The woodworking art of Stewart Paul
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    Auction Finds

    Wall plaque of vintage woodworking tools

    The man was standing just behind me, over my left shoulder, his gaze as intent as mine. We were both looking at a huge board covered with old metal and wooden tools hanging on a wall at the auction house.

    He appeared to be as puzzled as me. The piece seemed to be masquerading as artwork, and it was among the most unusual yet interesting items I had seen. It resembled found art – our everyday throwaways that in the right hands can yield beautiful art forms. With this piece, someone had made art not from found objects, but from objects of use and functionality.

    The vintage look of the tools made the piece interesting – not only to the two of us but to other auction-goers who also stopped by to partake. We were all used to seeing tools – vintage and new, used and unused – stacked or lying haphazardly on auction tables or under them in Craftsman tool boxes or antique tool chests long ago forgotten.

    Wall plaque of woodworking tools

    An up-close view of the wall plaque of vintage woodworking tools presented to Robert and Ellen Cox.

    I found the piece so intriguing that I had come back around for a second look when the other auction-goer came up behind me.

    The hand tools were quite varied, from an ax to a mallet to clamps to augers to a plane. All seemed to have been well used. Some were tools I hadn’t seen before, but I realized later that these were woodworking tools, likely used to build kitchen cabinets.

    Attached to the wooden board near the bottom was a brass plate with an inscription:

    Presented to Robert and Ellen

    of Cox Kitchens

    Baltimore Maryland

    for 25 years of devotion,

    and dedication to

    Rich Maid Kit. Inc.

    The auction house bid sheet identified the piece as an antique “wall sculpture assemblage” measuring 40″ x 48″.

    Wall plaque of woodworking tools

    A full view of the wall plaque of vintage woodworking tools.

    There was no date and nothing more on the board, so I went sleuthing. Cox Kitchens and Baths Inc. is a family-owned remodeling and design company in Baltimore. Robert Cox started the company in his home in 1950, and he and his wife Ellen built it up together, according to a history of the company on its website. It was later taken over by their daughter and her family. Their children and grandchildren now run the company, according to the website.

    Cox and his wife helped develop standards for kitchen and bath design, according to the website, and traveled the country teaching others about design. I could find nothing more about the Coxes. The company sells countertops, cabinets, fixtures and flooring. Here are some of its designs.

    Wall plaque for Cox Kitchens and Bath

    A metal plate honoring the couple as 25-year customers of a cabinet company.

    After reading the inscription on the metal plate, I decided that this was a wall plaque. Instead of giving the couple a common plaque you’d buy from a trophy shop, Rich Maid apparently decided to present this one-of-a-kind gift to one of its longtime customers. Honoring them with a plaque displaying vintage woodworking tools was a grand idea.

    The piece sold at auction for $250, which seemed like a pretty good price for about two dozen vintage woodworking tools.


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