Published: April 29, 2008
Tradition was upended this year when the 47-year-old Philadelphia Antiques Show abandoned the tried and true, starting fresh at the Navy Yard, six miles from the 33rd Street Armory, its longtime home. As in any new venture, there were glitches, but robust attendance dispelled pre-show jitters.
“I got more than I ever bargained for. I have never worked so hard in my life. Having said that, I’m delighted with how everything turned out,” said Karen S. Drury, chairman of the 2008 fair, which opened Friday, April 11, and continued through Tuesday, April 15.
Anticipated renovations to the 33rd Street Armory prompted the Philadelphia Antiques Show, a benefit for the University of Pennsylvania Heath System, to seek a new venue after the close of its 2007 event. The Philadelphia Inquirer recently reported that, after five years of discussion, Drexel University has signed a 50-year lease with the Pennsylvania National Guard, allowing the university to move forward with its plans to convert the armory into a basketball arena and convocation center. Drexel assumes management of the facility this fall and hopes to complete renovations in 30 months, the Inquirer said.
“We have an option to renew the Navy Yard for three years and we fully intend to go back,” Drury said after the close of this year’s expo.
The chairman speculated that public curiosity about the Navy Yard venue and a spate of publicity encouraged attendance. Additionally, the committee increased its marketing effort and hired a new public relations agency, Devine & Powers.
Holly Luff, co-chairman of the show’s marketing committee, led the campaign to blanket Philadelphia with banners and billboards. There were 80 banners in Center City, two at 30th Street Station, billboards on I-95 and I-76, and 40 posters in Amtrak commuter rail stations. Tickets were distributed to concierges at 11 prominent Philadelphia hotels, and shuttles ran from 30th Street Station to the Navy Yard and back at half-hour intervals. Customers were largely happy with parking and valet arrangements.
“We can do better next year,” show managers Josh and Sandy Wainwright of Keeling Wainwright Associates told exhibitors at a postshow wrap-up meeting. Setup had its challenges.
The much-debated floor plan felt cramped in spots. Some exhibitors chose paper, which had to be pieced to cover the ten-foot booth walls; other exhibitors used fabric. Some dealers opted for ceilings over their booths, others did not. Floors were uneven, prompting Olde Hope Antiques, for one, to raise its floor on shims. These inconsistencies detracted in small ways from the show’s overall appearance. On the other hand, the free-span tent erected adjacent to the onsite café proved to be an attractive, spacious setting for special events.
Acknowledging these imperfections, Josh Wainwright told Antiques and The Arts Weekly , “We are going to tweak the floor plan. We are expanding our dealer advisory committee and are consulting with exhibitors on show design. We don’t want to force dealers to pay for things they don’t want or need.”
Much to everyone’s relief, there seemed to be no correlation between booth location and sales, with dealers in the back of the show selling as well as exhibitors near the entrance.
“The centerpiece of our display was a curled maple Bucks County, Penn., secretary desk that had been in the same family since it was made. It sold at preview to a private individual,” Audrey Rebollo said of the 1798 case piece. After Christopher T. Rebollo Antiques sent photographs of a pair of portraits by Matthew Pratt to curator Carrie Rebora Barratt for identification, the Metropolitan Museum of Art notified the firm that it wanted to buy the circa 1768‷0 paintings, which depict Reynold Keen and his wife, Christiana Stille Keen. Other sales included a mahogany birdcage tea table and a Philadelphia figured chest of drawers.
Several newcomers had excellent debuts. Ohio dealers David Good and Sam Forsythe parted with glass, redware, a drop leaf breakfast table with small pad feet and a primitive tin chandelier †both from Rhode Island †a Chester County vine and berry inlaid spice box, chairs, and a William and Mary tavern table.
New Oxford, Penn., dealer Kelly Kinzle sold a cigar store Indian chief carved by John Philip Yeager of Baltimore, circa 1870, and a companion Indian princess. Another cigar store Indian sold at Jeffrey Tillou Antiques. It was quickly replaced with a smaller princess.
There were high impact displays of American folk art, scarcer on the floor this year, at Allan Katz Americana, Hill Gallery and Olde Hope Antiques.
Katz made multiple sales, including that of a monumental paint decorated Civil War parade drum, before the fair was over.
Hill Gallery, the Birmingham, Mich., folk art dealers who have a parallel specialty in Modern and contemporary art, sold a stylized Norwegian American painted rocking horse and a Charles Looff carousel horse. Accenting their spare display was Milton Avery’s oil on canvas painting “Crucifix” of 1946
Olde Hope Antiques wrote up a paint decorated Mahantango chest of drawers, among other sales.
Stephen and Carol Huber’s panoramic display emphasized silk embroidered pictures. The Connecticut dealers’ many sales included the anonymous picture “Cornelia,” after a 1785 painting by Angelica Kaufman, and Clarissa Wentworth’s memorial to her father.
Philadelphia dealer Amy Finkel sold 17 samplers. Four went to British dealers, who are benefiting from the strong pound sterling. M. Finkel & Daughter has enjoyed a flurry of recent sales to museums, including the Art Institute of Chicago, Colonial Williamsburg, the Museum of Our National Heritage, and the DAR Museum. Two samplers were on hold for the Baltimore Museum of Art.
