Lark Mason (’77)

Category: Accomplished Alumni | Awards

Fans of the PBS series Antiques Roadshow are familiar with appraiser Lark Mason’s world-class credentials forged in his 24 years at Sotheby’s in New York.

As a Sotheby’s general appraiser, Mason has valued private and museum collections of American and European works of fine and decorative art, including those of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. As senior vice president of the Chinese Works of Art Department, he became a peerless expert in Chinese art, antiques, and furniture. As director of online auctions for in the early years of the internet, he saw an opportunity in 2003 to found his own international art auction site, iGavel Auctions, and Lark Mason Associates auction houses, now based in New York City and New Braunfels, Texas. A noted author, Mason has appeared on Antiques Roadshow since 1996 and taught at Parsons School of Design, New York School of Interior Design, and New York University.
Antiques Roadshow fans are less familiar with Mason’s life before Sotheby’s and his Tennessee roots. His mother Mary Grace Brown Mason’s family goes back to Alexander Kelly (1750–1840), who fought in a Virginia regiment in the Revolutionary War, moved to Tennessee, took part in the formation of the State of Franklin, and in 1792 was a charter trustee of Blount College, which later became UT.

Mary Grace met Lark Mason Sr. at the University of Chattanooga, where he was a football, basketball, and track star, and she was studying to be a lab technician. At the onset of World War II, he joined the Army, fought in the European theatre, and was a POW in German prison camps. He and Mary married in 1949 and moved to New York City, where he was pursuing a career as a singer when their first child, Lark Jr., was born on October 8, 1954.

Lark Sr. eventually opted for the insurance business and moved the family to Atlanta, where Mason first engaged in buying and selling decorations and fine art antiques and started his college career at Georgia State University. When his parents moved to Cookeville, Tennessee, he transferred to Tennessee Tech, but his credits did not.

While at Tech, Mason took the money he’d saved up from his Atlanta business, rented a historic arcade building on the town square, and opened up an antique shop. “I employed college kids and made a reasonably good living at it,” he says. “I decided that I could pursue that as a career.” Still, he knew he needed to finish his education, so he sold the contents of the shop and transferred to UT, where his Georgia State credits were accepted.

Leaving Cookeville for UT to major in English and minor in history, he was on a tight budget and could not afford student housing, first living in a small trailer and then in several rooming houses, the last behind Hoskins Library. “Because of the travails of credits and limited money, I was a little older than most of my classmates. I took extremely heavy loads—22 to 26 credits a semester. I had to get permission from the dean. I was extremely well organized, and I was so determined to do well that I tended to do well.” His favorite course was Shakespeare with Allen Carroll, longtime head of the English department.

“UT was a foundational experience for me. It taught me how to be serious and that if I were to have a choice in life, I needed to apply myself, and if you apply yourself and don’t give up, you can achieve something. I got religion, so to speak,” he says. With a teaching assistantship in the Tennessee Tech MBA program, he earned his MBA in 1978.

To start his career in antiques, Mason resolved to win a spot, competing with 800 applicants for 40 spaces, in a yearlong Works of Art training program in London, funded by Sotheby’s.

He was scheduled for an interview with Eric Shrub, the head of Sotheby’s London office and former curator of the Victoria and Albert Museum. Sotheby’s suggested that applicants study The Oxford Companion to the Decorative Arts and The Oxford Companion to Art. Not being an art history major, Mason figured he needed to do more. He bought three copies of H.W. Janson’s History of Art, cut up two copies, pasted paintings on one side of flash cards and their descriptions on the other. With these, he says, “I memorized everything.”

From his room in the Plaza Hotel, he walked to Sotheby’s, where Shrub showed him into a small room with post cards of artworks pasted on the walls. “Pick out any 10,” said Shrub, “and tell me when they were done, where they were done, and what’s remarkable about it. See you in a half an hour.”

Mason made the cut. “It was at the Sotheby’s course in London that I learned how to look at art, see details, and put myself in the position of the person who created it, all necessary skills to distinguish quality and authenticity,” says Mason. “The experiences I’d had with my little antique shop were formative in how I approached the course. I had a good understanding of wood and joinery, and that gave me an advantage. I made it my habit to go to a variety of museums every day. When I saw a piece I liked, I would sketch it, noting elements that made it distinctive and identifiable. It was the process of learning to look at a painting and pay attention to its details.” “

At the end of the year, he was one of the two top graduates and the first to receive a job offer from Sotheby’s. He left the course with a strong general foundation in fine and decorative works of art, and in particular with old master paintings and drawings. Offered several positions in the New York office, he opted to join the appraisals department and began work as a general appraiser in 1979. “That was the foundation on which I was able to build for six years,” he says.

Around this time, Mason met Erica Meeske at the Manhattan Church of Christ, through friends from Tennessee. A native of Butte, Montana, who had grown up in Muskegon, Michigan, Eddee was a singer at Radio City Music Hall, in operas at Lincoln Center, and in off Broadway shows. They were married November 8, 1980, and lived for the next 26 years in the Manhattan Plaza performing artists residence complex on West 43rd Street between Ninth and Tenth Avenues.

Along the way, Sotheby’s was approached by the former director of the Palace Museum in Beijing and one of China’s top scholars, Wang Shi Xiang, to have Mason join him in Beijing for eight months to translate his life-long work on Chinese furniture. Sotheby’s honored him as one of the few employees given a sabbatical, and he went with his family to Hong Kong and Beijing to work with Wang, where Mason translated Connoisseurship of Chinese Furniture.

Sharing his passion for art and his knowledge had motivated Mason to join Sotheby’s online auction effort and continue when Sotheby’s closed the venture. “I was convinced that it was something worth pursuing,” says Mason, who started his own auction house as well as the online version,, with regional associates in most major metropolitan areas of the US and some in Europe and Asia. “People consider us one of the leaders in establishing aspects of online sales that are taken for granted today,” says Mason, “clear photographs, transparency, and opportunities to see things firsthand.”

In 2006, the Masons moved to an apartment on Fifth Avenue and 116th Street, which was close to the auction house warehouse on 120th Street. As they looked for another headquarters and warehouse location in more central areas of the country, they picked New Braunfels, Texas, for a home and a spot north of San Antonio for their warehouse.
This also puts them near two of their three children. Their oldest, Joanna Mason Anderson, who has a master’s in education from City College of New York, is a mother of two in Hermosa Beach, California. Lark Mason III, who became fluent in Mandarin at Abilene Christian University, runs the Texas office and conducts daily transactions with people in China. His wife, Izzy Mason, is a portrait painter from Austin. Their youngest, Melissa Mason Gibson, earned her bachelor’s in psychology and master’s in clinical psychology at Abilene Christian and is a child protective services investigator with the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services.
On October 6, 2018, East Tennessee PBS viewers will see a Knoxville episode of Antiques Roadshow, in which Mason visits the McClung Museum of Natural History and Culture to begin a comprehensive three-year assessment of the museum’s collections. It is not Mason’s first interaction with the McClung. Close friends with the long-time director, Jefferson Chapman, Mason has spoken to audiences and donated his expertise to the McClung and facilitated the donation of several fine collections of Chinese and other Asian works of art to the permanent collection. UT has been a major part of Mason’s life. “The foundational parts of my life that enabled me to pursue a career in the arts came from my experiences in Tennessee and at the university,” says Mason.

Mason recently completed his two-year tenure from 2016-2017 as chairman of Asia Week New York, the largest international event celebrating the arts of Asia, held each March in New York City. He is currently a vice president with the Appraiser’s Association and serves as an Elder with the Manhattan Church of Christ.