PLAY: American Game Boards, 1880 -1940: In-Person and Online [EXTENDED]

18 March - 22 May 2021
  • Including parcheesi, backgammon, checkers, 

    Chinese checkers, solitaire, and mills boardsall dating from the late 19th through the mid-20th century.
    Not created as modern or contemporary art, these game boards relate directly to (and often precede) works of geometric abstraction and minimalism.

    • Checkers Game Board, c. 1925-30 Polychrome on linoleum board 17 3/4 x 13 1/2 in. 45 x 34.3 cm. (AU...
      Checkers Game Board, c. 1925-30
      Polychrome on linoleum board
      17 3/4 x 13 1/2 in.
      45 x 34.3 cm.
      (AU 219)
      $3,500
    • Parcheesi Game Board, c. 1880-1890 Paint on wood panel 18 x 18 1/2 in. 45.7 x 47 cm. (AU 293)...
      Parcheesi Game Board, c. 1880-1890
      Paint on wood panel
      18 x 18 1/2 in.
      45.7 x 47 cm.
      (AU 293)
      SOLD
    • Backgammon Game Board, early 20th century Oil enamel on wood panel 18 x 18 in. 45.7 x 45.7 cm. (AU...
      Backgammon Game Board, early 20th century
      Oil enamel on wood panel
      18 x 18 in.
      45.7 x 45.7 cm.
      (AU 260)
      SOLD
    • Parcheesi Game Board, early 20th century Oil enamel on wood panel 31 x 19 in. 78.7 x 48.3 cm. (AU...
      Parcheesi Game Board, early 20th century
      Oil enamel on wood panel
      31 x 19 in.
      78.7 x 48.3 cm.
      (AU 285)
      SOLD
    • Checkers Game Board with Red Borders, early 20th century Oil enamel paint on wood panel 11 x 14 in. 27.9...
      Checkers Game Board with Red Borders, early 20th century
      Oil enamel paint on wood panel
      11 x 14 in.
      27.9 x 35.6 cm.
      (AU 261)
      $3,500
    • Minimal Parcheesi Game Board, late 1940s-early 1950s Oil enamel on wood 30 x 30 3/4 in. 76.2 x 78.1 cm....
      Minimal Parcheesi Game Board, late 1940s-early 1950s
      Oil enamel on wood
      30 x 30 3/4 in.
      76.2 x 78.1 cm.
      (AU 291)
      SOLD
    • Chinese Checkers Game Board, c. 1920-30 Light grey wash on wood panel 24 1/2 x 23 1/2 in. 62.2 x...
      Chinese Checkers Game Board, c. 1920-30
      Light grey wash on wood panel
      24 1/2 x 23 1/2 in.
      62.2 x 59.7 cm.
      (AU 286)
      SOLD
       
    • Solitaire Game Board, c. 1900-1910 Joined and carved wood with polychrome 11 1/2 x 11 1/2 in. 29.2 x 29.2...
      Solitaire Game Board, c. 1900-1910
      Joined and carved wood with polychrome
      11 1/2 x 11 1/2 in.
      29.2 x 29.2 cm.
      (AU 294)
      SOLD
    • Checkers Game Board, c. 1910-1920 Enamel on wood panel 16.5 x 22.5 in. 41.9 x 57.1 cm. (AU 164) SOLD
      Checkers Game Board, c. 1910-1920
      Enamel on wood panel
      16.5 x 22.5 in.
      41.9 x 57.1 cm.
      (AU 164)
      SOLD
       
    • Solitaire Board with Legs and Secret Drawer, late 19th century Wood with original polychrome 10 1/2 x 10 1/2 in....
      Solitaire Board with Legs and Secret Drawer, late 19th century
      Wood with original polychrome
      10 1/2 x 10 1/2 in.
      26.7 x 26.7 cm.
      (AU 281)
      $3,500
       
