Antique dealer Alvin Barr was surprised when a piece of pottery he owned was appraised at as much as $50,000 on Antiques Roadshow. So too was the pot’s creator, Betsy Soule.
“The potter has used an impressive array of techniques to come up with this extraordinary texture,” an Antiques Roadshow appraiser said of this piece — which turned out to be a high school art project. Courtesy of Antiques Roadshow/PBS hide caption
toggle caption Courtesy of Antiques Roadshow/PBS
It was the Antiques Roadshow dream: You show up with your weird-looking jug and explain that you paid $300 for it at an estate sale in Oregon. Then the expert announces …
“It’s bizarre and wonderful. You even see a little bit of, like, Pablo Picasso going on here. It’s a little difficult to identify precisely when this was made, but I think it’s probably late 19th or early 20th century. …
“Probably its origin — it’s coast of the United States, maybe Middle Atlantic states headed southward. Estimating its value is a little difficult. I think in a retail setting, somebody might well ask in the area of between $30,000 and $50,000 for this.”
The owner, astonished, said, “What!?”
And also, “No!”
Which, as it turns out, was the right reaction. The “Grotesque Face Jug” wasn’t a 100-year-old artifact, but the work of a creative high school student circa 1973.
A viewer recognized the jug as the work of one of her friends — Betsy Soule. Soule verified that, indeed, it was her student handiwork.
The new information led appraiser Stephen Fletcher to “reconsider” his evaluation of the jug, PBS notes. Fletcher maintained the jug “was modeled or sculpted with considerable imagination, virtuosity and technical competence.”
“This mysterious piece was reportedly found at an estate sale, covered with dust, straw, and chicken droppings, and purchased for $300,” Fletcher said. “As far as its age is concerned, I was fooled, as were some of my colleagues.
“The techniques of making pottery, in many ways, haven’t changed for centuries,” he added. “Obviously, I was mistaken as to its age by 60 to 80 years. I feel the value at auction, based on its quality and artistic merit, is in the $3,000-$5,000 range. Still not bad for a high-schooler in Oregon.”
For his part, the owner of the jug, Alvin Barr, says he is glad to hear the item isn’t quite so valuable. He told The Bend Bulletin that he packed it away for safekeeping when he thought it was worth $50,000.
“Now, it’s on my table, and I love it,” he says.
As for Soule, a horse trainer who doesn’t do much sculpting these days? She thinks even $300 was too much to pay for the piece. And if it had been in her hands —
“If I’d known he was that fond of it I probably would’ve just given it to him,” she told the CBC’s “As It Happens.”
First Lady Michelle Obama wears her signature cardigan while dancing with performers from the television show So You Can Dance during the annual White House Easter Egg Roll on April 6, 2015. Mark Wilson/Getty Images hide caption
toggle caption Mark Wilson/Getty Images
Ah, the cardigan: your granny’s cozy go-to used to be available year-round, but in limited quantities and colors. It was considered the sartorial equivalent of flossing: necessary, but not glamorous.
“The cardigan used to be something to keep you warm in the work place,” explains Teri Agins, who covered the fashion industry for the Wall Street Journal for years. “It was not really an accessory you left on—unless you wore it as part of a twin set.”
That look, sweater upon sweater, was considered too prim for a lot of young women. It was their mother’s look.
Enter Michelle Obama, and the game changed.
