FAIRMONT, W.Va. — As musicians, Frances Yeend and James Benner traveled the world and bought antiques, artworks and native items along the way.
At one point, their Morgantown home resembled more of a museum, featuring such pieces as a signed Tiffany vase, a circa 1936 Steinway piano, a bronze statue of an elephant, a Tibetan brass and copper teapot, an Oriental teak stand with marble insert top and claw and ball feet and paintings and prints by the likes of Currier & Ives and Marc Chagall.
Those items will be among the 1,500 or so that will be up for sale during an extensive auction that will take place Friday and Saturday at the Sagebrush Round-Up in Bunner Ridge near Fairmont.
Yeend, a world-renowned opera singer who sang with both the New York City Opera and the Metropolitan Opera, died in 2008 at the age of 95.
Benner, her husband and a career pianist, now resides in an assisted living facility, which necessitated clearing out and cataloging decades-worth of acquisition.
“We were avid collectors,” Benner said during a telephone interview. “We started quite slowly. She had began collecting a pressed glass pattern and after we fell in love and married, we started collecting avidly.”
Some earlier pieces that the couple came by are lithographs by Currier & Ives and a 7-foot-tall Renaissance-era dressoir that once stood in the Metropolitan Museum of Art before it was de-acquisitioned and purchased by a friend, who sold it to Yeend and Benner, he said.
Two of the items are Spanish vargueno, or desks, with a drop front and storage drawers.
“One of them is a very beautiful piece, from the 16th century,” Benner said. “It has the coat of arms of Isabella and the drawers have carvings of the conversion of the Moors. It’s a very unusual piece.”
When Benner met Yeend in 1952, “She was already a big star,” he said.
In addition to the New York City Opera and the Met, Yeend performed as a soloist with symphonies in Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago, Cleveland and Philadelphia, as well as at the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden in London, the Vienna State Opera and at the Arena di Verona Festival in Italy.
In 1953, she performed in South Africa, “and that got our African collection started.”
For his part, Benner traveled the world as an accompanist, often with a German children’s choir.
The two began teaching at West Virginia University in 1966 after they were recruited.
“We had been about 25 years on the international circuit and she was getting tired of suitcases…