At Pokety, the priceless American Native paintings -- "The Peaceable Kingdom" with the lambs and the leopards lying down together, the stern 18th-century farm faces, the cat eating a bird -- stoically wait for the packers to come from the National Gallery of Art.
In the Great Hall, the Chinese Export porcelains -- painted with rare and beautiful flowers, ornaments and pictures, to beguile the foreign devils of the 1700s -- are arranged in family groups on every surface.
The magnificant 18th-century American furniture -- a tall clock (still marking the hours), a block-and-shell front kneehole desk, a spice cabinet, and many other rare examples of the craftsman's art -- waits for the sound of its dispersal at the auction hammer.
The rooms have a strange echoing feeling, as if they are missing the most important elements of all: the hand to caress the porcelain lotus, the eye to admire once again the lines of the mahogany secretary.
For the hearts of Pokety are gone. Col. Edgar William and Bernice Chrysler Garbisch, whose sure eyes and full pockets collected all this beauty are dead. They died Dec. 14 within hours of each other in the Dorchester County hospital. Col Garbisch, 80, died first of a massive stroke. His wife, 72, died a few hours later. Their 50th wedding anniversary would have been Jan. 4.
In that half century, they always had been together -- at dealers' shops to bargain for a painting, at auctions to bid record prices, at their apartment in New York (see accompanying story on this page), their winter home in Palm Beach and most of all Pokety.
At the end, they had assembled a collection that will not be seen again, and a reputation not only as connisseurs but as benefactors, principally to the National Gallery but also to other institutions and charities.
As an investor, Bernice Chrysler Garbisch did even better than her father, the late Walter Chrysler, founder of the automobile company, who left his children $8 million at his death in the '40s.
Sotheby Parke Bernet, the New York auction house that will sell the estate -- what's left after a large bequest of Naive paintings to the National Gallery -- in two weeks of sales, expects the contents of their homes to bring more than $10 million, the largest single-owner sale in this county.
The American collection will be sold May 22-24 at Pokety, according to Sotheby's Liz Robbins and Peggy Shannon.
The collection of French Impressionist, post-Impressionist and Modern paintings called "superlative" and counted as the finest such collection to come on the market in years, will be sold in New York at a festive evening sale on March 12. The fine French furniture and European porcelain from the New York apartment will be auctioned May 17, in New York.
Meanwhile, the Pokety mansion and its 594 acres are up for sale for $3 million by Sotheby's real-estate division.
The Garbisches left a son, Edgar William Garbisch Jr. of nearby St. Michaels, Md., a daughter, Gwynne Chrysler Severance of Newton Square, Pa., and three grandchildren.)
On the water side of Pokety, the carefully tended lawn, green and pleasant even in February, goes down to a brick wall at the edge of LeCompte's Bay, Billy, the bird dog, ran over it so fast that he looked as though he might take to the air himself. Every so often, he'd hear a bird and stop to point. Billy is the last of a long line of bird dogs that have romped and pointed through Pokety's wildfowl hunting grounds.
The young man was all braids and brass in his Pinkerton guard's uniform, but his speech was Eastern Shore. "Over in Cambridge," he said, "we didn't know nothing about the colonel owning all this valuable stuff." He whistled and threw a stick for the dog.
Inside the house, after cooking crabmeat and biscuits and miniature chocolate souffles for the visitors' lunch, the cook Nancy Chester, shook her head as she sat at the table in the servants hall, sorting recipes and memories.
"Seem like the colonel and Mrs. Garbisch will come walking through that kitchen door any minute now. My husband -- Benjamin, the butler -- and I have been here since 1945.
"They were nice people. They were always together. They really loved each other, not like a lot of rich people, always divorcing.
"He used to come in and sit on a chair in the kitchen and watch me cook. He liked to sit there of an afternoon."
The colonel, even at 80, looked like the All-American center on the West Point football team that he had been. He left the Army soon after graduating from West Point but he volunteered for military service during World War II. He won his colonel's rank and a Legion of Merit while serving as the commanding officer of the Providence and New York Engineer District. Later he was with General Food Sales Comapny and J. Sterling Getchell, Inc. advertising, and chairman of the board of Grocery Store Products Co.
