WILTON, CONN. — “I never thought I’d be in this building again!” exclaimed an ebullient Bruce Emond, “curator-in-chief” of the always eclectic Village Braider Antiques as antiques dealers greeted customers coming through the doors of the Wilton High School Field House on October 27. As Barn Star Production’s Wilton Antiques Fair opened to the public, many who were set up in the building recalled that the last such event had taken place four years ago — seemingly an eternity — then under the aegis of show promoter Marilyn Gould.
Emond, from Plymouth, Mass., had other reasons to smile. He had quickly sold a wildly grain painted cradle from his booth and had placed a sold sticker on another painted piece, a three-drawer small table with equally wild slashes of red and black paint on a light brown background.
The “Grand Dame of southern Connecticut antiques shows,” as Barn Star’s Frank Gaglio described it in preshow publicity, relaunched the classic, Americana-filled event, while welcoming some new categories of art, antiques and jewelry. As did his predecessor, Gaglio ran the show as a benefit event for the Wilton Historical Society, proceeds helping to maintain and restore its period properties as well as funding programs and exhibits.
The Rhinebeck, N.Y.-based promoter said he received tremendous dealer response when announcing the return of the show under his management. “It was a great list of exhibitors, and I spent some time at the front desk at the opening and the compliments were nonstop. ‘Thank you for bringing back the show’ was something I heard over and over again.”
“I thought the show looked beautiful; the quality of dealers was extraordinary, and I was so pleased to be among their company. And I think that the show will grow in stature over time,” said Susan Wechsler of South Road Antiques, Stanfordville, N.Y. Wechsler was getting a lot of interest in a hand-carved valance, “probably from a carousel or some kind of home stage performance,” she said of the wooden American Twentieth Century piece in soft red that had been created by its artist to suggest the rhythmic scrolls of a billowing curtain.
“A designer is presenting it to a client,” reported Wechsler after the show. “In fact, most of the interest at this show was directed at architectural or decorative wall objects. Among them I sold a Nineteenth Century window fan and a beautiful stark pediment for hanging over a bed. My silhouette duck decoys, which I separated from their original boards, also sold and attracted many lookers. Lots of smaller items left the booth as well.”
The dealer added that she thought that many visitors to the show were still holding onto their checkbooks, and that perhaps since the show changed to this earlier date, there may not have been as many buyers for gifts, as there were at the old Wilton pre-Christmas show.
A couple of such candidates for great gifts in her booth were an American Twentieth Century folky hooked rug, unusual for depicting an elephant rather than the usual dog or cat, wool on cotton mount, 3 feet 8 inches by 2 feet 15 inches and a sheet metal rooster weathervane, also Twentieth Century, 22 by 17 inches, that had a great Modernist feel.
It may have been a bit early, but Bev Longacre had decorated her half of the bifurcated booth she shares with husband Tom as a Christmas wonderland, full of vintage trees, ornaments, a sampler and even an electrified Christmas candle in a tin holder, perhaps once a store display. Americana dominated the other half of the Marlborough, N.H., dealers’ space, including a copper full-bodied rooster weathervane on an arrow base, selection of mid-Nineteenth Century scrimshaw items and a federal yellow painted and decorated pine dressing table, circa 1825–35.
Russ and Karen Goldberger, collectively RJG Antiques, of Rye, N.H., had adopted a charming carousel bear for the show — child size, American, early Twentieth Century, with a saddle and glass eyes in original paint. An attractive side display featured some of the Goldbergers’ premier Mason decoys along with a copy of their book Mason Decoys Complete Pictorial Guide. Some other standouts here were a black painted beehive turned bowl from New England, circa 1800, possibly chestnut, and a patriotic shield pair from Pennsylvania, circa 1900, joined by iron stakes as ground-dwelling flag holders.
Patriotism was also on display by J.B. Richardson, Westport, Conn., in the form of a 1920s Uncle Sam mailbox holder with the classic form of the bearded icon extending his arms. A Harris horse weathervane from the late Nineteenth Century had a nice patina and was complete with zinc ears, while a charming Eighteenth Century American rocking horse had original paint but a replacement horsehair tail.
“Brown” furniture continues to be a hard sell at antiques shows, and it was no exception for Gil Tyler, Glastonbury. Conn., specialist in early American pieces, who recorded no sales at the show despite bringing some stellar examples. A museum-quality Queen Anne side chair was one such special survivor, an example of diminutive proportions, having been made in the Guilford, Conn., area circa 1735–60. The full height chair in maple with splat in either poplar or ash and with shaped Spanish or “paint brush” feet was probably a lady’s chair, according to the dealer, and its woven splint seat may have been original. In comparison, Tyler, an engineer-turned-educator-turned-dealer, also had a similar chair but bulkier and with Victorian paint decoration on old black paint.
Also eliciting a wow factor here was a four-drawer chest whose distinctive construction with minimal use of nails tied it to Litchfield County. The circa 1780 piece featured diagonal crossbraces tenoned into the back of each foot, and its drawer supports were tenoned into its backboards with the top dovetailed to the case sides. A near pair of candlestands from the North Shore or Boston, circa 1810, displayed graceful therm feet.
“We sold only smalls, except for an unusual hanging wall shelf, furniture seemed not to do well at all,” echoed Red Horse Antiques owners Sue and Jacques Lilly. “The unique — if one can find it — is always in demand,” added the Bridgewater, Vt., dealers. “Frank and Lynn [Webb] did a great job of organizing a very good-looking show with dealers from all over, but the gate was less than we hoped for, and customers seemed reluctant to commit to substantial investments.”
