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By Gladys Montgomery

Lifestyle: Sense of Place, Strong Local Roots Define this Collection by Gladys Montgomery
Lifestyle: Sense of Place, Strong Local Roots Define this Collection by Gladys Montgomery
There's a story that Litchfield, Connecticut, antiques dealer Jeffrey Tillou likes to tell. It is about a certain high chest in the eighteenth-century tavern he calls home. A Connecticut piece, the chest had stood in the house for decades during the home's previous ownership. It remained in that family when, in 1962, antiques dealers Floyd 'Pete' Toms and Peter Tillou, Jeffrey's father, were enlisted to sell the home's contents. Shortly after he bought the house in 1996, Jeffrey Tillou acquired the piece by happenstance. The dealer who called him about the high chest, which was languishing in a trailer home in Watertown, Connecticut, knew about its Litchfield provenance, but did not know Tillou was living in the house from which it had come.

Above: Jeffrey Tillou, center, with his sons Xander (right) and Harrison (bottom.)

Top Right: The south-facing main facade of Jeffrey Tillou's home, set across from the town common and east of the church, shows typical vernacular architecture of the Georgian period. Built in 1770, and joined to an older gambrel-roofed house to the rear, it features a double overhang, five-bay design, with a broad center entry hall, and six fireplaces, and initially served as a public tavern. In 1812, the property changed hands. Its new owner added its few Federal features, such as its entrance porch and fanlight over the front door, and he moved a circa-1760 apothecary shop next to the house; it is thought to be the oldest surviving commercial building in northwest Connecticut.

Bottom Right: The flat-top high chest in the tap room descended in the Turkington family of Litchfield, Connecticut, and stood in this house for many years. Jeffrey Tillou serendipitously acquired the piece from a dealer who knew about its Litchfield provenance, but did not know Tillou resided in a house to which it was connected.1 Arrayed on top are 1800 to 1840 Midwestern swirled, blown flasks in rare colors including citron, aqua, and amber.

LEFT: The tap room's cage bar was based upon physical traces of the original structure on plaster and flooring, though the new version's countertop was lowered by six inches. With a mid-eighteenth-century salvaged Connecticut stone sink and period-accurate smoke graining, it is furnished with two signed Hubbard and White, Boston, weaver's chairs; a Federal-era wine rack; an American 'Bar and Grille' trade sign dating from 1880-1910 and found in Litchfield; and diminutive American weathervanes, including a scroll arrow banner, a stagecoach, and farm animals.

RIGHT: The tap room's Georgian-period corner cupboard, from a Litchfield house that was being torn down, was embellished with a new keystone and fluted columns. It displays blue-and-white Delft chargers, miniature garniture vases, and an etched and engraved glass, from the mid-eighteenth to early-nineteenth centuries, flip glasses with covers, and Bohemian, English and Dutch twisted-stem wine glasses. The new maple William and Mary-style dining table, by Sheffield, Massachusetts, cabinetmaker, Geoffrey Holmes, displays a pair of Queen Anne candlesticks, made in Birmingham, England, and dating from about 1750; fossil chargers are from Madagascar (the Malagasy Republic); the chairs are reproduction sack-back Windsors. The 1840s view of Lake George by an unknown artist (which still bears its old Knoedler Gallery stamp) is flanked by early-eighteenth-century Dutch brass wall sconces with repoussé decoration. Beneath, a circa-1760 Massachusetts Queen Anne maple drop-leaf table with cabriole legs and pad feet displays sea shells and a hollow-stem, blown-glass compote with swag and floral decoration dating from 1820-1830 and possibly made in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Caucasian carpet is a Karabagh.

In the tap room, a Plains Indian child's dress with a beaded yoke and an assembled pair of circa-1860 amethyst Sandwich tulip vases stand atop a New Hampshire Federal-period flame cherry and cherry wood reeded bow-front card table.

