written several letters to the Nixon library over the years. The last being in 2003 (I think). Her letters never received a response.
-Why did your mom cover up the name with plastic?
She covered them as a way to protect them from being damaged by her mischievous and creative, yet beautiful and charming children.
-Are you excited to see it up for auction?
I’m not sure. The desk has been in the family longer than I have so there is some emotional attachment to it. My brother really, really wants to keep the desk, but I feel confident that it will end up in a garage sale one day and forgotten should it go that route… Lil Momma is still not quite sure how she feels about it. It’s not like it’s a fine piece of craftmanship, but it does reflect a period of time in her life when things were simple (before children). She’s always loved the desk and while my mother is a psychiatrist and has some PHENOMENAL stories to share at parties (no PHI, btw), the story of the Nixon desk has always been her favorite to tell.
Graydon Desk Questions
-Tell us about your career…
I'm a fine art and antique appraiser and auctioneer. I was an art history undergraduate student, and shot right into graduate school, and at that time took a post for Cowan's Auctions, a local Cincinnati auction house. Over 11 years I ran the fine and decorative art department there, and also began as an appraiser for the Antiques Roadshow. A three year stint as Director of Artwork for EBTH, and have since opened an art gallery, appraisal firm and auction house called Caza Sikes, here in Cincinnati!
-What do you do for Antiques Roadshow?
For the Antiques Roadshow, I'm a featured appraiser for the paintings & drawings table. We tour to 5 cities annually, each of which films 3 episodes for their newest season.
-Let us know about your gallery and auction house, Caza Sikes? Where did you get the name?
Caza is Spanish for "to hunt", which is what my brothers and I love to do. We actually have a strange Mexican heritage- former President Vicente Fox is a second cousin of ours! His grandfather was a Cincinnatian who moved there in the earlier part of the 20th century.
We love to hunt estates, collections, and single items to prepare for auction. In addition, we have a beautiful gallery space where we represent about 40 artists. We have really cool monthly shows. We also fill much of our time conducting appraisals for estates, donation and fair market value.
-When you received the call about the desk, what were your first thoughts?
The desk sounded like a very neat piece of political ephemera to me. While the market can be very narrow, I'm extremely interested in objects that have an association with past presidents. While the desk itself is a mass manufactured library desk, just imagine who it passed through! I recall about 10 years ago, I sold a desk used by Lincoln during his legal career. So, it was the thrill of the hunt!
-Now that you have seen the desk, what made you give you the belief that it’s authentic?
Virtually everything appears to match up with Nixon's period of study, and inscribing a name on a desk at one's university was entirely commonplace for the time. While I haven't yet explored his signature style from that time period, I've no reason to believe it wouldn't be correct and authentic.
-Get a shameless plug in for your gallery and auctions upcoming…
We have a tremendous sale coming up on February 18th, featuring a number of important works by Julian Stanczak, E.I. Couse, Kenton Nelson and others. And if in Cincinnati, don't hesitate to visit the gallery!