Hide captionPresident Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama walk along the Colonnade of the White House on Sept. 21, 2010. Michelle’s fashion choices have influenced designers’ profits.Pete Souza/White House
Hide captionMichelle poses with the co-hosts of The View on June 18, 2008. Her dress from White House/Black Market sold out completely after her appearance on the show.Steve Fenn/ABC via Getty Images
Hide captionThe Obamas hug after on day four of the Democratic National Convention in Denver on Aug. 28, 2008.Mark Wilson/Getty Images
Hide captionMichelle poses with Sarah Brown, the wife of British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, at 10 Downing Street, in London, on April 1, 2009. Her sweater sold out later that day.Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images
Hide captionThe First Lady and fashion designer Jason Wu stand next to the gown she wore to the inaugural balls at the Smithsonian Museum of American History on March 9, 2010 in Washington, D.C. Mrs. Obama continues a long tradition of first ladies who have donated their inaugural gown to be on display at the Smithsonian.Mark Wilson/Getty Images
Hide captionMichelle Obama takes the stage during the Democratic National Convention on Sept. 4, 2012 in Charlotte, N.C.Win McNamee/Getty Images
“She wore cardigans with her sleeveless dresses, wore a lot of print dresses with solid cardigans,” Agins says. She even sometimes belted her sweaters to show off her trim waistline.
And she didn’t just wear the sweaters behind closed doors at 1600 Pennsylvania. For a March 2009 Vogue interview about her new job, she wore a papaya cashmere cardigan with a soft ruffled blouse. When the Obamas made their first official trip to England, she donned a jeweled cream silk cardigan over a pale green pencil skirt when she visited 10 Downing Street. The London-based international press noticed. IDTV described the effect this way: “Her upbeat ensemble stood out alongside the British Prime Minister’s wife’s navy outfit.”
That sweater, from mid-market retailer J. Crew, sold out within hours the same day photos of Mrs. O were released. The total cost of the sweater and skirt (also J. Crew) was $400.
Kim Kardashian’s every outfit may be chronicled by photographers, too, but you don’t see sales of her cut-down-to-there dresses or super-shredded jeans selling out after those photos are published. Kardashian is a celebrity, but she does not move markets in the same way. Most celebrities don’t.
Michelle Obama does, and it’s often her more casual clothes that cause bottom lines and stocks to soar. There are even numbers that prove it: David Yermack, a professor of finance at NYU’s Stern School of Business actually tracked Mrs. O’s looks for about a year in a study that was published in the Harvard Business Review. How This First Lady Moves Markets looked at 189 outfits Mrs. O wore to public events from November 2008 through December 2009 and eyeballed 30 publicly traded stocks from the businesses whose brands the first lady wore. Yermack says the findings surprised even him:
“It was truly remarkable how much more effect Mrs. Obama had on the commercial fashion industry that almost any other celebrity you could find in any other commercial setting,” Yermack says. And it wasn’t just a freak blip on the graph: “This would be a very permanent thing,” Yermack emphasized. “The stocks would not go down the next day. So to put a number on it for just a generic company at a routine event, it was worth about $38 million to have Mrs. Obama wear your clothes.”
The brands tracked in the Yermack study yielded $2.7 billion in the cumulative appreciation of stock prices. While J. Crew had some of the biggest gains, clothes from Target, The Gap and Liz Claiborne also did well when Mrs. Obama wore them. As did high-end clothes from companies like LVMH—which owns Louis Vuitton and Givenchy, among others— and Saks Fifth Ave.
Markets can go up or down, professional fashion observers can praise or pan her, but Mrs. Obama herself has always downplayed her fashion savvy. She told ABC’s Robin Roberts in 2008 she felt there was some pressure to represent, since her clothes (like many first ladies’) were so closely scrutinized. “It’s hard,” she admitted to Roberts. “I’m kind of a tomboy-jock at heart—but I like to look nice.”
She has been widely praised for using clothes to reflect her personality and the occasion, but she hasn’t been perfect. Some people thought the red-and black Narcisco Rodriguez dress she wore in election night in Chicago was a risk that didn’t work. And there was a slight misstep on vacation the first year, when the Obamas visited a national park during a heat wave and the first lady exited Air Force One in shorts. (Sensible, but an apparent protocol no-no.) And some people, including the late Oscar de la Renta, thought a sweater — even, apparently, a very expensive one by Azzedine Alaia — was a little too casual to wear for drinks with Queen Elizabeth. He told Women’s Wear Daily, “You don’t … go to Buckingham Palace in a sweater.” He was also critical of her decision to wear an Alexander McQueen gown to a state dinner in 2011. (De la Renta later softened his stance on Michelle Obama’s choices, saying, “she’s a great example to American women today.”)
