State of the Arts

S37 E4 | FULL EPISODE

State of the Arts February 2019

Laiona Michelle is the writer and star of Little Girl Blue: The Nina Simone Musical, a world premiere at George Street Playhouse. David Rago appears on Antiques Roadshow and has a busy auction house in Lambertville. Soprano Dawn Upshaw performs composer Maria Schneider's Winter Morning Walks with the NJSO. And we remember Geoffrey Hendricks, a member of the Fluxus artists group at Rutgers.

AIRED: February 19, 2019 | 0:26:47
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TRANSCRIPT

Narrator: In Lambertville, David Rago runs

one of America's top auction houses.

You may have seen him on "Antiques Roadshow."

Woman: Yes.

Rago: If you look at a piece of art...

it couldn't have happened anywhere else,

at any other time than where it was made.

It looks that way for a reason.

And if you understand where it came from

and why, you understand that work of art

in a way you never could otherwise.

Narrator: An all-new musical biography

about Nina Simone debuts at George Street Playhouse.

Michelle: And I knew wanted to deal with pieces of her life

that may be surprising for people.

Her first love was Johann Sebastian Bach --

who knew?

Narrator: We remember the "Cloudsmith,"

Rutgers professor Geoffrey Hendricks.

He was part of Fluxus, a group of artists expanding

what art could be.

Hendricks: Breaking open one's thinking

so that you move into a different realm of perception

and...

Narrator: Dawn Upshaw brings her Grammy-winning collaboration

with jazz composer Maria Schneider

and U.S. poet laureate Ted Kooser

to the New Jersey Symphony.

"State of the Arts," on location

with New Jersey's most creative people.

Announcer: The New Jersey State Council on the Arts,

encouraging excellence and public engagement

in the arts since 1966, is proud to co-produce

"State of the Arts" with Stockton University,

New Jersey's distinctive university.

Additional support is provided

by the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation...

Bramnick Law -- A personal injury law firm...

and these friends of "State of the Arts"...

♪♪

Michelle: ♪ Black is the color

♪ Of my true love's hair

Janki: Laiona is just uber-talented

and mind-boggling

when you see her on stage.

She does embody Nina.

I mean, I think that sort of

was her connection with the piece.

I think people told her, like,

"You're very much like Nina Simone."

Narrator: Broadway actress Laiona Michelle

has been fascinated by singer

and Civil Rights icon Nina Simone for years.

Simone: ♪ Ain't got no home

♪ Ain't got no shoes

♪ Ain't got no money

Michelle: I grew up listening to Nina's music.

My mother was the minister of music at our church,

and I grew up in a choir in church, just like Nina.

So we're kindred spirits, really.

And I remember hearing -- the first song I heard was

"I Loves You, Porgy."

And my mother would play that,

I'm like, "Who is this rich voice?"

Simone: ♪ Yes, I love you, Porgy ♪

♪ Don't let him take me

Narrator: Laiona has created a musical

based on the great singer's life.

She's both writer and performer.

"Little Girl Blue: The Nina Simone Musical"

premiered at the George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick.

It's a very personal take on the iconic singer's life.

Michelle: This piece is...

it's scary.

It's thrilling.

It's a roller coaster of a ride.

♪ Oh, being that my father's dreams ♪

♪ Would some day take me home ♪

And I knew that I wanted to deal with pieces of her life

that may be surprising for people,

that I found to be very surprising for me.

When I learned that she loved Bach --

her first love was Johann Sebastian Bach --

who knew?

So when I read that, I was like, "Wow."

So I knew that this was my way in, in telling her story.

It was her biggest disappointment, as well.

She wanted to be known as the first black --

African-American concert pianist.

And she didn't get that, you know?

She did not get that.

And it was because of her skin color.

I don't need treatment!

I was born a child prodigy, darling.

I was born a genius.

And I also thought it was important

that I dig a little deeper into her personal life

and talk about her mental illness.

And Nina carried around the label,

during her time, as being the "angry black woman."