His wife, a tiny, delicate woman, as fagile looking as the miniature furniture she loved, during those same years was the first Red Cross nurse's aide to serve in an Army hospital. She was proud of her record 3,000 hours at Holloran General and New York Hospital.
They were Republican and Episcopalian. A Retreat on LeCompete Bay
We had driven from Washington to Pokety in two hours, through the brilliant winter sunshine, turning the bay into prisms of light. Cambridge itself is a small town, the street lined with identical Victorian frame houses. Pokety is 10 miles out of the fishing village in the area called Castle Haven.
A business-like fense, richly festooned with Pinkerton guard signs, showed where Pokety's 594 acres began. A sign swinging from a high pole marked the entrance. The long asphalt road led past the farm, with the colonel's prize chickens (he used to sell eggs and mushrooms) and turned to go to the house.
The drive to the house is along an allee of cedars, Just before the house, a serious Pinkerton guard is in a trailer with an alarm system set down the road to warn of visitors. A circular drive around a planting area leads to the house and its welcoming veranda.
The house was built as a hunting lodge in 1929 by Mrs. Garbisch's Father, Walter Chyrsler. He had come to Pokety (from "poke" meaning a pocket or a sack? a corruption of "Picardy," the early name of the estate? or perhaps a corruption of an Indian name?) to hunt the geese and ducks of the Choptank River, which forms LeCompte Bay. Like all river houses this one has two faces: one to the road, the other to the water, where visitors were as likely to come.
The Garbisches came to Pokety in 1940, as a retreat from their wartime services.
The Garbisches remodeled the former lodge -- "Too rustic for me," Mrs. Garbisch said of her father's Great Hall with its open beams - from 1947 to 1950 to the design to Thomas J. Waterman, an architect who specialized in 18th-century architecture.Much of the wood and details of the house were brought from old houses. One story goes that the Garbisches hired a man in a helicopter to go around the countryside, looking for parts to buy from deserted and decaying houses. The house is comfortable rather than pretentious, in the spirit of country Georgian rather than city.
The outside is covered with white painted wood shake. The floor plan is a U-shape, with the servants wing (four bedrooms) on one side and the guest bedrooms and master suite on the other. The house is 2 1/2 stories, though it seems much smaller because its low lines and the heavy planting.
In the great hall of Pokety, Williams W. Sthal Jr., vice president of Sotheby and head of its American department, pointed out the treasures to me. s
From the veranda, you walk right into the great hall, the largest room of the house, furnished with soft, rather Art Deco upholstered sofas and chairs in greens, yellow and white.The walls are wood paneled, painted white -- nothing ostentatious, but the sort of wood tetailing, when you look at it close, you know cost thousands and thousands of dollars.
The furniture is arranged in two groups, around the opposing fireplaces. As is correct for the period, everything is in formal balance: The road door faces the river door, the two fireplaces are across from each other, the door to the bedroom wing is opposite the door to the dining room. And the furniture, too, is in matching units.
But for all its soft country voice, the room is layered with treasures. You soon see that there is hardly a square inch that isn't serving as a display place for some charming porcelain figure or a lavish lotus set of Chinese export porcelain.
Stahl put out a cigarette in a dish, murmuring, "This was used as an ashtray the last time I was here." And I wondered if he'd read my mental horrors at using anything in that room.
"That's all right," he said, with a laugh. "Once when I was here, I saw the grandchildren had been using Early American porridgers as missiles. The porridgers, worth $1,500 to $2,000 each, were used in the poolhouse as ashtrays." The Prize of the Great Hall
Many of their choicest pieces of American furniture came from the great Landsdale Christie sale, Oct. 1, 1972. This was a landmark American sale, bringing a total of $1 million. It is a measure of the inflation in prices in American furniture and arts that the Garbisch sale is expected to bring 10 times the Christie price.
