A Life Well-Travelled

09/07/2023     Silver, General, Furniture & Decorative Arts, General Paintings, Watches

Donald MacDermid and Bruce McKee met at TASIS The American School in Switzerland in 1964. Their paths crossed again several years later in Providence, Rhode Island, where Donald was a student at The Rhode Island School of Design and Bruce had recently enrolled at Brown University. After their college years, Bruce and Donald went their separate ways until they met by chance in the 1980s, while standing in line at the American Craft Museum in New York City. “After that day, we never lost touch again,” Bruce fondly remembered.

Donald was a world traveler, exploring all seven continents. Travel to Asia, Africa, North and South America, Antarctica, Europe, and Australia was always an adventure, but a trip was special when Bruce was able to join him. When Bruce was not available, all return trips to the United States seemed to go through San Francisco, where Bruce lived for many years. Donald had a passionate interest in collecting, which he shared with Bruce, often regaling him with stories about his latest purchase. Many items included in the MacDermid Collection represent a lifetime of shared memories, which Donald proudly showcased in his Greek Revival home in Chester, Connecticut.

Bruce remembers Donald’s careful consideration of the purchase of the 1826 Charles Daniel Home. “Donald had seen the house. He was in San Francisco with photos and ideas. We discussed it at length. He wasn't sure. He really liked the Greek Revival style and the setting,” Bruce remembered. “I think he was wondering if he would be happy living in Chester, after so many years in apartments, condos, and hotels in Boston, London, and New York.”

Of their travels together, one of Bruce’s fondest memories was their trans-Atlantic voyage on the windjammer, Sea Cloud. “Nothing could possibly have pleased me more,” McKee remembered. “We embarked from Gran Canaria in 1999, destination Barbados, where we arrived just ahead of a small hurricane. Giant waves splashed over the sea wall at the harbor.”

Lots 7, 97, 101, 102, & 197: Donald had a passion for all things maritime, filling his Chester home with marine paintings, ocean liner memorabilia, and nautical-themed works. The sale features a Warren Sheppard painting, a Brass Anchor-Form Table Lamp, a Model of the R.M.S. Titanic Ocean Liner and Books on the Titanic and Other Ocean Liners.

Lot 129:Bruce, who currently lives in Chiang Mai, remembers that Donald acquired this Spirit House during a trip to Bangkok. “The house is a shrine to the protective spirit of the home and the land one occupies. Spirit houses can be seen can be seen in many parts of Thailand. The spirits are represented by little ceramic figures that are placed inside the house. Additional figures and offerings are placed on the "deck" on which the house stands. Sometimes, there is a ladder or stair that goes from the deck to the ground. Despite its fragility, Donald managed to get it shipped from Bangkok to Chester in one piece.”

Lots 133-135: When Donald purchased these Venini lanterns, “he imagined giving a party at night with candles flickering inside. The "vases" were to be placed on the semi-circular stone wall behind the house in Chester, sort of like Chinese lanterns.”

Lots 143-146: “Donald had his Albert Paley period and mixed these works with more traditional furnishings in his Chester home. He spoke a lot about Paley in the 1990s. The dining table was on loan for a special exhibit in the same period.”

Lots 137 & 138: “I remember these tables and stools from Donald's apartment in Providence in 1967-68” and they were displayed 50 years later at his home in Chester.

Lots 80 & 82: New York was Donald’s home away from home, and “There was no place like New York for Donald. The Elysée Hotel staff were family to him. Hair Spray and South Pacific, I remember. Classical music wasn’t Donald’s thing. Museums and galleries aplenty.” And always movies and the theater. Donald was thrilled when he acquired the Regency Mahogany Metamorphic Library Armchair from the Rex Harrison Collection and the Mahogany Movie Prop Desk from Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

Lots 181 & 182: The Christopher Dresser exhibit at the Cooper Hewitt Museum in New York stirred a particular interest. “Donald was quite taken by Christopher Dresser for a while. When he bought these toast racks, I thought, ‘Oh well, whatever. He'll never use it. It was the design that interested him.”

Lot 12: Donald explored his love of silver and British art, visiting the many shops and galleries in London, including Asprey, SJ Phillips and his favorite, the Fine Art Society where he purchased Henry Scott Tuke’s, Boy on a Beach.

Lot 199: “Donald was proud of these Georgian candlesticks. They were on the table at his 50th birthday party at the Four Seasons in Boston.”

One of Donald’s favorite cities was San Francisco. “Year after year we hit high spots in the Bay Area: Winchester Mystery House, Rosicrucian Museum, Filoli, Pulgas Water Temple, and the Eugene O’Neill house. And further afield: San Simeon, Madonna Inn, Gamble House, Huntington and Armand Hammer Museums, Las Vegas, Luxor Hotel, Mission San Antonio, Yosemite, Catalina Island,” McKee recalled. “Always a nice dinner accompanied by Donald’s new favorite cocktail, with long conversations into the night.”

Lots 103, 105 & 178: In honor of those favorite cocktails, the sale features the first American edition of The Savoy Cocktail Book, Group of Silver Drinking Articles, and the novelty “Dial-a-drink” cocktail shaker by Napier.

Lot 253 & 249: Donald loved timepieces. “Donald wore this wristwatch and pocket watch a lot. Donald had seen the pocket watch while window-shopping in San Francisco. He told me about it over lunch. By the end of the day, it was his.”

With the sale of the MacDermid Collection, “a new chapter begins. I will go back to Lugano for the dedication of Donald’s legacy gift at The American School in Switzerland, where it all started for us.”


Property from the Estate of Donald D. MacDermid Sold to Benefit TASIS The American School in Switzerland

Auction Wednesday, September 13, 2023 at 10am
Exhibition September 9 - 11

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