The object and its story, Tillou says, 'give me goose pimples.' But the high chest is just one of the storied Litchfield and Connecticut pieces that comprise half of Tillou's collection, which focuses on material dating from 1650 to 1820. These include a rare, circa 1765, matching Connecticut River Valley Queen Anne cherry bonnet-top high chest and dressing table; a circa circa-1715 Queen Anne mirror that descended in one of the town's earliest families, the Vanderpools; and a Wadsworths, Lownsbury and Turners mantel clock, dating to 1815, with a reverse painting showing the Litchfield church, parsonage, and Tillou's house. 'These things are precious to me, because they are from Litchfield and they represent relationships with other dealers and with clients I've served,' Tillou notes.

The dealer, who is a couple of summers shy of his fortieth birthday, began collecting furniture, decorative arts, and art in earnest in 1996 when he purchased his Litchfield home. Like a collection that might have been amassed during his 1650-1820 focal period, it encompasses furniture, decorative arts, and art from the United States, Europe, and Asia, and displays a naturalist's passion for fossils, shells, ammonites, reptiles, and tribal artifacts. This sort of scope, Tillou maintains, 'is what makes a good collection.'

The tap room fireplace, with King of Prussia marble, stone hearth, and period-accurate smoke graining, is fitted with a pair of choice circa-1750 Pennsylvania diamond-and-flame-finial andirons. Above, hangs an incised and carved boy's or lady's circa-1785 Kentucky flintlock rifle with a tiger maple stock and a silver cheek plate. On the mantel, nineteenth-century Hessian soldiers, separated from their andirons, flank a Wadsworths, Lownsbury and Turners clock, dating to 1815; its eglomisé tablet shows the Litchfield church, parsonage, and Tillou's house. At left, a banister-back arm chair attributed to Milford, Connecticut, cabinetmaker Andrew Durand (1702-1791) stands beneath a rare, circa-1775 Connecticut Chippendale mirror with a heart and crown crest. At right, an ancestor portrait of John Vincent Tilyou (1792-1848).

Unexpectedly - and refreshingly - since the setting is a proper Georgian vernacular house furnished with appropriate antiques - Tillou's collection also expresses his passion for rock and roll music and related portrait photography. Purchased at the Morrison Hotel Gallery in New York City, black and white images by legendary photographers Herb Greene, Baron Wolman, and Jim Marshall include portraits of Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, John Coltrane, Jerry Garcia, Jimmie Hendrix, Taj Mahal, and other music luminaries. Somehow it all works. The portrait of the fresh-scrubbed and as-yet-unspoiled Janis Joplin bears an uncanny affinity across time with the circa-1830 visage of Eliza Field Tilyou (1794-1843), the wife of John Vincent Tilyou (whose portrait hangs in the tap room), ancestors whose family were among the founders of New York's Coney Island Amusement Park.

The eglomisé (reverse painted) tablet of a Wadsworths, Lownsbury and Turners clock, dating to 1815, shows the Litchfield church, parsonage, and Jeffrey Tillou's house.

Punctuating the view from the tap room, through the center entrance hall and into the front parlor, are a circa-1800, knuckle-arm, sack-back Windsor chair attributed to Lisbon, Connecticut, maker Amos Dennison Allen; two circa-1860 Caucasian carpets; a circa-1800 turned shaft maple candlestand displaying an urn-form covered compote of English origin; and a circa-1750 Queen Anne cherry tall clock with a pagoda top, step down base, silver dial, and silver-and-brass eight-day movement.

Jeffrey Tillou's experience as a collector has roots in his childhood. His father, dealer Peter Tillou (who himself began collecting early on, inspired by his mother who was a painter and an uncle who was a paleontologist with the Smithsonian Institution), ran his antiques business out of the family home in Litchfield. At the age of twelve, visiting flea markets with his father, Jeffrey began collecting blown glass and chestnut bottles. Two of his major interests today are etched and engraved glass and Sandwich glass, some of which was acquired from author and scholar Ray Barlow.

