Published: February 19, 2008
If Americana is your thing, especially the sort that is Pennsylvanian in nature, the place to have been over the first weekend in February was the York Fairgrounds for yet another edition of the Original York Antiques Show. A milestone for both the show and promoter Melvin “Butch” Arion, the fair celebrated its 150th running as it opened the doors to a large crowd on Friday morning for a three-day run starting February 1.
While there was not a special celebration commemorating the 150th edition of this show, Arion was quick to point out that each of his Original York Antiques Shows is in itself a special event. The show was first started in 1934 by Mabel Renner and in the 1950s it was taken over by Paul Ettline and purchased by Arion in 1996. “We had 50 dealers then,” recalled Arion, “and we built it up from that day on,” he said soft-spokenly, although with well-deserved pride.
Arion’s hard work has paid off in spades with the show firmly established as a successful event with a solid reputation. “I’m really proud of it,” said Arion, “and of the dealers as well as they have supported me 100 percent.”
This show has emerged at the top of the heap for country Americana with 96 hand-selected dealers setting the stage. Tightly focused, yet eclectic in its country offerings, the show presents a stellar range of materials that can only be classified as “all things American.”
The colorful potteries of the Pennsylvania Dutch region, stick spatter, sponge and mocha filled showcases and cupboards alike, as did intensely glazed slipware loaf dishes and plates. Brightly painted Lehn ware and other treen were also prevalent. Hooked rugs in a variety of patterns and hues were seen in a large number of displays, colorful fraktur were abundant, as were eye-catching game boards in bright paint, chalk figures and folk carvings.
A Pennsylvania show would not be complete without a large selection of vibrantly colored and intricately worked quilts and coverlets. The show typically boasts enough quality examples displayed around the floor so as to easily form the nucleus of a comprehensive collection that would make any museum proud.
Patrons began forming a line more than two hours prior to the opening, and by the time Arion was ready to swing the doors open, the last person in line was barely in sight. The line usually snakes around the large foyer in the front of the revered Memorial Hall foyer and ultimately extends outside and around the side of the building. With the most recent opening, the crowd was bunched up with everyone huddled together so as to remain indoors and avoid the raw and nasty weather outside. “It’s smaller than usual,” said Arion of the crowd. “The weather has really hurt us.”
While the below-freezing temperatures rose with the sun, finally reaching a point where removing the thick layer of ice that blanketed cars throughout the region was simplified, the mere sight of the bleak conditions was enough to scare off many would-be travelers. The steady rains, downpours at times, did not help.
Those that did come to the show, the die-hard Americana collectors that routinely attack shows with a vengeance, did just that as they hit the floor. With the aisles crowded, the show became a hive of activity as dealers and collectors traded notes and conducted transactions.
Rains subsided during the overnight and eager shoppers were ready to make up lost time and do some serious shopping on Saturday morning. “We had a larger crowd waiting for the show to open this morning than we had yesterday,” said a jubilant Arion as he peered out over the packed aisles.
The small display area in the inner foyer creates a warm and cozy feeling for the show, and the three exceptional dealers displaying in the room greeted buyers as they entered the hall. Quarryville, Penn., dealer Country Lane Antiques has developed a wide following at the Original York Show and shoppers do not have to look very hard to find its booth, which is a mere 15-foot walk straight ahead from the show’s entrance. Strategically displayed, a colorful Burke County dower chest was catching the eye of collectors. In a pleasing yellowish paint with tombstone decorated panels across the front, the bracket base chest with two lower drawers was marked $23,000. A large rye straw basket displayed alongside was $9,200, while on the opposite wall a watercolor depicting a young girl by Jacob Maentel was marked $7,500 and a David Bigler watercolor taufschein dated 1862 was $6,500.
The highlight of the booth was another work by Bigler, a rare fraktur watercolor prayer with three large tulips rising from a central heart, two large finkeldorf on either side and smaller birds below. A poem in Pennsylvania German is inscribed in the center of the heart and continues at the base of the work. In wonderful colors, the rare piece was priced at $38,000.
Just across the way was the booth of Michael and Sally Whittemore, Washington, Ill., that featured an array of classic Americana ranging from a set of three large stuffed Mickey Mouse figures exhibiting the wonderful early style of the character, circa 1930, to a monumental stoneware watercolor with nice cobalt floral decoration and lug handles, appropriately sized to move the large form.
