The above-pictured slate and walnut bookends were manufactured by Harpswell House, a family-owned company in Maine. The pieces are made by a patented process of laminating walnut or other wood with black slate, once mined in both Maine and Pennsylvania. The company used this process to create a variety of household objects, including trays, clocks, trivets, bookends, ice buckets, and the like; in fact, the company is still active and continues to produce similar pieces through the present day.
Various art and antique dealers, as well as several nationally recognized auction houses, have indicated that these pieces were designed as part of the artistic collaboration between Paul Evans and Phillip Lloyd Powell. At least one has indicated that Harpswell House was the fabricator for Evans/Powell designs.
Powell and Evans, who worked together between 1955 and 1966, did collaborate on a number of small household accessories, including candlesticks, a lighter, a cigarette box, and an ashtray. These accessories, created between 1956 and 1959, were crafted from rosewood and pewter, and many are signed by Evans. The pieces produced by Harpswell House bear slight similarities to the signed Evans/Powell pieces, and even more stylistic similarities to some of Powell’s furniture; furthermore, Powell often worked in slate and walnut. For a gallery of Harpswell House designs as well as some of the Powell furniture, please visit our Pinterest gallery by clicking here.
Despite the similarity of lines and materials, there are a number of difficulties with the attribution. First of all, Paul Evans’s family has indicated that he signed most of his work (and, indeed, most of the rosewood and pewter pieces are signed) while an Evans-signed example of the slate and wood pieces does not seem to exist. Powell, for his part, is credited with creating fewer than 1,000 pieces over his lifetime, and does not seem to have had any pieces fabricated on a scale as large as the Harpswell House line. Furthermore, a Harpswell House representative has said that no records exist in the company’s files regarding the designer of the bookends and other pieces, and the curator of the Evans exhibit at the Michener has said that she has found no documentation linking the men to the Harpswell House pieces.
The most compelling piece of evidence against any Evans/Powell connection to the Harpswell House line comes from the patent referenced on the Harpswell House label itself. The patent, filed by Winthrop Brown in 1961 and granted in 1964, describes a wood and slate laminating process which “will have diversity of uses in that it may be advantageously incorporated in elements of buildings such as floors, stairs and treads, walls, etc. as [w]ell as in furniture and giftware, such as decks for tables, sideboards, counters, boxes and cabinets, trays and in manifold other associations.” Among the diagrams submitted as part of the patent application is a piece which looks very much like the bookends depicted above. Neither Evans’s nor Powell’s name appears on the patent, which dates toward the very end of the men’s collaboration and years after the creation date of their household accessories.
Given the lack of any concrete documentation connecting Paul Evans and Phillip Lloyd Powell to Harpswell House, the frequent attribution of slate and walnut household pieces to the two men seems inaccurate.
References and Further Reading