Arts & Entertainment
Scroll through the blog posts and stories below to learn more about Hamilton student and alumni experiences in this industry. Finally, meet with your career advisor and explore the Career Center curriculum to learn how to network with alumni to discuss your interests and learn more about their work.
Arts & Entertainment Blog
What’s in Your Attic?
By John Nye '87
October 31, 2022
Tags Arts & Entertainment
I am likely one of the few graduates to put my art history degree to use on a daily basis. To find out how old books, brown furniture, tarnished silver, and esoteric paintings catapulted me to national television, please read on....
Antiques triumphed in the tug-of-war over architecture as these disciplines vied for my attention in the late 80's. After a year building scale models for a firm in Cambridge, Mass., I began a fifteen-year career at Sotheby's New York, rising from intern to senior vice president and head of the Americana Department. Legacy auction houses provide extraordinary opportunities to see rare objects, but the regional auction house is where one can hone one's eye and depth of knowledge by handling the large volume of tangible property that gets sold every year. An entrepreneurial thread runs in my family, and in 2003, my wife Kathy, an art history major from Skidmore College, and I acted on our desire to own an auction gallery. We acquired Dawson Auctions and renamed it Nye and Company upon relocating to a larger facility closer to New York.
Intimate classes and accessible faculty remain hallmarks of a solid Hamilton education, and Professor Rand Carter, who taught a quadrennial survey on the decorative arts, was no exception. He deserves credit for redirecting my interests toward art and antiques. The survey laid the groundwork for skills I use on a daily basis, evaluating collections and negotiating consignments at the eponymous firm. Death, divorce, and debt, casually referred to as "The Three D's," keep auctioneers in business, which means the circumstances surrounding a consignment of items headed to the block are never the same.
Most pieces consigned to auction come from the tri-state area, but collections do come from all over the country, and are periodically sold to benefit Hamilton. Auctions, posted to the internet, generate online bidding and considerable international participation. The biggest surprise over the last twenty years was the sale of a remarkably unremarkable painting that sold against foreign competition to a Parisian bidder for $1.1 million. It turned out to be a long, lost allegorical work by a teenage artist named – Rembrandt. The story of how the painting came out of a local cellar and made its way to the Louvre was so extraordinary, it became a half-hour segment on Fox Business News' show Strange Inheritance.
My colleagues and I have been frequent contributors to the PBS series Antiques Roadshow and for the last fifteen years, travel every summer filming spots in scattered cities, garnering more press and credibility for the company.
Our specialists and generalists receive, catalog, and photograph pieces as they arrive for one of our approximately 20 annual auctions. The constant variety is one of the great joys of the auction industry. Nye and Company employs accredited appraisers qualified to render fair market evaluations that families can use for equitable distribution or I.R.S. compliant insurance appraisals that can stand up in a court of law if needed.
Unlike a museum or gallery, the pace of an auction house is brisk and the pieces are not behind velvet ropes. They are intended to be handled, inspected, vetted, and ultimately sold to the highest bidder. Over the course of a year, we handle approximately 14,000 objects in a variety of price ranges to a variety of buyers. "Life without labor is guilt. Labor without art is brutality," is a paraphrased quote I recently read from 19th century British critic John Ruskin. Internships are a great way for students to get a feel for a career that melds the disparate worlds of communication, finance, and art. I assure you a career in the arts is extremely rewarding and a far cry from brutal labor.