Paint decorated furniture was abundant at the show; two of its strongest proponents, Tom Jewett and Butch Berdan of Newcastle, Maine, brought some standouts, among them, a Maine vinegar decorated one-drawer blanket chest evincing original paint and surface with original hardware, circa 1830s. A nice small size, it measured 36 by 18½ by 31 inches. An oversize basket in old red paint stood ready to hold an abundant harvest and an American dollhouse, dated 1857 and signed by the maker, charmed visitors to their booth.
The exposition would not be complete without quality English ceramics, and filling this category with prime Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century examples was the Wilton firm Maria and Peter Warren. The Warrens’ daughter AJ was busily attending to customers in the booth, but pointed to a salt-glaze plate with a rare chinoiserie pattern, decorated with a parrot and fruit and part of the Manheim collection, along with a teapot with chintz decoration, its interior “sweetened” with a note describing its inclusion in an exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, in 1948. Atop a farm table with breadboard top and base, circa 1880–1900, was a profusion of creamware plates, reticulated baskets and candlesticks.
Sandwich, Mass., dealer Moe Wajselfish was clearly pleased to be back in the Wilton Field House, even as he was getting ready for the next week’s appearance at the Delaware show. As usual, his Leatherwood Antiques booth was chock-full of decorative arts treasures, including some standout Masonic items such as a rare hand painted Odd Fellows panel with the all-watching eye, a sternboard from an old royal barge, crisply carved and with the family of coat of arms and a symbolic lodge axe labeled Romney/Marsh. Mermaid tie-backs looked especially sweet between a pair of English woolies, and an unusual toss game board in green and red was both substantial and Modernist in appearance.
A New England pine dining table from the late Eighteenth/early Nineteenth Century, the top original to the base in dry old green paint over blue graced the booth of Colette Donovan, Merrimacport, Mass. An autumnal accent came from an early Nineteenth Century American funnel in original paint and with a chamfered spout that held several chalk vegetables — an ear of corn, onion and potato. A New England Nineteenth Century pine storage chest in untouched condition had never been drilled for hinges, while a wonderful hooked rug depicted a rampant bull and well-carved New England decoy duck in flight by an unknown late Nineteenth/early Twentieth Century carver had crisply delineated wings and untouched painted surface.
The Wilton show is a local one for Lloyd and Paula Rhodes, owners of Red Griffin Antiques in nearby Georgetown. Standout items in their booth included a painting by Albert Szatmar Nemethy (1920–1998), a ship’s portrait of the Civil War-era sidewheeler steamboat Ida, which is depicted serenely sailing past verdant hills, passengers enjoying the passing view from her decks, unaware that she will be burned by the Union in December 1864. Paula Rhodes specializes in hardstone jewelry and pointed out an intaglio ring — “very regal, probably belonged to a noble,” she said — of carnelian stone, possibly English, its carving depicting a coat of arms. A Belle Epoch necklace of silver and brilliants was visually stunning.
Purveyor of folky signage Victor Weinblatt brought his massive inventory, which included for this show a naïve diner sign and menu list from Andy’s New Yorker, circa 1950, very graphic with red and black lettering on a white background, and a 1940s pig farm sign from New York State in which the porker depicted, true to his breed, fills the entire space of the sign, about to burst out of the frame. The South Hadley, Mass., dealer had also brought a graphic circa 1930s New England polychrome Parcheesi board, a sporting goods 1920s–30s golfer figure holding a circa 1920s Wolverine child’s club and a sculptural Adirondack early Twentieth Century snowshoe seat chair with ottoman and original cushions.
“I loved the Wilton Show and was happy to be among such wonderful dealers,” enthused Kimberly Kittredge of Treasured Memories Antiques. “I received some nice compliments on several items that I was fortunate enough to ‘unearth.’ I found two very nice items, fresh out of a barn in Connecticut, one being an early tavern sign from Goshen and the other an old oil on canvas circus sign. I found the show to be well attended and look forward to returning.”
The show went fairly well for Egon and Joan Teichert, specialists in fine prints from Hauppauge, N.Y. The couple sold a lithograph by Grant Wood, “Tree Planting Group,” and a historical print published by the American Art Union in 1846 of “The Capture of Major Andre,” engraved by Alfred Jones and James Smillie after Asher Durand with hand coloring. “There was quite a bit of interest in American print makers from the Nineteenth and Twentieth Century,” said Egon Teichert.
“Impressive” sales at Wilton were recorded by Richard “Smitty” Axtell of Deposit, N.Y., but he demurred in providing specifics due to “client anonymity.” He was, however, “pleased to report antiques of rarity in the high country area sold very well. Both accessories and decorative arts as well as furniture left my booth with very satisfied customers. I sincerely hope that this ‘rebirth’ will continue. The old traditions always stand to be the best and this old venue is no exception. My vote of confidence goes out to Barn Star Productions.”
Among the dealers hoping that the revived show will build a following is Ted Feuhr of American Spirit Antiques, Shawnee Mission, Kan., who sold a Chippendale desk in the afternoon, a William Lester Stevens farmyard scene painting in addition to several smalls. “The venue is a great building, ease of load in and out. Great location for customers as it has lots of parking and it is close to large population centers with high income. Very close to New York by car or train. I thought the show looked great with a diverse selection of merchandise and price levels.”
For his part, Frank Gaglio said he expects to return with a fall show next year, and is in discussion for a spring edition as well. We are among those rooting for this becoming an event we can all look forward to for years to come.