       
    • Parcheesi Game Board, late 19th - early 20th century Oil enamel on wood panel 17 1/2 x 18 in. 44.5...
      Parcheesi Game Board, late 19th - early 20th century
      Oil enamel on wood panel
      17 1/2 x 18 in.
      44.5 x 45.7 cm.
      (AU 253)
      SOLD
    • Parcheesi Game Board, late 19th century Oil enamel on wood panel 19 3/4 x 19 3/4 in. 50.2 x 50.2...
      Parcheesi Game Board, late 19th century
      Oil enamel on wood panel
      19 3/4 x 19 3/4 in.
      50.2 x 50.2 cm.
      (AU 241)
      $4,000
    • Chinese Checkers Game Board, c. 1930-40 Oil enamel on wood panel 17 x 17 in. 43.2 x 43.2 cm. (AU...
      Chinese Checkers Game Board, c. 1930-40
      Oil enamel on wood panel
      17 x 17 in.
      43.2 x 43.2 cm.
      (AU 228)
      $4,000
      SOLD
       
    • Checkers Game Board, late 19th century Oil based enamel on poplar wood 16 1/4 x 16 in. (AU 244) $4,000
      Checkers Game Board, late 19th century
      Oil based enamel on poplar wood
      16 1/4 x 16 in.
      (AU 244)
      $4,000
    • Checkers Game Board, late 19th century Original paint on wood 16 1/4 x 16 1/2 in. 41.3 x 41.9 cm....
      Checkers Game Board, late 19th century
      Original paint on wood
      16 1/4 x 16 1/2 in.
      41.3 x 41.9 cm.
      (AU 243)
      $4,000
    • Parcheesi Game Board, early 20th century Wood with original polychrome 16 1/2 x 16 1/2 in. (AU 248) SOLD
      Parcheesi Game Board, early 20th century
      Wood with original polychrome
      16 1/2 x 16 1/2 in.
      (AU 248)
      SOLD
    • Game Board, late 19th century Oil enamel on wood panel 22 3/8 x 18 in. 56.8 x 45.7 cm. (AU...
      Game Board, late 19th century
      Oil enamel on wood panel
      22 3/8 x 18 in.
      56.8 x 45.7 cm.
      (AU 284)
      SOLD
    • Parcheesi Game Board, late 19th - early 20th century Oil enamel on wood panel 19 x 19 in. 48.3 x...
      Parcheesi Game Board, late 19th - early 20th century
      Oil enamel on wood panel
      19 x 19 in.
      48.3 x 48.3 cm.
      (AU 224)
      $4,500
    • Mills Game Board, c. 1910-20 Oil enamel on wood panel 17 1/4 x 17 1/4 in. (AU 306) SOLD
      Mills Game Board, c. 1910-20
      Oil enamel on wood panel
      17 1/4 x 17 1/4 in.
      (AU 306)
      SOLD
    • Ring Toss Game Board, late 19th century Wood with polychrome paint, iron nail 18 x 18 in. 45.7 x 45.7...
      Ring Toss Game Board, late 19th century
      Wood with polychrome paint, iron nail
      18 x 18 in.
      45.7 x 45.7 cm.
      (AU 283)
      SOLD
    • Checkers Game Board with Decorative Border, c. 1900 Oil enamel on wood panel 12 1/2 x 12 1/4 in. 31.8...
      Checkers Game Board with Decorative Border, c. 1900
      Oil enamel on wood panel
      12 1/2 x 12 1/4 in.
      31.8 x 31.1 cm.
      (AU 242)
      $3,500
       
    • Chinese Checkers Board, c. 1930-40 Oil enamel on wood panel 18 1/2 x 17 3/4 in. 47 x 45.1 cm....
      Chinese Checkers Board, c. 1930-40
      Oil enamel on wood panel
      18 1/2 x 17 3/4 in.
      47 x 45.1 cm.
      (AU 258)
      SOLD
    • Folding Checkers Board, late 19th-early 20th century Oil enamel on wood panel 14 x 14 in. 35.6 x 35.6 cm....
      Folding Checkers Board, late 19th-early 20th century
      Oil enamel on wood panel
      14 x 14 in.
      35.6 x 35.6 cm.
      (AU 259)
      SOLD
       
