Showcasing the Collection
The house itself is a testament to the
Holcomb’s appreciation for history; their
collection of antiques and folk art only
enhances its old-world aura.
A turn-of-the-century Amish quilt from
Indiana hangs in the family room. On the
opposite side of the room stands an early
19th-century Federal-style corner
cabinet that Jim bought
in the 1970s when
he was living in
“We collect what
we like. Usually, we look for a little bit of
whimsy and something folk-arty,” Kathy says.
Those little bits of whimsy define the
interior of the house. A hanging shadowbox
of buttons worn by drug-store employees of a
long-gone era ask: “Are you deaf?” On the second
floor, an old carnival tossing game mounted onto
the wall invites guests to reach for the scuffed
numbered balls. An old voting booth from Canada
– complete with white and black marbles – doubles as
an end table in the rear bedroom. A rare Noah’s Ark children’s toy from the 1850s
has 179 pieces and is nestled in among the couple’s cookbooks in the kitchen.
The house has a folk-art museum quality, but the Holcombs don’t have a
hands-off attitude; after all, their grandchildren live nearby and are often at the
house – and have more-or-less free reign. Anything fragile (such as the Noah’s Ark
toy) is simply placed higher than little hands can reach.
The only room off limits to the grandchildren is the couple’s master bedroom
because it holds irreplaceable memorabilia from Jim’s family, including a picture of
his great-great-great grandfather, who was a captain in the Civil War union army,
as well as pottery passed down in his family for generations.
Simple but attractive hand-painted tiles surround the cast-iron hearth in the front room.
The Allure of the Sea
Part of Kathy and Jim Holcomb’s sizeable collection of Americana and folk art is built around
a maritime theme, including oil paintings of sailing and steam vessels from the 19th and
early 20th centuries. The vessels were real; the paintings were usually commissioned by the
owner or the captain and done in highly dramatic styles to showcase the allure and beauty of
the sea and of the vessels themselves.
The collection is Jim’s personal passion. He started it in 1981, when he bought an oil
depicting the first America’s Cup race, held in 1870. The painting (seen in the accompanying
photos) shows the winner, the American schooner “Magic,” passing the lightship off Sandy
Hook, New Jersey. Lightships were used to mark the entrance to harbors – in this case, New
York Bay – as well as currents, sandbars, and the like.
“I’m not quite sure why that painting so appealed to me,” Jim says. “Perhaps the drama,
the lighting in the sky. Plus I had spent many summer Saturdays crewing a Lightning a
popular 19-foot single-mast racing sailboat in yacht-club races on Cazenovia Lake in upstate
New York with good friends. After I bought that first one, the hook was set.”
The stars-and-stripes pennant near the ceiling of the Holcomb’s front room is a so-called Homeward Bound pennant from an American whaling ship
circa 1830. Whalers might spend years at sea, and the pennants were flown from the vessel’s mast when the ship was returning to its home port. Whalers’
sailmakers, who made the pennants at sea, added a foot for each month the ship was out. The Holcomb pennant is 31 feet, but the name of the vessel is not
known. Marine art dealer Paul De’Cost told the Holcombs that the ship’s home port in all likelihood was Newburyport, Massachusetts.
PHOTO: DEBORAH EDWARDS