An expert on authentic early American furniture and objects, Gail Lettick is a passionate antiques dealer and collector — with a love for history and an ability to recognize quality and beauty.
Gail Lettick has been an Antiques Dealer for over 30 years. She ran her business out of 4 floors in a brownstone in New York City for about 26 years and then moved to Woodbury in Connecticut where she founded Pantry & Hearth American Antiques on Main Street, specializing in authentic, superior quality Pilgrim, 18th and early 19th C. Americana, original surface or painted high country furniture and accessories, 17th and 18th C. needlework, folk art, early lighting and treen. Her extensive knowledge of the history of each piece she sells is impressive.
When Gail Lettick was about eighteen years old, she walked into an antiques shop on the Connecticut shoreline and it was love at first sight. Her journey into the world of antiques began there. She still remembers her first purchase: a pair of cobalt blue salt & pepper shakers. “You are at first attracted to old things, you are attracted to the surface, the design, but you don’t know the history. So you study it and the more you know, the more you want to learn. As antiques dealers, we all love to teach, to expound on what we sell. On the history of objects, to explain how they work. It is like a disease — you can’t stop, once you are hooked,” Gail explains. “What I love about it is that you learn about the history of things. You get deeper and deeper all of the time. And I am still learning.”
Gail was born in New Haven, Connecticut and graduated from Temple University in Philadelphia, where she completed a Fine Arts Major and an Art History Minor. She met her late husband artist Birney Lettick back in New Haven while taking a painting class he was teaching and together they went on to live in New York City. In the beginning, she worked as a designer at Dell Publishing designing book covers, followed by a period of doing freelance graphic design projects. After some years of designing, she decided to follow her growing interest in antiques and opened her business in Manhattan. From there, she moved to Woodbury and operates Pantry & Hearth American Antiques from her beautiful antique home situated on a stunning property.
Dealers want to educate their clients, so they invest their time in knowing the business. Over the years, Gail has taken courses, attended seminars, read and studied a great deal. She also says that she learned from her mistakes. An important part of her education, Gail has been spending part of the year in Europe for many years. Her love of Italy, of the Renaissance period, and her travels inform her understanding of the American vernacular, which is based on the English period of 17th C. furniture which is based on Italian and Flemish objects from the Renaissance. “If you look at the turnings, the form, the finials of their designs, it was basically adopted from Renaissance furniture brought over to America by the European craftsmen who also brought their skills with them. They produced the same pieces in America but simpler because they didn’t have all of the tools. The simplicity of Americana is a wonderful thing to behold. Americana is more human and realistic. The pieces in Europe are more rigid due to adhering to the specifications of the Guild.”
From early on in her career, Gail found that her instincts led her to earlier pieces. “I have always been attracted to the earlier works because I live in Italy part time. Earlier is extraordinary.” The people who collect early things are really knowledgable. In this period of Americana, utilitarian is a given, but each piece has to stand on its own as a piece of art— the design, integrity, originality, the wear and use which has created a patina that qualifies it as a piece of art.
Some of Gail’s clients have been collecting for 30 to 40 years. She has found that some of her younger clients are interested in the culinary history, following a recent trend in “hearth” cooking. Many of her clients are looking for things and tools made by hand, made by people who were trained and apprenticed in the techniques. The Idea of Beauty in Objects — this is something they could hold onto and derive peace and calm from history.
We asked Gail where she sources her pieces. “Nowadays finding rare and special objects continually gets more difficult. Since my clients are mostly very advanced, knowledgeable collectors, who only want the best objects that have originality of construction and surface as well as provenance, I must search everywhere possible to obtain such objects. This includes, but not limited to private collections, some of my long term clients, other dealers, random people who call me with family pieces to sell and other searches.”
As with most retail businesses now, a greater percentage of Gail’s business comes via sales from her website, pantryandhearth.com. Usually her out-of-town clients from around the country, call and make an appointment to visit when they are coming through Connecticut. Others see a piece on her website and want to come see it in person. Less frequently these days, she occasionally gets off the street antiquers, but it still happens.
Asked what are the popular pieces she sells, Gail replies, “It is difficult to be precise as to what are the most popular selling pieces, but in general I sell a great deal of early American furniture, the rarer the piece the easier the sale. In smaller objects, there is a good demand for early lighting pieces, treenware, early wrought iron and needlework in very good condition with strong colors.”
How does one decorate a home with 17th C. furniture? Does your home have to be old as well? “Early furniture, as well as small objects, work sculpturally with modern pieces and add interest and another dimension to rooms in contemporary homes. I have many clients, who mix old with new very stylishly and successfully.”
Getting antiques delivered across the country can be a delicate matter but Gail has extensive experience having items delivered to her clients. Lettick ships anything everywhere. “I have an array of truckers and independent movers depending on which area of the country my clients live. I also use UPS, FedEx or the post office as needed or requested.”
We asked Gail what is the best part of her job: “Antiques are in my soul; they have been my passion, fascination and addiction since I was a teenager. I love the search for great pieces that speak to my heart and sense of aesthetics as a dealer and collector. When I find an early object that in my professional opinion is not just functional in its form, but because of its quality and beauty it stands on its own as a true piece of Art, I get a satisfaction and thrill that is absolutely a integral part of the essence of joy in my life.”
She added another insight into what makes her happy: “I adore both buying and selling! I believe I am blessed with wonderful clients from all over, who share my cultural values. Most have become friends for which I am very grateful as I cannot think of any other way I would have met and befriended so many interesting, special people! We continue to share life long experiences and antique connections. I believe that we enhance each other’s lives through our mutual love of history and things that were made by the hands of those who lived centuries before us. For me being an antiques dealer is not a job, it is a way of life.”