Stahl pointed out the prize of the great hall, the Goddard-Townsend Chippendale block-and-shell carved kneehole desk (circa 1760-80). Stahl said that John L. Marion, president of Sotheby's, liked to tell how the Garbisches bought the desk.
"They were in Paris at the time. But Mrs. Garbisch had always wanted an import kneehole desk. They had talked with John Marion about the Lansdell L. Christie Collection, the most important American single-owner sale before this one. Christie's was absolutely uncompromising in quality."
Anyway, the Garbisches kept calling Marion almost every day before the sale for their bid on the desk. Finally, almost as the auction started, the Garbisches were on the phone again saying they had to have the desk. The piece went for $120,000, a record for an American piece of furniture.
The desk was attributed to Edmund Townsend, though now, Stahl said, two types of work have been identified from the Goddard-Townsend workshop in Newport, R.I. The difference is the nubmer of volutes (a scroll-like ornament) in the shells. Only about 15 examples are known, Stahl said. A particularly handsome one is in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the State Department.
The spice cabinet, from that same Christie's sale, sits down by the north fireplace in the great hall. The elaborate decoration is topped with a cartouche (a partly opened scroll).Because of the high cost of the imported spice, cabinets were appropriately made as treasure chests.
Several other spice cabinets and some miniature furniture are placed throughout the house. The handsome mahogany clock in the corner seems even taller by contrast.
Between the Great Hall and the dining room is a narrow china storage room with an astounding collection of rare and beautiful lotus porcelain: a punch bowl, dishes and many other shapes and sizes. In this closet, and another in the attic, are stacks of Chinese porcelain. The Fitzhugh patterned pieces are red, a rare color for Fitzhugh. Another pattern the Garbisches collected in quantity is the Cherry Pickers. a
In the dining room, and 1800 Baltimore sideboard has inlaid bells hanging from a loop.The other sideboard is from Springfield, Mass, by William Lloyd. The top is covered with Delft porcelain animals. The animals are charming, though it's hard to tell if one is a goat or a rabbit. Two Argand lamps (invented in in 1782 with a tubular wick) have been, unfortunately, wired for electricity. In another cabinet are two small silver creamers shaped, appropriately, like cows.
Beyond the great hall is the gun room, with a bar backed with rare 19th-century whiskey flasks (brown in molds -- a single rare blue one worth $200,000). In one corner is a collection of mechanical animals toys that play drums when you wind them up. On the door to the gun closet is the Naive painting, called "The Cat" (about 1840), showing a giant cat's head devouring a bird. In a minature secretary, valuable porcleain figures are tucked into the cubby holes, in peril of the dog's attentions.
On the shelf are medals from presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford and a Hapy Mother's Day plate, Bernice, 1979. Their Naive Beginning
According to the story, the Garbisches bought their first American Naive painting just because it seemed bright and cheerful and appropriate for a country home. They began to collect Naive paintings after World War II. They once said a dealer had nine and they bought four.
Elizabeth Shelton (in The Washington Post of July 23, 1968) told of the time the Garbisches bought a Naive iron statue of a housewife that once stood outside a dry-goods store in Connecticut. Col. Garbisch stuck it in the back seat of his car, only to be stopped by the police. They had seen the head and thought she was a corpse.
Stahl says a dealer told him that in the '40s Col. Garbisch had paid him $5 for a Fractur (a highly decorated Pennsylvania Dutch offical certificate). "He had bargained him down from $10," Stahl said. "He liked to bargain. Years later, we sold the yfractur for $7,500. I remember once when we were selling off some of their art, the colonel sat in our balcony and recalled for me what he'd paid for things orginally."
When the Garbisches began their collection, Early American "primitive" painting as it was called then, was not highly regarded and could be bought quite cheaply. The Garbisches liked the translation of primitive to "naif" when the painting were exhiobited in France, and used their influence to popularize the term.
Naive art is that made by untrained artists. It flourished in the United States in the early years, when academy art and books of paintings were seldom available to teach technique. Many of the works are portraits, painted by itinerant artists. Naive art declined in the mid-19th century after the invention of the camer and the rise of art classes.
