When asked if there was any difference between his personal and professional acquisition decisions, longtime fine arts consultant and antique dealer Jim Craig said that his choices for his private collection could be chalked up to “personal addiction.” The comment belies the passion for the arts and Americana that drove Craig’s distinguished career for over half a century. Our Important Spring Auction included a selection of significant pieces from Craig’s home in Sarasota, FL, which he shares with his husband, Randy Johnson.

Before he was passionate about antiques, Jim Craig was passionate about music. A gifted violinist from a young age, Craig studied at the Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati and Juilliard. But when his first paying job with the North Carolina Office of Archives & History in Raleigh tasked him with applying the same attention to North Carolina decorative arts that had heretofore been given to the arts of New York and Pennsylvania, Craig discovered the passion for antiques that would occupy his life.
In 1965, at the age of 28, Craig published an exhaustive catalogue for the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts of the craftsmen of North Carolina called The Arts and Crafts of North Carolina. He researched the book by searching through period newspaper advertisements and court minutes that detailed who took whom as an apprentice. The volume covers tradesmen from metalworkers to shipwrights, jewellers, architects, and more. Craig spun the expertise he gained from writing the book into his first dealership, James Craig Fine & Decorative Arts, which he also founded in 1965. In 1969 he partnered with W. Samuel Tarlton to form Craig & Tarlton, which they would run together until 1985.

During the tenure of Craig & Tarlton, Craig and Tarlton sourced antiques for notable clientele such as The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and The White House. Craig recalls working with Clement Conger, who was the White House Curator from 1970-1990, to procure a bracket clock by Effingham Embree that now resides in the Diplomatic Reception Room. Craig hand-delivered the fragile clock to the White House himself. When Craig & Tarlton dissolved their partnership in 1985, the inventory of their business was sold in an on-site auction held by Christie’s.
After 1985, Craig resumed business under the name James Craig Fine & Decorative Arts, and in the ensuing decades contributed his expertise to numerous arts organizations, including The Mint Museum in Charlotte, The North Carolina Executive Mansion, and The New York Chamber Opera Theater. In 2007 The Mint Museum mounted an exhibition called Personal Preferences: Paintings from the Jim Craig and Randy Johnson Collection that showed 67 of the more than 170 paintings in Craig and Johnson’s home. Included in the exhibit were a number of pieces offered in The Important Spring Auction - portraits by William Merritt Chase, James Carroll Beckwith, and Emma Fordyce McCrae, a harbor scene by Frank Myers Boggs, and more.
Emma Fordyce MacRae (NY/MA, 1887-1974), Elizabeth
The exceptional quality of the pieces in Craig and Johnson’s collection speaks to Craig’s professional discernment, skill and resourcefulness. As one couple, who worked with Craig to curate their collection, told The New York Times in an article on an exhibition of their art, “Jim Craig knows where things are. He’s never forgotten anything he’s seen in someone’s home.” And to the benefit of all of us, Craig filled his own home with similarly unforgettable material.

View the full selection of items from The Personal Collection of James H. Craig & Randy S. Johnson