Whitney, who formerly danced with the Pennsylvania Ballet, now specializes in American Furniture & Decorative Arts, American Folk Art, American Indian Arts and American Silver for Freeman’s, owned by generations of a Chestnut Hill family for 211 years. (Photo by Elizabeth Field)

by Len Lear

Whitney Bounty, 31, was a professional ballet dancer, but what keeps her on her toes now is her job as an Associate Specialist in the American Furniture, Folk & Decorative Arts department of Freeman’s, the oldest auction house in the U.S. (For 211 years, Freeman’s, now at 1808 Chestnut St. since 1924, was owned and operated by many generations of Chestnut Hill’s Freeman family. Last March, though, Samuel M. “Beau” Freeman signed papers that transferred the controlling interest to the company’s three-member management team. The Freeman family maintains a minority interest in the company, and Beau Freeman has continued in his role of chairman of the board of directors.)

Bounty, who joined Freeman’s in 2010 as the inaugural recipient of the Samuel M. Freeman II Fellowship, specializes in American Furniture & Decorative Arts, American Folk Art, American Indian Arts and American Silver. She has obtained extensive experience in early Chinese export porcelain made for the American market.

“My grandparents and parents collect Americana, so the auction world was not entirely unfamiliar to me prior to my arrival at Freeman’s,” Whitney said last week, “though unlike some lucky children, I was never allowed to raise a paddle in the auction room. Perhaps my parents couldn’t trust me not to flail about and unwittingly bid a huge sum on the wrong lot! I also minored in art history at Penn, so I had a basic foundation in decorative arts that served as a great starting point.”

Prior to working with Freeman’s, Ms. Bounty studied ballet for nearly two decades and was a guest performer with the Pennsylvania Ballet. She graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with an honors degree in English, with an emphasis in creative writing. Beyond her love for American antiques, she has an appreciation for aesthetics with an interest in fashion, architectural history and design.

Whitney spent most of her childhood in Connecticut and Massachusetts, although she attended the National Ballet School of Canada in Toronto and St. Paul’s School in Concord, New Hampshire. “I can’t remember that one defining moment when I decided I was going to be a professional ballerina,” said Whitney. “I also can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to be one. For a short time, I took both gymnastics and ballet classes, but as my skills advanced and my training intensified, I ultimately had to choose between the two.

Whitney had dreams of being a ballerina, which she later fulfilled, when she was just 4 years old in 1990.

“After I made the decision to pursue ballet at the age of 10 or 11, it basically became my life. I would go straight from school to ballet classes every weekday and train on the weekends. Instead of taking away TV privileges, docking my allowance or forbidding me to spend time with my friends, my parents would ‘ground’ me by not allowing me to go to ballet.

“Before planning family vacations, I would research the destination to make sure there was a ballet studio nearby. I chose to leave home at the age of 12 so I could attend the National Ballet School of Canada and then later delayed attending college in order to pursue a professional dance career. Needless to say, my childhood was a bit different than that of my peers, but I am fortunate for having discovered a passion at an early age. My parents’ wholehearted support helped, too.”

Obviously being a Penn student and a ballet dancer at the same time is a heavy load. Most of the academic classes Whitney took were conveniently scheduled during the evening hours, so that she could attend ballet class and rehearsals throughout the morning and afternoon. She varied the heaviness of her course load throughout the year, taking fewer classes during the peak dance season and picking up additional classes during the off-season in the summer.

Whitney performed with the Pennsylvania Ballet as a guest dancer from the Fall of 2005 until the Spring of 2008. She was involved in most of their larger productions, including “The Nutcracker,” “Giselle,” “Sleeping Beauty,” “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and “Carnival of the Animals.”

“As much as I admire a dancer with impeccable technique,” Whitney said, “my favorite dancers to watch are those with superb artistry or interesting movement quality — dancers who take physical and emotional risks on stage in order to explore the body’s physical limitations and the expressive capabilities of dance.”

To quit dancing was a very tough decision for Whitney because dancing had been her life for so long, but the human body is not kind to professional ballet dancers, and their careers are generally not very long. So, “after some head-scratching and quite a few sleepless nights, I decided to send my resume to a host of artistic institutions in the Philadelphia area. Freeman’s responded shortly thereafter and offered me an internship in their American Furniture, Folk & Decorative Arts Department.

“I have been very fortunate to have worked for the last six years under Lynda Cain, who is not only experienced and knowledgeable but also very forthcoming with that knowledge. My successful transition into the auction world and growth within the Americana department is largely attributable to her and her efforts to integrate me into the industry by introducing me to key figures (e.g. dealers, scholars, experts, conservators or museum professionals) and inviting me to attend pertinent events, including appraisal days, antique show openings, lectures, study trips, etc.”

Whitney helps with all aspects of bringing an auction sale together: She goes on house calls to review people’s collections and vet potential consignments, then subsequently helps draft and edit proposals for suitable material. Once a collection  has reached the warehouse, she catalogues the incoming property, conducts research into provenance and write lot entries and essays. She helps to physically set up preview exhibitions and provide condition reports to clients who might wish to bid on an item but aren’t able to view it in person. Finally, she executes telephone bids during sales.

“Auction is a fast-paced and ever-changing industry: market trends can emerge and shift quickly; clients, both consignors and buyers, can change their minds overnight; scholarship is often revisited and subsequently revised. For these reasons, a department specialist is continually learning and always trying to keep abreast of the latest developments.”

Regular viewers of “Antiques Roadshow” on Channel 12 have probably noticed that specialists from Freeman’s appear frequently, possibly more often than those of any other antique firm in the country, to analyze and appraise the antiques. But Whitney has not appeared on the show. “With the new creative direction my career is taking, I doubt I’ll be an appraiser on it,” said Whitney. “This is probably for the best. I am actually quite camera shy.”

For more information, call 267-414-1254 or visit www.freemansauction.com