Brant Mackley, another new exhibitor known for tribal art, showcased a silver mounted pipe tomahawk, $275,000, made in the Mid-Atlantic area in the late Eighteenth or early Nineteenth Century. The late Bill Guthman reluctantly traded the piece years ago.
Native American art dealer Marcy Burns was so busy that she ran out of sales slips. “All of my collectors came,” said the New York dealer.
“The crowds were incredible, right through Tuesday,” said Massachusetts dealer Joan Brownstein, a dealer in American folk painting whose sales included portraits, portrait miniatures and a Thomas Chambers seascape. Her partner, Peter Eaton, a 20-year veteran of the Philadelphia Antiques Show, made half a dozen major sales, including that of a New England lift top blanket chest, a delicately proportioned Federal candlestand, a Providence, R.I., inlaid card table and a chest-on-chest.
Leigh Keno showed exceptional American furniture in fine condition to best advantage in a booth bathed in natural light. The Manhattan dealer’s sales included a diminutive chest of drawers with an emphatically scrolled skirt and oversized brasses. It was made for the marriage of Jonathan Hunt and Levinah Swan of Vermont in 1770. With its many New London County details, it may be by a Connecticut-trained cabinetmaker working in Vermont.
Other sales at Keno Antiques included a walnut open armchair from Baltimore, circa 1775; a Philadelphia rococo easy chair; and a Chester County, Penn., slant front desk with a lavishly ornamented interior. The fanciful case piece attributed to Isaac Thomas features a series of secret drawers.
“Of the six Thomas desks known, this one is by far the most elaborate,” said Keno.
Also by Thomas, a circa 1790 serpentine front Hepplewhite spice box with a secret drawer hidden behind a shell carving in its frieze was on offer at H.L. Chalfant Antiques. Known for spice chests, the West Chester, Penn., sold a rare walnut vine and berry inlaid Queen Anne dartboard example.
James Kilvington featured an important pair of Philadelphia early rococo tassel back mahogany side chairs from the same set as two others from the Penn family that Kilvington sold to Chipstone Foundation on behalf of the Welcome Society.
Four monumental tall case clocks, one by Benjamin Witman of Reading, Penn., flanked the Willing family Philadelphia desk and bookcase at Philip H. Bradley Antiques of Downingtown, Penn.
“It is literally a one-of-a-kind object. It came right out of the Metcalf family and had never been pictured until we got it,” Todd Prickett said of a Salem, Mass., bombe desk and bookcase from the workshop of Nathaniel Gould, circa 1780. The recent discovery sold before C.L. Prickett Antiques could bring it to Philadelphia. In its place were a set of six pristine Chippendale side chairs; a New Brunswick, N.J., tall clock by Matthew Edgerton; and a Queen Anne carved cherry bonnet top highboy from Farmington or Wethersfield, Conn.
Classical American furniture expert Carswell Rush Berlin featured Restauration period Duncan Phyfe, organizing his stand around a box sofa, table and parlor chairs.
Attributed to Phyfe and dated around 1820, a lyre-base card table with paw feel and ebony and brass accents shone at Hirschl & Adler Galleries.
Georgian Manor Antiques of Fairhaven, Mass., got off to a good start, selling a set, priced $25,000 and dating to circa 1890, of framed East Indian gouaches on paper of exotic birds.
The loan show, “Fore & Aft: Philadelphia Collects Maritime,” featured 80 objects from public and private collections. A highlight was the well-known Jack Tar shop figure from the estate of J. Welles Henderson, the Philadelphia collector whose maritime treasures will be dispersed by Northeast Auctions at its annual marine and China auction on August 16‱7.
Plans are already underway for next year’s loan show, “Patriots and Presidents: Philadelphia Portrait Miniatures, 1750‱860.” The show is being jointly organized by Philadelphia collectors Robert and Kathy Booth and Elle Shushan, the Philadelphia-based specialist in portrait miniatures.
Dozens of exhibitors interpreted the marine theme. Tillou Antiques featured its own Jack Tar figure, a mid-Nineteenth Century English example attributed to Newcastle carver Thomas Hall Tweedy.
Stella Rubin decorated her back wall with a circa 1850 Pennsylvania quilt in the Mariner’s Compass pattern.
Schwarz Galleries brought moody, dynamic marine pastels by Charles Henry Fromuth (1861‱937), an American artist who did harbor scenes in Concarneau, France. The Philadelphia gallery also arrayed portraits by members of the Peale family. Sales included “Elizabeth Chambers Copper” by Rembrandt Peale, circa 1804.
A magnificent still life by Severin Roesen, a German-born artist who worked in Pennsylvania, was $475,000 and Martin Johnson Heade’s striking “Cluster of Roses in Glass” was $395,000 at Debra Force Fine Art.
“In this setting, we are contemporary dealers,” said John Levittes of John Alexander, Ltd, who emphasized the modernity of his British Arts and Crafts furniture and accessories by displaying objects in a booth sheathed with untreated plywood. Highlights included two case pieces by John Ednie, a Scottish contemporary of Charles Rennie Mackintosh.
Dalton’s, the American Arts and Crafts expert from Syracuse, N.Y., offered two inlaid, shoe foot armchairs designed by Harvey Ellis for Gustav Stickley.
“People found the Philadelphia Antiques Show and loved it. We had a couple of little issues, which we will solve, but overall everything went quite well,” said Karen Drury.
For information, 215-387-3500 or www.philaantiques.com .
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