While attending Rollins College, Tillou split his summers between playing golf in AGA junior events, working at Sloans Auctioneers and Appraisers (now Sloans and Kenyon, in Chevy Chase, Maryland), and with his father in London, where the elder Tillou ran a gallery. The second-generation dealer anticipated a golf career, but, graduating in 1992 with a degree in art history (with a focus in Dutch and Flemish Old Master paintings), he began doing antiques shows - the first in December of 1992 and twenty-eight a year later, with a $30,000 inventory of consigned pieces. In 1993, he returned to Litchfield and, unbeknownst to his father, opened a small antiques store, the only one in town. Tillou recalls, 'My father said - in a very supportive voice - I wish you luck, but you may starve up there.' Fortunately, the younger dealer prospered. In 2000, he purchased and restored a three-story brick building that now houses his antiques business. 'I realized I wanted to deal in the best,' he says.

LEFT: The Georgian-era front door, with its original strap hinges, is surmounted by a Federal-period fanlight, which was probably added by the house's second owner. The eagle shield is a mid-nineteenth century copper parade banner, retaining its original paint. In the corner, a circa-1700 English paneled walnut and oak table features a paneled drawer and block and turned legs and stretchers. It displays a 1790s mahogany knife box, with its original brass lock and handles, flanked by a pair of Chinese export bulb vases. The reverse-painted portrait on glass is circa 1810. Above it, a mid-nineteenth century New England maple hanging shelf displays, on its upper shelf, a rare emerald-green Sandwich, Massachusetts, vase with edges in the form variously called 'tulip' or 'celery,' flanked by two pairs of Sandwich candlesticks in emerald and the translucent white, traditionally called 'clam's broth' on Cape Cod. On its lower shelf are Zanesville, Ohio, swirled, globular bottles, a blue-ribbed bottle, a blown Schnapps bottle, and an amber drinking glass from Willington, Connecticut. The Continental, circa-1710-1715 Queen Anne mirror was brought to this country by the Vanderpool family of Litchfield, in which it descended.

RIGHT: The entry hall's focal point is a humorous circa-1780 'Drinking Scene,' by Austrian artist Franz Sigrist (1727-1803). This work is closely related to a work commissioned by Bishop Karl Graf Esterhazey, which Sigrist painted for the Lyzeum at Eger in Hungary; it shows the same interest in facial structure and gesture enhanced through color. The painting (which is flanked by reproduction sconces in a period design) surmounts a circa-1700 English William and Mary oak hall table with carved drawer fronts, block-and-turned legs, and a stretcher base. It displays a circa-1770 blown-glass, peacock-blue German drinking daumer with applied rings and finger-holds (center), along with early eighteenth-century incised, cobalt- and manganese-decorated German Westerwald stoneware, including tankards with their original lids. The chairs are circa-1740 Connecticut banister backs, with rush seats, and rare heart and crown crests. Underfoot is a Kazak runner in the foreground. Georgian-period architectural details, including raised-panel wainscot and staircase, are original.

In the entry hall, a Federal-period bell jar lantern dates from the early nineteenth century. The New England settle bench, dating from the same period and having an inset panel back, was found on Cape Cod in untouched condition. The circa 1770 Chippendale mirror on the end wall is English, marked George Kemp and Son, London. At right, a Federal mirror, bearing its original gilt and applied ball decoration, boasts an eglomisé tablet depicting a hunting scene with birds, hounds, and hunters carrying Kentucky rifles. The diminutive weather vane, dating from the third quarter of the nineteenth century, is a form known as 'Prancing Dixie,' after a winning thoroughbred of that era. It sits atop an elegant serpentine front mahogany Hepplewhite card table, dating from about 1790, and having flame birch panels, inlaid edges and banding, and tapered, slightly splayed legs.

Across the town green from his shop and next to Litchfield’s iconic steepled church, Tillou's property was originally part of a fifteen-acre parcel belonging to Timothy Collins, the town's first Congregational minister. The Georgian-period post-and-beam house was built in two phases. The rear section is believed to have been constructed in the second quarter of the eighteenth century; it may be the oldest structure in the borough of Litchfield. The larger, stately, front portion, a Georgian vernacular structure with a double overhang, five-bay design, broad center entry hall, and six fireplaces, was erected in about 1770, and served as a public tavern operated by Timothy's son, John. In 1812, the property was acquired by Luke Lewis, who added the home's few Federal features, such as the fanlight and entrance porch. Lewis also moved a circa 1760 apothecary shop next to the house; it is thought to be the oldest surviving commercial building in northwest Connecticut. Later in the nineteenth century, the residence became a boarding house, and, in the twentieth century, it was owned by the Turkington family, in which the storied high chest descended.