And so I wanted to, like, put -- quiet those voices down a bit

and answer those questions inside of this show.

Why was she angry, you know?

Why was she so angry?

Narrator: The show has two acts, each set at a live concert,

10 years apart.

Michelle: We started in act one, in '68,

right after Dr. King's assassination.

So we're meeting Nina towards the earlier part of her career.

♪ It's a new dawn, it's a new day ♪

♪ It's a new life for me, yeah ♪

And then, in act two, we visit her in Switzerland,

where she's liberated.

You know, she's removed from the U.S.,

and she has a fighting spirit that is more free.

In Switzerland, she was so accepted

and looked at as being unique and special.

Fifer: One thing that Laiona really was able to capture

was her viewpoint on Nina's story,

and then to enhance the storytelling

with Nina Simone's song, which she performed,

but hearing them up against a narrative context

in the story that made you hear the words in a really new way.

Michelle: "Little Girl Blue," which is the title of the show,

"Little Girl Blue"...

I feel like this show is for everybody,

but I feel like, in particular,

it's for that broken little girl,

all those broken little girls out there who want something,

and they see something, but they really can't reach it.

Yeah, and that was Nina.

♪ That all you can ever count on ♪

♪ Are the raindrops

♪ That fall on little girl blue ♪

Narrator: Later on the show,

the haunting poetry of Ted Kooser

set to equally haunting music,

"Winter Morning Walks" with Dawn Upshaw

and the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra.

But first,

an expert from "Antiques Roadshow" on his home turf --

David Rago in Lambertville.

Narrator: The artsy river town of Lambertville, New Jersey,

is home to Rago, one of America's top auction houses,

known especially for selling ceramics, glass,

and 20th-century modern design.

Rago: This is what we do. We know 20th-century design.

We're a small auction house.

But for this particular thing,

we're one of the top auction houses

that sell 20th-century design anywhere.

Narrator: David Rago runs the business,

along with partners Miriam Tucker

and Suzanne Perrault.

David grew up not far away.

Rago: I grew up solid middle-class,

about 20 miles from here, on a Jersey farm, tomato farm.

And my father was involved in art.

He was a painter.

He'd be in the cellar doing oil painting,

and the smell would waft up into the kitchen.

It was something we grew up with.

So I was lucky to have had that

and that exposure to the arts at an early age,

in what was essentially farming country.

330. We have lot number 2,000.

I also like buying and selling stuff.

I used to have a little concession in the high school,

where I brought in coffee and doughnuts.

$9,000.

$9,500.

The two came together when I went to the flea market

for the first time as a seller, when I was 16, 17 years old,

in Lambertville, just down the street from here.

$10,000.

And it grew organically from that.

$11,000.

The whole business grew, organic.

They had no idea this was gonna happen.

$12,000.

$13,000.

On the phone with Alex, and at $13,000.

$14,000.

$15,000.

$16,000.

$16,000. Online. On Bidsquare.

With Alex. Last call, at $16,000.

Good for Betty.

Perrault: David has a good overview of things.

He has a tremendous memory.

Rago: $2,150. Thank you all very much.

Perrault: He has visual memory for pieces,

for people, places,

things he's eaten, wines he's drunk.

David forgets nothing.

So...it's very handy when you're in the antiques business.

Rago: We knew it was good when we found it,

and to be clear, this is not a sale that I manage.

I manage several auctions here a year,

but we have hired guns like Marion Harris and Mariam Tucker,

one of our owners, they manage this sale.

But I knew that this was a great piece when it was found.

We knew it had age.

Obviously the expression and the quality...

Perrault: He is very quick-thinking.

He is a deep thinker.

He's fair in his dealing.

Rago: One of the happy things about what we do,

in our business, is, no matter how much you know,

you can't know anything.

Perrault: He has a very big, generous personality.

Rago: Well, my primary specialty

has been ceramics, decorative ceramics.