In 1949, the Garbisches bought 500 paintings. But in later yeas, not so many were available nor were they as cheap. Still, in all, their collection amounts to 2,600 paintings. Some 265 are already in the National Gallery, on view in rotation in the Garbisch room. Others have been given to, among others, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Chrysler Museum, the latter founded by Mrs. Garbisch's brother, Walter J. Chrysler Jr., in Norfolk.
Among the four or five Edward Hicks paintings in the colonel's den is a fine example of his Peaceable Kingdom theme (he painted 60 in all). In this one, the aminals, including a sensuous leopard and the baby angels, look very real but off in a corner William Penn, signing the treaty with the Indians, looks ethereal. You can see the line of the shore going right through his middle. Stahl said you can always date a Hicks "Kingdom" painting by the leopaard. "They got more and more sexy and sensuous as he got older. The last one before his death is unbelievable." 'Not Rare, Just Good'
Down the hall are the bedrooms.In his last days, the colonel slept in the one with a pair of splendid friendship quilts. The room is furnished with a New Hampshire curly maple highboy; "not rare, just good," said Stahl. The miniature secretary was made by Edgar Sidick, a craftman of the 1700s on the Delaware-Pennsylvania border. The room also has a comfortable looking vinyl recliner, and a television set.
In other bedrooms on this wing are such joys as a Connecticut Valley lowboy and a mahogany table by Jacob Hismer. One of the best pieces is the John Seymour secretary desk, made in Boston probably in 1800. The elaborate pediment has a lock in it for the top part. There are tambour doors in the middle above lower drawers.
Upstairs, in the master bedroom is a fine portrait of all the family, painted by John Koch. Two dressing rooms and a bath are off this room as well as a sitting room. Steps off the hall lead to the attic, with its carefully laid out storage, like that of a museum, with more china and glass on every shelf.
We walked down the steps (by an electric receptacle grained to look like wood to match the pine paneling) and over to the swimming pool house. On one side is a pleasant sitting room with a big walk-in fireplace with a collection of 18th- and 19th-century brass and iron works, a late 18th-century Windsor chair, and a wagon seat. The early Virginia fan chair is rigged with a fan (made of horse hair) that is operated by a foot pedal. Stahl said one like it brought $10,000 as far back as 1968.
Upstairs in the guest bedrooms is a needlework rug that reads: This pair in bed are not yet wed. They can but bill and coo. To bundle may indeed be right. But keep that candle burning bright.
The Garbisch story is a romatic tale. As John Marion put it: "Edgar Garbisch was the all-American football player. Bernice Garbisch was the beautiful heiress." They fell in love with each other, with art and with antiques. Their great art collection popularized an entire new genre of art.Today, the great art estates are being dispersed to more modest collections. But the Garbisches' loves enriched all our lives. CAPTION:
Picture 1, Artist John Koch's 1955 painting shows the Garbisch family; Picture 2, in the great hall at Pokety with its Native paintings and early American furnishings; Picture 3, In the dining room is an 1800 sideboard with a collection of Delft porcelain animals; Picture 4, In the great hall is the highly-prized Goddard Townsend Chippendale kneehole desk; Picture 5, The drawing room in the Garbisch's more formal New York home is rich with French furnishings and paintings; Picture 6, The foyer is hung like a gallery with Picasso's Santo Seated With Arms Crossed" and Van Gogh's "Adeline Ravoux" on the walls. Photos from Sotheby Parle Bernet, New York; Picture 6, The hall leading to the back stairs is laid out like a museum, with treasures on every table top; Picture 7, the gun room in the south wing of the house has Vaive paintings on the wall and a collection of rare whiskey bottles on the shelves behind the bar; Picture 8, in a bedroom is one of the best peices of furniture in the house -- the John Seymour secretary, which was made inBoston (probably in 1800); Picture 9, The Garbiches "were always together." Photos from Sotheby Parke Bernet.