Weathervanes included a stylish rooster, leaping stag and a large arrow vane with unusual fleur-de-lis application forming a large diamond at the center pole.
Robesonia, Penn., dealer Greg Kramer has long occupied the booth at the entrance to the main exhibition hall and he is known for filling it to capacity, sometimes beyond, with a grand assortment of furniture and accessories. A large farm table had its top stacked high with country smalls and an unusual set of thumb back Windsors was positioned around. Cupboards, blanket boxes, washstands, wall cupboards and a great Pennsylvania country tall case clock in original paint filled out the rest of the furnishings. Accessories in the booth included a folky carved and painted owl, a pair of wrought iron hinges that had been uniquely made with a series of turns that emulated a snakelike form, and a large horse and sulky weathervane in a weathered gilt surface.
Frank Martin, Mertztown, Penn., offered an attractive dower chest in paint with three lower drawers above an ogee bracket base. A stylish pair of decoys was displayed on top of it, along with an oversized turned burl bowl.
Chuck White Folk Art and Antiques, Mercer, Penn., always presents a handsome assortment of materials with a gaily painted game board displayed above a masculine-looking horse weathervane. The pair was displayed amid a selection of folky items, such as a pocket watch-form trade sign, carved folk art head and a boldly painted chalkware urn filled with fruits and flowers.
One of the items on the floor that was getting looks from everyone was a rare “Alligator Circus Wagon” carved by Charlie Deeh, circa 1955. Originally from the Robert Clarke circus collection, the carving was offered by Steven Still, Elizabethtown, Penn. Other examples of Deeh’s work, including similar examples, are housed in the collection of the Shelburne Museum, according to the dealer.
Folk art to formal was the theme at Heller Washam Antiques, Portland, Maine. A nice early cigar store Indian with his arm raised to his brow gazed out into the aisle from the front corner of the booth that was otherwise filled with formal Queen Anne and Chippendale furnishings that ranged from highboys to four-drawer chests.
Carlisle, Penn., dealer James Price was another to offer a good selection of early furniture. A highboy stood kitty-corner against the wall of his booth, providing optimum viewing for those coming down the aisle. A similar form was displayed on the back wall and the remainder of the booth was overstocked with tall case clocks, tilt-top tea tables, candlestands and a Chippendale four-drawer chest.
Margaret Johnson Sutor, Lafayette Hill, Penn., was on hand with a selection of country porcelains, including a wonderful assortment of spatter. A nice set decorated predominately in blues included a tea pot, covered sugar, waste bowl, plates, and several cups and saucers. A large stick spatter plate had peafowl dominating the decoration in the center.
Greg Ellington, Wilmington, Ohio., was another of the dealers to present a good assortment of early tableware with a wide variety of mocha seen on his shelves. Forms ranged from colorfully decorated pitchers, some with geometric banding and others with scrottled surfaces, to seaweed and earthworm decorated mugs, pepper pots and salts.
Perhaps one of the most exciting of the pottery displays came from Clear Springs, Penn., dealer Lisa McAllister with her stellar collection of yellowware. A large pitcher with dotted decoration spelling out “ALE” was offered, along with a variety of other forms and decorated styles. A rare banded pitcher with wavy lines running around the body was displayed, as was a good collection of pepper pots with banded and seaweed decoration. McAllister is the author of three separate books on yellowware.
Set up in the center of the first aisle, where they have been for as long as memory serves, was Harry Hartman and his partner Oliver Overlander, Marietta, Penn. Long considered the grand masters of the local arts, the dealers displayed a wide range of materials, ranging from exceptional Shenandoah Valley redware in colorful glazes to a cupboard filled with soft paste. A round-topped hutch table in old paint was topped with a plethora of smalls, and the display was surrounded by a set of nicely painted Pennsylvania side chairs. A brightly painted deacon’s bench and a grain painted blanket box were close by. Weathervanes included a fish, spread-winged eagle and a large rooster. Displaying much of the same character as the silver-haired Hartman was the majestic lion that graced a hooked rug displayed on the rear wall of his booth.
Arion’s Original York Antiques Show will be presented again August 29″1. For information, 302-875-5326 or www.theoriginalyorkantiquesshow.com .
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