Enthusiasts of American decorative arts, particularly anything with a Southern provenance, are likely familiar with the firm Jeffrey S. Evans & Associates. Proprietors Jeff and Beverley Evans, members of the Trust for several years now, will host participants for the Sunday Optional Tour at the conclusion of this month’s Fall Symposium in Winchester.
Jeff and Beverley’s background, along with that of their firm, is a fascinating story. The business was started by Jeff’s parents as a weekly family-run auction out of their barn. In the late 1960s and 70s, it was entirely local and somewhat eclectic. In fact, Jeff remembers the first half-hour or so of every auction being dedicated entirely to local produce. After taking over the business, then called Green Valley Auctions, in 1979, Jeff gradually fell into the antiques trade. Much of his early work came from liquidating estates, including the contents of the house and barn. Jeff realized that many of the items he was handling had been made locally and stayed in the same general area for generations. The provenance so desired by antiques collectors was there.
Jeff educated himself about the region’s decorative arts: both glass (an interest he credits to his mother’s collection of Dakota-pattern glassware) and furniture. He began buying lots of bottomed-out chairs at other local auctions, which had typically lived in barns for several decades, and tagging them with labels as to where he had acquired them. Once his sample size was large enough, he was able to separate the chairs by type and geography, which helped him identify the cabinet- or chairmaker.
Along with his high-school sweetheart Beverley, whom he married in 1981, Jeff debuted the firm’s first catalog auction, a large glass collection from Wisconsin, in 1995. The catalog auction component blossomed, and Evans & Associates are now known around the country for the handling of major collections of glass and southern decorative art. A particular highlight for Jeff was the 2004 auction of a painted hanging cupboard by Johannes Spitler, which fetched a record price for an example of American painted furniture at $962,500.
In 2009, the catalog portion of the family firm became too big for the shared auction space, and so Jeff and his brother Greg divided the business. The stag on the door of the Spitler Chest became the logo for the new Jeffrey S. Evans & Associates. Although running an auction house is more than a full-time job, both Jeff and Beverley have found time for numerous side projects, including lecturing and guest curating exhibitions at the Harrisonburg/Rockingham Historical Society, the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley, and the Virginia Quilt Museum.
The Trust will be visiting the Evanses at perhaps their biggest project, their homestead at the historic Christian Sites House in Broadway, Virginia. Jeff and Beverley purchased the property in 1987 with the full realization that the restoration would be a tall order. The house had been abandoned in 1954, and on their first tour of the property they were surprised to find the living room full of sheep, who were not amused at this sudden invasion of their hiding space.
Although they both worked on the house, Beverley was the true visionary, and oversaw the renovation, which included repairs to the roof, and a sympathetic wood-frame addition to accommodate a modern kitchen and the master bathroom. As much as possible, Beverley directed that original material and surfaces be left undisturbed. The paint in the front portion of the house is either original to the early 19th century or from a subsequent spruce-up in the early 1900s. Upstairs, the plaster walls showcase original whitewash. The sensitive renovation caught the attention of the preservation community, which had long worried the house was destined for demolition. In 1997, Beverley received two awards for her efforts: the Frederick Doveton Nichols Award from the Preservation Alliance of Virginia, and the Great American Home Award from the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Today, the Sites House serves as a home for Jeff and Beverley (as well as their family of active and photogenic black cats), features their personal collection, and preserves part of the architectural and material legacy of the Shenandoah Valley they both love. We’re excited, and grateful, for the opportunity to visit them later this month!