When the present is uncertain, it can be comforting to look to the past, particularly to a great and distant era. Which is why no period in human history will ever supplant "the glory that was Greece, the grandeur that was Rome" as a reliable wellspring of revivals. The ashes of Rome were barely cool (relatively speaking), when the first Classical Revival ignited during the Renaissance, and neo-classicism raged intermittently throughout the 18th- and 19th-centuries. When in doubt, recast Hermes.
Little wonder a former Harvard Classics major, someone who, as a lad, was mired in Homer, Plato and Aristotle, would, at this very juncture, decide to bail on the real estate business and open a gallery in Hudson that specializes in antiquities and neo-classical antiques.
Actually, the gallery business is not so much a departure for Tom Swope as a return. "I was a dealer in New York City for 15 years," he says. "When I gave it up, I continued to buy. I've always had it in the back of my mind that one day I would go back to it."
Like a lot of collectors, Swope was so intent on the chase that he lost track of the kill that was piling up around him. Recently, he took a long, hard look at his house and "astonished myself with how much I have." Hence the gallery, which, at a glance, appears to be dominated by large, 19th-century academic casts of ancient sculptures. But the glass cases contain smaller objects from many cultures and epochs. The oldest piece is a prehistoric flint scraper from Egypt's neolithic period (at least 12,000 to 15,000 years old); the most recent, a 1920s or 30s cast of Nefertiti.
There is also some new jewelry Swope designs and makes himself— earrings and pendants for women, and rings that are for both men and women. "It's a small collection at the moment," he says. Inspired by classical jewelry, Swope's 22 K gold and sterling silver rings feature a single semi-precious or precious stone, often cabochon, rather than faceted. Another specialty: ancient Greek and Roman intaglios set in silver or gold. The pair of hand-beaten wedding rings shown here, his in 22k gold, hers in electrum (half gold/half silver), were custom ordered.
One would think that antiquities would be the eternal verities of the art world, impervious to the whims of fashion, but Swope is living proof that they are nearly as subject to taste shifts as any other type of art. His own bias in favor of neo-classical casts, for example, is recent. "I used to sneer at them," he says. "Now I'm loving them. One's eye changes over time." Another area that has recently captured his imagination: archaic Chinese jade. "It's a poorly understood category, so it is currently valued at pennies on the dollar in terms of its art historical and aesthetic importance," Swope says. "Scholarship has not caught up with the wealth of material coming out of China. There are some fakes out there; most people cannot sort them out. I selected the ones I felt certain of and the most beautiful examples. You will not see this quality almost anywhere else. I cannot buy comparably fine Classical or Egyptian antiquities in this current market, thus the shift over to these jades."
A good investment? Only time, possibly eons, will tell.
A pair of jade Chinese Dragon pendants, Eastern Chou Dynasty, 700 to 500 B.C.
Tom Swope Gallery
307 Warren Street, Hudson; 518.828.4399
Thursday & Monday, 11 - 4
Friday & Saturday, 11 - 6
Sunday, noon - 5