    • Chinese Checkers Game Board, c. 1930-40 Polychorme on wood 11 1/2 x 10 1/4 in. 29.2 x 26 cm. (AU...
      Chinese Checkers Game Board, c. 1930-40
      Polychorme on wood
      11 1/2 x 10 1/4 in.
      29.2 x 26 cm.
      (AU 299)
      SOLD
    • Solitaire Game Board, late 19th century 12 3/4 x 12 1/2 in. (AU 307) $4,000
      Solitaire Game Board, late 19th century 
      12 3/4 x 12 1/2 in.
      (AU 307)
      $4,000
       
       
    • Checkers Game Board, c. 1900-1920 Wood with polychrome 22 x 18 3/4 in. 55.9 x 47.6 cm. (AU 292) $3,000
      Checkers Game Board, c. 1900-1920
      Wood with polychrome
      22 x 18 3/4 in.
      55.9 x 47.6 cm.
      (AU 292)
      $3,000
    • Mills Game Board, c. 1930-40 Paint on wood panel 29 x 17 in. 73.7 x 43.2 cm. (AU 300) SOLD
      Mills Game Board, c. 1930-40
      Paint on wood panel
      29 x 17 in.
      73.7 x 43.2 cm.
      (AU 300)
      SOLD
    • Plinko Precursor Game Board, first quarter of the 20th century Oil enamel on wood panel with metal pegs 44 x...
      Plinko Precursor Game Board, first quarter of the 20th century
      Oil enamel on wood panel with metal pegs
      44 x 29 in.
      (AU 309)
      SOLD
    • 5-Color Checkers Game Board With Blue and Grey Border, late 19th century Enamel on wood 18 x 18 in 45.7...
      5-Color Checkers Game Board With Blue and Grey Border, late 19th century
      Enamel on wood
      18 x 18 in
      45.7 x 45.7 cm
      (AU 252)
      SOLD
       
    • Solitaire Game Board with Pegs , c. 1950s 8 5/8 x 8 5/8 in. 21.9 x 21.9 cm. (AU 298)...
      Solitaire Game Board with Pegs , c. 1950s
      8 5/8 x 8 5/8 in.
      21.9 x 21.9 cm.
      (AU 298)
      SOLD
    • Mills Game Board, late 19th century Paint on wood panel 25 x 14 in. (AU 303) $4,000
      Mills Game Board, late 19th century
      Paint on wood panel
      25 x 14 in.
      (AU 303)
      $4,000
       
    • Yellow and Black Checkers Game Board, Late 19th Century Oil enamel on wood panel 31 x 17 in. 78.7 x...
      Yellow and Black Checkers Game Board, Late 19th Century
      Oil enamel on wood panel
      31 x 17 in.
      78.7 x 43.2 cm.
      (AU 254)
      SOLD
    • Mills Game Board 19 x 15 1/2 in. 48.3 x 39.4 cm. (AU 296) $4,000
      Mills Game Board
      19 x 15 1/2 in.
      48.3 x 39.4 cm.
      (AU 296)
      $4,000
    • Wahoo Game Board, c. 1920-30 16 1/2 x 16 in. 41.9 x 40.6 cm. (AU 308) SOLD
      Wahoo Game Board, c. 1920-30
      16 1/2 x 16 in.
      41.9 x 40.6 cm.
      (AU 308)
      SOLD
    • Parcheesi Game Board, c. 1920-30 Polychrome on wood 21 x 15 in. (AU 310) SOLD
      Parcheesi Game Board, c. 1920-30
      Polychrome on wood
      21 x 15 in.
      (AU 310)
      SOLD
  • Aligning with Ricco/Maresca’s ongoing mission to promote the crossover of self-taught, outsider, and vernacular art into the modern and contemporary arenas, Play presents a collection of outstanding game boards made between the late 19th century and the first half of the 20th century. Created as functional objects by unknown American artists, these examples of parcheesi, backgammon, halma, checkers, Chinese checkers, mills, and solitaire have transcended their original purpose and stand on their own as cousins of modern art. This exhibition thus decontextualizes these works to highlight their concrete beauty, but it also acknowledges the mystery and gravitas that they possess as objects that once participated in everyday life.