The front parlor contains a treasured circa-1765 Connecticut River Valley cherry bonnet-top high chest, having carved shells and drawer and its original cast pierced brass and bail handles and central finial; it matches a dressing table in the room. The 1750 maple Queen Anne tray table holds a lamp made from a mid-nineteenth-century stoneware jug, while a late-eighteenth-century apothecary countertop, purchased from the late dealer and friend, Steve Garner, displays a naturalist's collection of shells, fossils, ammonites, and minerals. It is surrounded by early-nineteenth-century child-sized New England Windsors. The fireplace's New England, Federal-period brass fender is part of a set with matching andirons and hearth tools. Above the fireplace is a gilded pointer weathervane, modeled after the famous J. Howard and Company mid-nineteenth-century original, featured in Spiritually Moving, A Collection of American Folk Art Sculpture by Thomas Geismar, Harvey Kahn, Ralph Sessions, and Dave Hoffman (Harry N. Abrams, 1998). The Caucasian-style carpet is 1940s.

A cigar store Indian maiden made in Brooklyn, New York, circa 1875, probably by Samuel Robb and advertising 'Segars and Tobacco,' dominates a corner of the front parlor. To the left are a mid-eighteenth-century New England Queen Anne arm chair still in its original red wash, and the dressing table that matches the room's high chest.

LEFT: The keeping room's large cooking fireplace, built of Connecticut granite, houses two beehive ovens. The hearth, which contains its original trammel rod to hang pots for cooking, displays late-eighteenth- and early-nineteenth-century cooking utensils, along with a pair of circa-1740 knife-blade andirons with diamond-and-flame finials. On the mantel, an array of redware and, at center, a 1751 Continental charger with stylistic ties to Pennsylvania pieces; a circular treen tray; two early-nineteenth century spirit bottles with their original labels, a pair of mid-nineteenth-century carved marble urns from Vermont, a circa- 1700 Bellarmine jug, and two fire buckets, including, at left, one from the Lewis family, who owned the house. The tree trunk table is from Bali, while the wood box is a chip-carved, circa-1740 dough chest from Eastern Europe, possibly Romania; the carpet is from northern Persia. The little match holder on the wall is cast iron with gilt decoration.

RIGHT: In the upper stair hall, a circa-1815 New England basswood breakfront, which retains its original mahogany-grain-painted surface, contains Staffordshire figures dating from 1785 to 1820 (from the collection of mid-twentieth-century collector Melanie Miller), Liverpool jugs, Toby mugs, Sandwich glass, and pearlware, creamware, and Delft ceramics. The New England, circa-1750 transitional Queen Anne/Chippendale side chair at left features a rush seat, pierced slat, and Spanish feet, and black paint applied in the nineteenth century. The country Chippendale chair at right, from the same time period, has a splint-woven seat and is of Connecticut origin. Hanging above them in period lemon gilt frames are circa-1850 paintings by unidentified American artists: at left, a still life oil on board, and at right, an oil on canvas landscape with cows.

The circa-1765 Connecticut River Queen Anne cherry dressing table, matching the high chest also in the front parlor, descended through a prominent New England family. It displays a pair of Continental, circa-1830, turned lignam vitae candlesticks and a Plains Indian pipe with a wooden stem, porcupine quills, and feather decoration. Above, a circa-1850 still life by an unidentified American artist includes an unusual element: ripe raspberries.

