Known for old mill buildings along the Merrimack River, a history of carriage making, and for 19th-century poet John Greenleaf Whittier, Amesbury is not typically associated with Andy Warhol’s flashy Pop Art movement that dominated New York City in the 1960s.
However, Saturday December 2, 2017 changed that. Collectors of works by Warhol, Basquiat, and their contemporaries sought out this small town on the New Hampshire border as a destination. John McInnis Auctioneers on Main Street sold a large estate on this day that is typical of a prominent New England family, but with a twist. In addition to the expected Yankee antiques were hundreds of items full of story, romance, tragedy, and loss.
These seekers of Pop Art found the large storefront of the auction house across the parking lot from a mural quoting Whittier, the city’s literary son. There, they saw these words and perhaps think of them anew:
Far down the Vale
My friend and I
Beheld the old and quiet town;
The swinging chain-bridge
Of the harbor-bar
When Harriet Woodsom Gould died last year in her 90s, she left behind in the family home—along where the Merrimack and Powwow rivers meet—countless treasures, some dating back to the 1700s. She was, after all, a descendent of the town’s early settlers who cultivated the 370-acre Woodsom Farm as early as 1790, making it at one time the largest dairy farm in Essex County. The grandfather clock, made in Haverhill, was a lovely get at the auction, as was a massive piece to hold the finest China and silver.
But it is her son’s things that caught the headlines.
Jon Gould was the final companion to Andy Warhol. Their turbulent relationship, thought to be the most significant of Warhol’s many love affairs, can be studied in what is probably the most desired piece up for auction. It’s one of Andy’s many signed gifts to Jon. Lot 40, a previously unknown Warhol piece, sold for $300,000. It’s a deconstructed canvas, the bars broken, the cloth falling over and some of it painted in gray, yellow, and red.
Photo by Jared Charney
Warhol “was fighting for Jon’s love and attention,” says auction gallery manager Dan Meader, who spent all last summer rooting around in the attic of the home when the family called him to handle Harriet Gould’s estate. “This is telling you what Jon was doing to him. When I found this, I started shaking. I got goose bumps.”
Meader is part of an auction house more expert in 18th-, 19th-, and 20th-century fine and decorative art than a rare leather jacket with the face of Jean-Michel Basquiat painted on the back. Yet, Meader admits the project had become an obsession.
“We like anything that is unusual, the best of its craft,” says Meader, adding that whatever he’s working on at the moment is his favorite project as he helps each estate come to life. “What we do here in Amesbury is see if we can take your object and tell a story.” The house has sold a JFK bomber jacket for $655,500, as well as the slippers of actor Peter Lawford. What he learns from handling these things, says Meader, is that “They’re real people, just like us. They had real lives.”
Meader has consulted with Warhol scholars on both coasts and has carefully paired entries from Warhol’s diary with related objects, feeling confident that each auction item has complete provenance. We see a snapshot of Warhol with the family at Easter at the Gould home in Amesbury in 1984 and then read about it in the diary, Warhol referring to Gould and his twin brother Jay as “macho” men.
“He was having Easter dinner here a mile down the road and I didn’t even know it,” say Meader of Warhol’s proximity at the time. “Would you believe that this icon of Pop Art, who changed the way we think about art, would be right here?”
Then there is the poetry from Gould to Warhol, a copy of which was included with the newly discovered Warhol. In beautiful large print, we see:
Watched you breathe
On 57th Street
Of us waited
For the green
We drifted by
“Finally, we’re seeing things from Jon’s standpoint,” says Meader, feeling local kinship with the lean and attractive man who left the small town to write for Rolling Stone and Interview Magazine, become an executive at Paramount, and be photographed on Montauk by Warhol, lounging on Warhol’s beach house lawn on throw pillows with Liza Minelli. But Gould didn’t need Warhol’s connections. A 1981 Hermes datebook of Gould’s reveals a who’s who of nightclub owners, film executives, and famous artists.
Gould is the most photographed subject of Warhol’s. An exhibition at the Brattleboro Museum and Art Center in 2004 included 50 black and white photographs by Warhol, many of Gould. Here, discovered in the Amesbury home, we see Gould swinging around light poles in Central Park, skiing down glamorous mountains, walking, leather jacket-clad, down New York City streets. He’s vibrant, beautiful, raw, and open.
Photo by Jared Charney
Which is why it was especially sad for folks in Amesbury to gather in 1986 and bid Gould adieu at the age of 33. Little was said at the time, says Meader. Gould had retreated to his home in Beverly Hills to try to fight a new disease called AIDS. After he died, Harriet Gould took her son’s fancy clothes, his gifts from Warhol, his own massive art collection, and left them in Amesbury as a time capsule waiting to be unearthed three decades later.
“We’re dealing with a very private family,” says Meader. “They were kind to this town.” Harriet Gould would attend auctions at McInnis, says Meader, which means they are selling some of the things she bought from them. Harriet Gould is no innocent. She knew what she was dealing with. In the place normally reserved in New England for the good silver—behind a stairwell, in a tiny closet, in a brown paper bag, Meader found a rooster cookie jar. Warhol collected them. It was a gift, says Meader, and Harriet, no doubt, watched the auctions after Warhol died.
A white beaded dress presented another challenge to be untangled. Perplexed by the lack of label, Meader did his research. The clue turned up. A Newburyport Five Cent Savings Bank wall calendar gave the answer. Harriet Gould had written in September of 1983 that when she picked up Jon at the airport, he brought her a beautiful Halston pearl gown and jacket.
The travels—the glamorous places around the country that Andy took Jon. The dancer, the light pole jumper, his tiger pants, his overcoat, his black monogrammed slippers—they’re for sale. This native son who had multiple New York addresses and a beach house in Los Angeles. You can walk in his shoes.
In the auction, there were Basquiat painted vases and a rare moment in time captured by Warhol of Gould hanging out with the painter. There is an intimate nude sketch of Gould by Warhol. Some of the more captivating pieces were photographs paired with an object or piece of clothing. For example, a close up black and white image of Gould skiing in a pair of goggles that are also on display.
Photo by Jared Charney
Family snapshots were used to tell the story, but not sold. The only photographs for sale were artworks by Warhol. Lot 40, the painting, sculpture, or whatever you want to call the wrecked canvas that depicts a broken heart, Meader says that auction attendees decided what it’s worth.
The Harriet Gould estate will be sold December 1 at 3 p.m. and December 2 at 1 p.m. John McInnis Auctioneers is at 76 Main Street in Amesbury. The first day is a discovery sale, meaning there is no online component. The second day, all 365 items will be online.