But when FLOTUS got it right, she really got it right: the full-skirted dresses in bright prints she’s worn since day one. The simple sheaths in jewel tones. The sleeveless dresses and blouses. The flats. Those looks translated into sales.
And the cardigan:
“The sweater business traditionally would not be doing well in a time like this,” says Marshall Cohen, who analyzes retail fashion for the market research firm NPD. “However, there are certain styles within the category that are doing well.”
And it’s probably not coincidental that Michelle Obama has glamorized this once-mundane staple. Her way of dressing has resonated with American women, says Robin Givhan, the Pulitzer Prize-winning fashion critic for the Washington Post.
“One of the really vital things that Michelle Obama has done, is she’s wearing real fashion,” says Givhan, who covered the first lady for her first year in the White House. Mrs. Obama’s decision to wear consciously un-corporate looks, Givhan says, “was her own use of fashion as a way of defining who she was going to be in the White House.”
Mrs. Obama was going to continue being what she had been—a working wife and mother, wearing what she liked, what was comfortable and what worked for her. In doing that, Givhan says, the first lady was not so much initiating change as reflecting how women around the country already had begun to change their own look—dresses instead of suits, sweaters instead of jackets, bare legs instead of pantyhose. Those choices struck a plangent note.
“When Michelle Obama came along and made all these these things a matter of course,” Givhan says, “I think it validated a lot of things they were doing, and also validated things that they wanted to do but often felt they weren’t allowed to.”
Unlike style, fashion used to be restricted to a fairly small group: the young, the thin, the wealthy … and the white. Michelle Obama broadened the serious fashionista membership, says Teri Agins. And not just in dress size and economic status.
Besides Oprah, “we haven’t seen many middle-aged, brown-skinned women who have been celebrated for their beauty and style.”
And for decades, we haven’t seen women of any race or age who have been able to make cash registers ring simply by stepping out the front door.
Safe to say the fashion industry is going to miss this Obama Effect.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel speaks at the 84th winter meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors in January in Washington, D.C. Mandel Ngan /AFP/Getty Images hide caption
toggle caption Mandel Ngan /AFP/Getty Images
Embattled Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel says he will disband the city’s police oversight agency. It is charged with investigating police shootings and misconduct — but it has long been criticized for slow investigations that rarely result in disciplinary action.
NPR’s Martin Kaste tells our Newscast unit that scrapping the Independent Police Review Authority is a response to a crisis of confidence in Chicago’s police. Here’s more from Martin:
“Chicago’s Independent Police Review Authority was created a decade ago during a previous push for tougher oversight of police misconduct, but it failed to deliver. Only two percent of claims against officers were ever upheld — and the vast majority of complaints got stuck in bureaucratic limbo, never resolved one way or the other.”
As NPR’s David Schaper has reported, a Chicago Police accountability task force released a scathing report last month. It called for a “major overhaul in the way [the department] investigates officers and holds police accountable,” citing a “racist history and use of excessive force.” The report stressed a “fundamental lack of accountability and a stunning lack of transparency” within the country’s third-largest police department.
It called for the Independent Police Review Authority to be replaced by a new, transparent Civilian Police Investigative Agency.
That’s what Emanuel said he will do now, in his letter published in The Chicago Sun-Times. He says the new agency will have “more independence and more resources to do its work.”
He adds: “It is clear that a totally new agency is required to rebuild trust in investigations of officer-involved shootings and the most serious allegations of police misconduct.”
As we reported, Emanuel has faced mounting criticism, much of it related to the way a 2014 police shooting was handled:
“Emanuel has come under pressure since the November release of police dashcam video showing an officer shooting a black teenager, Laquan McDonald, 16 times. Protesters have since demanded the mayor’s resignation. Thousands of emails released [in December] showed close communication between Emanuel’s office, the police and the organization that investigates the police in the aftermath of deadly force incidents. And Chicago’s police force is currently facing a Justice Department civil rights investigation.”