     

    Modern board games developed as a result of the Industrial Revolution and the emergence of the middle class, but their precursors date back to ancient times—with dice being at the core of humanity’s oldest games. The most prolific and creative period in the American game board tradition falls approximately between 1820 and the end of World War II, when a general period of prosperity and the mainstream availability of new technologies, particularly radio and television, practically eliminated people’s need to fabricate the means to entertain themselves. In the nineteenth century, the majority of game boards were homemade for personal use or produced in domestic workshops for sale within the immediate community—much in the same way as bird decoys, dolls, and quilts. Artists used the materials at hand; easily accessible, generally native hardwoods and standard oil-based household paint—whose durability could withstand the continuous quiet abrasion of the moving parts on the surface.

     

    In the informal environment of a young American nation, artists transformed pre-established patterns into personal compositions, taking creative liberties analogous to jazz—if we think about the framework of the game as a basic melody and of each artist’s visual execution as a kind of musical improvisation. In the best of cases, game boards embody this powerful junction of familiar and new information; of tradition and innovation, with the latter manifesting itself through various degrees of abstraction, deconstruction, and formal embellishment or distillation.

     

    The rhythmic configurations in the square grids of checkers and halma boards; the flat architecture of parcheesi, with its four nests flanking a nucleus and divided by compartmentalized paths; the sharp hypnotic quality of backgammon’s interweaving dagger-like triangles; the harmonious symmetry of the marble-shaped indentations of the hexagram in Chinese checkers and the octagon or cross in solitaire, and the web-like concentric lines in mills offer us—as contemporary viewers—a visual lexicon that is as cohesive and direct as the best works of minimalism and geometric abstraction, which they often precede. Beyond this, a game board’s texture and materiality are equally relevant to its graphic qualities: the surface and “purity” of the object should be a matter of historical significance, a threshold to its former life. Time becomes tangible through scratching from years of touch and play; through the network of cracks (or craquelure) triggered by the shrinkage of the paint and wood, and through the oxidation of the paint after the initial drying phase, which gives the pigments an aged, subdued quality.

     

    Play is Ricco/Maresca’s first exhibition exclusively devoted to an art form that it h­­as been passionately advocating for 40 years. Our hope is that it contributes to bringing vintage American gameboards closer to entering the realm of fine art and further away from the notion of craft. The once marginal understanding of self-taught and outsider artists vis-à-vis the art historical continuum has changed radically in the last few decades, we now recognize them not as extraneous but as essential in the development and ethos of modern art; museums collect and present them. African American quilts have to a certain extent, and more recently, been included in this shift—with museums outside the folk art specialization collecting Gee’s Bend quilts in particular. Exceptional works made by anonymous American game board artists must follow. The preface of Ricco/Maresca’s book American Vernacular expresses it eloquently:

     

    “It has been comfortable for dealers, critics, and collectors to champion this work under constricting labels, almost solely according to concepts of primitivism and authenticity. They set up a simple—and, we believe, spurious—opposition between vernacular and mainstream, art. We call this the ‘glass ceiling’ of folk art, which forever limits its appreciation, understanding, and evaluation … Art is something people do all the time, everywhere, when they need to and when they don’t, when others say it is wrong and when they say it is right … Whether art originated in private pain or in communal vision, it is always excessive. And excess, as William Blake taught, is a form of celebration.”