One of the nicest things about Facebook is the friendships that are made - with people one would almost certainly never meet, otherwise. This is how I met my wonderful friend, Mary Helen McCoy. Although we have not actually met face-to-face, I have been so impressed by her genuine character and caring personality. Over the past couple of years that we have been exchanging photos and comments (especially our common love of historic French style) on Facebook, I have come to respect Mary Helen's intense knowledge of and interest in her specialized field of expertise - top quality French antiques - as well as her generosity in crediting others where credit is due.
Mary Helen McCoy grew up in Birmingham, AL, and learned early on about European and Southern culture and decorative arts from her mother and grandmother. The picture below shows the beauty that Mary Helen was surrounded with, as a child.
Mary Helen with her mother in her childhood home
Self taught, with a good head for business, and incredibly industrious, Mary Helen began learning the arts of sales and management in Birmingham, at an upscale specialty department store chain, named Parisian's. That was in the late '70's... I wonder if Mary Helen ever imagined at that time, that a store called Parisian's would lead to her future business, traveling to the city of Paris to purchase exquisite French antiques for customers stateside!
She began her career in antiques in 1987, as the buyer for Wardemond Galleries, an antique gallery in Birmingham. She first traveled to England and New York City to make her purchases. Then in 1990, she took her first trip to France and was immediately and completely smitten with French antiques. She studied every book and resource she could find to learn everything there was to know about the history of French furnishings, amassing a huge library in the process. Since that time, she has become one of the foremost dealers of fine French antiques in the world.
Soon after working at Wardmond, she established her own business - Mary Helen McCoy Fine Antiques - which included not just buying antiques, but also designing for very discerning clients. Working alongside architects and landscape designers, she procured exterior architectural and garden elements, as well as interior furnishings, for clients who appreciated and collected the finest in French decorative arts.
Mary Helen McCoy at a recent job site - a classy lady even in a hard hat!!
During the late 1990's, Mary Helen made numerous trips to France, buying specific items for individual clients - some of which are enough to make me swoon: an 18th c. roof, which filled up three full 40-foot containers (!), ancient stone pavers for a garden walk, garden fountains, oak paneling, marble mantles, antique flooring in wood, terra cotta or stone...the list is to die for.
What a gorgeous hearth and mantle piece! This is in a recent installation for a client.
Working with an iron/metal atelier in France, Mary Helen also began designing custom ironwork for both interior and exterior applications, including lighting, gates and furniture. She even designed custom curtain rods and hardware, ornamented by snails, butterflies and frogs to coordinate with Scalamandré's classic Jour de Juin chintz, shown here:
How lucky is the little girl whose parents hired Mary Helen McCoy to design her bedroom with this fabric and custom drapery hardware to match?!! (Scalamandré's
Mary Helen has worked with some of my favorite interior designers, including Bunny Williams, Charlotte Moss, Mario Buatta, Thomas Britt, Betty Sherrill, and Betty's daughter Anne Pyne of McMillen, among others. Below is a spectacular and rare Louis XVI Period carved cherry Bibliotheque from the Paris Region. It was purchased by Bunny Williams for her client at The Palm Beach International Fine Arts and Antiques Fair 2002.
I wish I had a clearer photo of this, but just look at the spiral carving detail running down the center front of this piece - so delicate!
This is a photo of an exceptional and rare Louis XV Period carved walnut two drawer commode from Provence (my favorite region). These commodes in their best form and condition can command as high a price as some Parisian cabinetmakers. This piece was sold to a client and collector.
I absolutely adore the beautiful cut-out carving ornamenting the base of this commode. In my dreams, I would love to own this piece and display reticulated china on top of it.
Lovely colored detailing
At the base are two drawers above an apron inlaid with torches and quivers surrounded with ribbons. Beautiful brass hinges and pulls accent the piece.
Included in the book are several pieces sold by Mary Helen, not the least of which is the special commode, above, that M. Rouge advised Mary Helen to exhibit at the Palm Beach Show. It truly is outstanding.
Look at the "Thank you" page of the book, below, and you will find Mary Helen McCoy's name.
Above are two rare and important Louis XIV marquetry commodes with bronze mounts, by Thomas Hache signed HACHE A GRENOBLE, that M. Rouge and Mary Helen McCoy bought together. They are similar in form however the darker one is just a bit smaller than the other.
Mary Helen exhibited both at Palm Beach America's International Fine Arts and Antiques Fair 2007.