Purchasing the property in 1996, Tillou embarked on a 'full-on restoration' of what was then a two-family 'diamond in the rough.' In the tap room, 'there was evidence in the old plaster showing exactly how things had been.' Thus, he was able to recreate the room's cage bar, copying the balusters for its grille from the staircase. In the entry hall, historic paint samples were analyzed by Stulb Paints to yield a rich, bluish Litchfield Cadet Gray. Throughout the house, original floorboards, raised field Georgian paneling, interior raised-panel shutters, and windows with period sash and glass were lavished with TLC.

Mounted on the original Georgian-era raised field paneling of an upstairs parlor chamber is a weathervane, 'perhaps the largest in that form I've seen,' Tillou notes. The trotter, attributed to Harris and Company, Boston, measures forty-nine inches in length and thirty-two inches tall; its copper body boasts 'an untouched surface' of original gilt mixed with verdigris. The country Chippendale rush-seat chair is unusual for the mid-nineteenth century landscape scene on its crest, which adapted what was then an outdated piece to new decorative fashions.

This platinum print photograph of Jerry Garcia (1965), taken by Herb Greene, is one of fifty to sixty that Tillou owns and which were taken by Baron Wolman, Greene, and Jim Marshall. Among them are three box sets, each comprised of twelve first edition platinum prints. The subjects are rock, jazz, and blues artists.

Like his father, Jeffrey is constantly developing new interests; as a collector, he says it's his privilege to 'come home and appreciate these things.' And, like his father, he takes enormous pleasure in sharing his enthusiasm with others. He tells another story, about his son Xander, who, dressed improbably in a suit and tie, went to elementary school one day with two Plains Indian artifacts in hand - a war club and a beaded leather child's dress - to give a speech about Lewis and Clark. Tillou's face creases into a smile as he tells that story. Like father, like father, like sons.

In sons Xander and Harrison Tillou's rooms, on the third floor, beams show the home's post-and-beam structure. On a far wall, a reproduction unicorn fraktur is one of two commemorating their births. A mounted tarantula and hanging puffer fish are among the many creatures found displayed around portions of the house.

A massive tavern sign, measuring about forty by forty-five inches, has been traced to Colonel Abel Chapin, who built a large home in Chicopee Falls, Mass., overlooking the Connecticut River in 1785. The colonel and his two sons, Abel and Sumner raised cattle for the New York and Brighton markets. Pine with poly-chrome paint, and dating from 1830-1850, the sign has a textured surface and gilt paint lettering. An account published in 1899 says the Chapin's homestead served as a tavern and farm headquarters. That 'hanging out under the old elm tree, the sign...told of good cheer and hospitality within. This (double-sided) sign...shows on one side haystacks and sheaves of grain, on the other an ox and sheep...' At right, a circa-1820, New England Sheraton one-drawer work table anchors a Federal-period column mirror bearing its original gilt finish and a eglomisé tablet depicting an eagle and a rare, early-twentieth-century folk art sculpture of an eagle. Tillou relates the story of its maker, H. Winter, who retired from New York City to Long Island, and carved a number of sculptures from a windfallen walnut tree on his property; when the wood was gone, he stopped carving.

An upstairs hallway contains a circa-1870 pastel of a peach by J. Bauer (ca. 1870-1880), which overhangs a 1780 Connecticut cherry octagonal tray-top candlestand displaying a miniature eighteenth-century-style chair made in the nineteenth century. At right, a circa-1820 New England mahogany hanging shelf with shaped sides holds reproduction mochaware mugs by Don Carpentier. Beyond, a circa-1775 English Chippendale mirror with mahogany veneer and a pierced crest with phoenix motif hangs beyond a bed draped in a circa-1850 overshot coverlet.

1. A granny note explains, 'The highboy came from my Aunt Louise Turkington, sister of my mother, Ruth Turkington Crutch. The piece had been at the (Litchfield) home of Louise and her parents (my grandparents), William E. Turkington (1869-1932) and Lillian Morgan... The highboy came to that household from William H. Turkington, Sr. and his wife, Julia Daley (1828-1907) of Morris, Connecticut. I believe it came down from Juila's father, Henry E. Daley, Esq. (born in Watertown, Connecticut 1795). I know that the piece has been in this family since its original purchase and was made in Connecticut.'

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