Lori Lightfoot, the head of the Chicago Police Board who led the task force investigation, welcomed the move but “cautioned that it lacks important details,” the Chicago Tribute reports. “The devil will be in the details,” Lightfood says. “How it will be different (from IPRA) is a fundamentally important question.”
Fish swim amid bleached coral near Lizard Island, Australia. CoralWatch hide caption
toggle caption CoralWatch
The massive bleaching hitting the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia is likely that country’s “biggest ever environmental disaster,” says Dr. Justin Marshall, who has studied the reef for three decades.
Only 7 percent of the reef has escaped bleaching, according to researchers at the ARC Center of Excellence. Marshall, a professor at the University of Queensland, says the destructive phenomenon is happening in an area the size of Scotland.
“Before this mass bleaching started, we already were at the point of losing 50% of the coral cover on the Great Barrier Reef. This, I think, will probably take another 50% off what was left,” Marshall says.
Over the course of the last six months, Marshall and his colleagues with the citizen science project Coral Watch have documented the degradation of reef structures near Lizard Island, one of the worst-hit areas.
They photographed the same formations of coral multiple times, showing clearly the pace of the destruction.
“It was a beautiful, wonderful paradise of reef structure and animals, and it’s not there anymore. Or it is — but it’s a slime ball, it’s a gloomy place,” Marshall says.
In this series of photos, you can see first that the coral is healthy – then, bleached. Algae begin to grow on the coral, which later intensifies, eventually resulting in disintegration of the coral and the loss of a habitat.
Photo (1), taken in Dec. 2015 shows healthy coral near Lizard Island. The coral in photo (2) from March is bleached. In April, as shown in photo (3), algae begin to grow on the coral. Finally, in photo (4) from May, you can see heavy algal overgrowth. CoralWatch hide caption
toggle caption CoralWatch
Bleaching is caused by warmer-than-usual water temperatures that stress the coral, as The Two-Way has explained:
“Coral bleaching occurs when the living organisms that make up coral reefs expel the colorful, photosynthetic algae that normally live inside their bodies, and provide them with food. Those algae give coral reefs their color and disappear when the reefs are exposed to stressful climatic conditions, such as temperatures even a few degrees higher than normal.”
The phenomenon is linked to global climate change, says Marshall: “Mass coral bleachings have only been happening for 20 years, and they are irrevocably, totally, absolutely linked to man-induced climate change.”
The New York Times reports climate change has compounded “heat stress [to the reefs] from multiple weather events including the latest, severe El Niño.”
This series of images taken by Coral Watch shows a close-up of healthy coral’s progression through bleaching, and later covered with thick algae.
Photo (1) shows healthy coral. It’s then seen bleached (2). Photo (3) shows dead coral with a film of algae, which grows thicker in photo (4). CoralWatch hide caption
toggle caption CoralWatch
This is the ominous final photo in the series:
Bleached coral near Lizard Island showing heavy algal overgrowth. CoralWatch hide caption
toggle caption CoralWatch
Scientists are concerned about reefs worldwide. “We are currently experiencing the longest global coral bleaching event ever observed,” C. Mark Eakin, the Coral Reef Watch coordinator at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Maryland, tells The New York Times. “We are going to lose a lot of the world’s reefs during this event.”
Now, Australia’s summer is ending and the water is cooling down. Marshall says some of the bleached coral is beginning to recover — but much of it is dying. He says that reefs in the area where these photos were taken could see 90 percent mortality.
Longer term recovery can happen over the course of years and even decades, should corals regrow and recolonize. Marshall compares it to “cutting down a forest and then regrowing trees.”
He adds: “I will probably never see the Great Barrier Reef in the state that it was in six months ago ever again.”