I started in '72, '73, with porcelain,

most because I'm from the Trenton area,

and if you were raised middle class in Trenton --

and it's Trenton --

if you were raised middle class in Trenton,

then you knew not to break the Lenox china.

Every middle-class family had a couple pieces

in their little altar, their decorative-arts altar.

So I grew up knowing it was valuable,

and soon discovered low-end pottery at the time.

Roseville, which was just beginning to get hot,

and from Roseville it went to handmade ceramics

like Grueby, George Ohr...

George Ohr, the "Mad Potter of Biloxi."

And this pot was made in, with that mark, 1900, 1902.

He made 10,000 pieces.

They were all different.

He put these really cool purple glazes

and red glazes and gun-metal glazes on them.

And each piece is decidedly different.

This would have been purchased in '69 or '70 for maybe $5.

And today it's only worth about maybe $5,000 to $7,000 now,

but at one point, this might have been a $10,000 pitcher.

Narrator: David knows a lot about 20th-century ceramics,

and he shares his knowledge with people all over America

through his long-time work with "Antiques Roadshow,"

the most-watched ongoing series on PBS.

Rago: Obviously you have a piece of Picasso pottery here.

Woman: Yes.

Rago: From Vallauris, which is a ceramic-producing town.

It was a ceramic-producing town in France since Roman times.

When I was asked to be on "Antiques Roadshow,"

and I've been doing it for 24 years,

this is the 24th year, I was excited.

What I didn't expect was how much I would learn.

'Cause in this business,

people tend not to share their information.

It's valuable. Why would I want to tell a competitor

what I know about wedgewood,

Majolica wear from the Aesthetic Movement in Britain

in the third quarter of the 19th century?

Why would I share that with a competing auction house?

Well, you normally wouldn't.

But on that show, it's collegial.

We're expected to share that information.

It's Danish. Woman: Exactly.

Rago: The back and forth after a couple of decades

on "Roadshow" has been pure magic.

Please, tell us what you know about these pieces.

Woman: Well, I inherited them from my father.

Perrault: Then she went to the New York State ceramic school.

Narrator: Other appraisers from Rago

appear on "Antiques Roadshow," as well.

But according to Suzanne Perrault,

it's not about selling items.

Instead, it's about relationships.

Perrault: After you've spent the day

looking at thousands of objects

and talking to thousands of people,

so then, at the end you can't even speak, you can't smile,

'cause there's nothing left...

you're drained.

But there's five or six of you at the table,

from all different places in the country,

all different auction houses,

and private people, and museum people, whatever...

and you have been in the trenches together.

We have gotten to make these incredible relationships.

♪♪

Rago: We hold 13 auctions a year, more or less.

Of them, there are three high-end modern-design sales.

There are two to three day long auctions

with 1,000 to 1,400 lots.

Suzanne, my partner and bride, and I manage those.

Those are -- we're responsible for them.

And they're half our business, those three sales.

The other 10 sales can have some modern design,

but also jewelry, fine art, and sculpture, folk art,

some of the weird stuff we sell outside.

♪♪

Narrator: Putting together the catalogue

is a way of preparing for the live event.

♪♪

Perrault: He is a big-picture guy,

and I am more a T-crosser and an I-dotter.

So when we put the catalogue together, for example,

he is responsible for the rhythm of what is being sold when,

which is quite a skill.

Rago: This is the first time I've had a comprehensive idea

of what the sale looks like,

and already the wheels are turning about --

well, who would be bidding on these,

and which pieces am I worried about,

which pieces am I not worried about?

Perrault: We are trying to display this in either two,

three, four up, whatever, or single, to create a rhythm.

And David is very good at that --

create cycles of importance and drama.

Rago: And I like to have a sale that has a certain flow to it,

so I like to start it off high.

I learned that from the Skinner Auction Gallery.

They're friends of mine, up in Massachusetts.

They always start the sale off with a bang,

take it down a little bit, bring it back up,

and you keep this wave, this oscillating wave going.

$3,500 in the room now.

Gentleman's bid at $3,500 in the room.

And $3,750 is next.