The lighter one was also exhibited at The Fall International Fine Arts and Antiques Fair at the Park Avenue Amory, New York 2008. The darker one sold to a collector and client after the Palm Beach Fair. The lighter one sold to a client from California to go in the same room as as another he had previously purchased from Mary Helen.
This photograph is a picture of the darker Hache commode in situ at Mary Helen's client's home.
Above it hangs part of a series of 18th century Chinese painted panel scrolls which she procured for the client from a dealer also exhibiting at the Palm Beach Fair. The gilt bronze candlesticks are Louis XVI Period, and were purchased for this client at an auction in New York.
An important pair of Régence Period carved beechwood fauteuils, also from M. Rouge,
which would have originally been painted and/or gilded now presented in a natural state with an ochre wax. These fauteuils exhibited at The 1992 Biennale des Antiquaires held in Paris every other year which is put on by the prestigious Syndicat National des Antiquaires.
Mary Helen had them covered in silk damask from Tassinari et Chatel, the oldest silk manufacturer in Lyon, which has been in business since 1680, and used to weave silks for the kings of France. Tassinari silks are in all the royal chateaux of France.
Here is a great video of Tassinari et Chatel. For those of you who don't speak French, the beautiful bright yellow silk damask shown was woven for the White House (la Maison Blanche). The multi colored floral, shown right after that, is from the bedroom of Louis XVI. It incorporates 27 colors and gold thread!
Mary Helen McCoy with her son, Michael, exhibiting at The Fall International Fine Arts and Antiques Fair NYC 2008
Egyptian motifs, such as this lovely, stylized swan, were common adornments during the Empire period. These chairs are from Paris and date to 1810-20.
Above and below, a pair of rare Louis XV Period carved walnut fauteuils by Pierre Nogaret.
They are stamped Nogaret A Lyon. Silk Damask fabric Mary Helen used was from Tassanari et Chatel.
Nogaret was the most important chair joiners of the provinces. His work is on the same par as many of the Parisian makers. In 1745 he became a master joiner. He made most of his seating from black walnut and they were left primarily in a natural state.
These chairs were sold to a client/collector for her master bedroom.
This close-up of the back of one chair shows the original stamp of the maker, Nogaret.
The chairs were shown in Mary Helen McCoy's booth, above, at the Palm
Above, a highly important and rare Louis XIV Period marquetry commode, Parisian, c. 1700.
Mary Helen told me, "Although Hache is a favorite of mine, this exceptional commode was probably my most favorite of all the commodes I sold. Had I not needed the money in 2009 I would have never sold it and saved it for retirement. I sold it to my client and collector and it is now in her living room on the opposite wall from the Hache commode." I agree with Mary Helen - this is one of the most spectacular and pleasing pieces of marquetry I have ever seen!
While these pieces (above) are too grand for my own personal taste, they are clearly exceptional.
This photo was taken in Mary Helen's Charleston Gallery, which was closed over a year ago.
A French Restoration Period three piece garniture consisting of a gilt bronze and Paris porcelain clock by Derniere with Tazzas sit on an important carved and gilt wood Régence German console with an outstanding French carved and gilt wood Régence mirror.
Mary Helen sent the clock and the console to Christies NY to be sold in 2009. As Mary Helen said, "I was able to sell them and make a profit which goes to show that quality retains value even in a recession." She still has the mirror in her inventory. She says it is the best mirror she has owned. It was exhibited at The International Fine Art and Antiques Fair 2008, NYC at the Park Avenue Armory in situ with the console here.
The following are some other pieces from Mary Helen, which I particularly admire:
A rare pair of French barbotine (majolica) vases with relief of birds, made during a period of Oriental influence (called chinoiserie style), from the factory in Sarreguemines, France. The vases are signed on the bottom.
Above, several photos of Mary Helen's gallery in
Charleston, SC, which she had for three years and closed over a year ago. (Most unfortunately, the gallery opened in March 2008 - the same week that Bear Stearns collapsed, which no one could have predicted.) Mary Helen McCoy Fine Antiques is currently a private dealer, however, I imagine this industrious and passionate woman will have another public gallery in the not-too-distant future.
Mary Helen McCoy has won acclaim and well deserved awards over the years. She has been invited and inducted into four of the most prestigious international antiques organizations:
For more information, check out her website, www.maryhelenmccoy.com.