To my absentee bidder with me, at $1,700.

How you doin'? Still my bidder, at $6,000.

Online now with $6,900 on Bidsquare.

And I'm out. Last call.

Fair warning.

At $3,000. $1,100.

I saw you first, at $1,100. Broke the order, bidder.

It's on the phone now, at $1,100.

With Kenna. $1,200, I've got.

Jeanie, how about $1,300?

$2,000 with me. $2,200 with me.

One more? $2,300.

In the room. And I'm out now.

Last call. Fair warning.

At $1,100. On Bidsquare.

As a friend of mine once said, "Ah, you auctioneers.

You'll sell our old sneakers if you could get

enough money for them." And there's truth to that.

We do have to stay in business.

But, by and large, each,

especially the privately held houses,

what you see are extensions of their own taste.

Hence, we like 20th-century design,

especially decorative art, ceramics, and glass.

So Suzanne, now, she'll sell any piece of glass

that's worth enough money, but her heart is really

in certain contemporary glass designers.

Perrault: I'm always excited about the contemporary glass,

and I'm the one who calls that portion.

And so I will...

when I go up there, I still have butterflies.

I'm still like "Oh my God, this is great,"

and, "Let's see how this goes."

$3,250. $3,250.

Preston Singletary is a Tlingit Native American

from the West Coast,

and he is sort of moving his tribe

and his tribe's culture into glass.

$4,750. And I'm looking for $5,000.

Thank you. $5,000.

And $5,500.

And $6,000, in the room. At $6,000.

And some of the results are just spectacular.

He does a lot of cameo glass.

He carves a second layer of glass.

They are gorgeous matte finishes.

And so we have three really fine pieces of Preston Singletary.

Last call, at $9,000. $9,000.

206, thank you.

Narrator: Tens of thousands of items flow through Rago

every year,

with works by some artists appearing time after time.

One of David Rago's favorites is furniture by George Nakashima,

from his nearby workshop in New Hope.

Rago: I think I know a few things

about the furniture of George Nakashima,

because we've been handling his work now for decades.

It's made around the corner from here.

We've sold thousands of pieces of it,

and there comes a piece I've never seen before,

and it's wonderful, it's powerful.

And I get excited about that. I don't need to own it.

To have it come in here, to touch it,

to catalogue it, to really get to know it,

to watch people's response to it,

to learn about the market for it,

that's enough for me.

If you look at a piece of art,

it couldn't have happened anywhere else,

at any other time than where it was made.

It looks that way for a reason.

And if you understand where it came from and why,

you understand that area and you understand

that work of art in a way that you never could otherwise.

It's a fingerprint.

It's cosmic energy as manifest and crystallized

in this one place, and one time,

and that fingerprint is on that thing.

And I find that most compelling.

♪♪

Narrator: Up next, star soprano Dawn Upshaw

with the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra.

Upshaw: ♪ My wife and I

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Narrator: That's it for "State of the Arts" this time.

Narrator: That's it for "State of the Arts" this time.

Narrator: That's it for "State of the Arts" this time.

Narrator: That's it for "State of the Arts" this time.

Narrator: That's it for "State of the Arts" this time.

Narrator: That's it for "State of the Arts" this time.

Narrator: That's it for "State of the Arts" this time.

Narrator: That's it for "State of the Arts" this time.

Narrator: That's it for "State of the Arts" this time.

Narrator: That's it for "State of the Arts" this time.

Announcer: The New Jersey State Council on the Arts,

Announcer: The New Jersey State Council on the Arts,

Announcer: The New Jersey State Council on the Arts,

Announcer: The New Jersey State Council on the Arts,

Announcer: The New Jersey State Council on the Arts,

Announcer: The New Jersey State Council on the Arts,

Announcer: The New Jersey State Council on the Arts,

Announcer: The New Jersey State Council on the Arts,

Announcer: The New Jersey State Council on the Arts,

Announcer: The New Jersey State Council on the Arts,

Announcer: The New Jersey State Council on the Arts,