The biting winds that whipped through the city’s canyons on Thursday evening, March 9, seemed custom-ordered to drive first-nighters into the garden fantasies at the Stellas’ eighth annual Gramercy Garden Show.
As the weather turned warm and glorious over the next three days, the faithful continued to fill the 69th Regiment Armory, maintaining last year’s gate levels. Their buying patterns, however, fluctuated with the winds. While one dealer called it “phenomenal, a smokin’ show,” Leanne Stella of Stella Show Mgmt Co. reported that some dealers saw inspired activity during the Gala Preview for the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and others said that Sunday afternoon’s surge came was welcome.
Either way, the flock of cardinal-colored tags that popped up on merchandise proved that both the trappings from grand estates as well as more casual classical garden items, and more than few new items, will be welcomed into landscape designs from the Hamptons to Brooklyn Heights.
Not only was a new floor plan in place with a large open area designed for the weekend’s seminars, but there were also a refurbished café and several fresh faces among the dealers. “We didn’t want it to look like the same show over again,” Stella said of the popular event.
In a departure from the American mantelpieces for which the company is known, Francis J. Purcell of Philadelphia debuted at the show with a selection of Victorian garden ornaments and architectural treasures, the culmination of the family’s 17-year passion for collecting fine garden antiques. Paramount among the treasures was a working fountain of Italian statuary white marble. Standing on a highly polished bulbous marble column atop a stepped square base, the quixotic offering featured an insouciant youth, head thrown back in glee, riding a bucking fish that spurted an arc of water into a basin decorated with a theatrical version of egg and dart design.
“I wish the fish could spit a little higher and we had orchids here,” Purcell mused, noting the restrained flow demanded by public setting. Commissioned in 1919 and delivered in 1920 to a New Jersey estate, the fountain was minted to grace a solarium and satisfy epiphytes’ thirst for humidity. Still a thing of remarkable beauty, the fountain brought strong interest from several collectors.
Surviving the ages was a rare pair of decorative urns as planters, about 50 inches tall and 36 inches wide by maker J.W. Fiske. Cranes stretched and preened around the articulated column, recalling the Victorians’ flirtation with the Aesthetic movement. Completing the setting was an equally rare set of eight chairs or benches with intricate iron fretwork taken from a central New Jersey estate. Based on an early English pattern, circa 1830s‱840s, that later showed up in France, the nearly paper-thin, tight detailing was exquisite. Among the items shipped to clients after the show was a tall French zinc finial, of octagonal shape with a faceted baluster section in the middle. Purcell explained that it would have been one of four to 12 surrounding the roof.
In contrast to the large finds, a cute tilt-top candle table †a souvenir from Philadelphia’s Centennial celebration or the Crystal Palace Exhibition in New York †carried such cachet that it deserves mention. Ebonized and hand painted with flowers, the bronze of the gilt powder was still visible. “Overall,” Purcell said, “the show was a success.”
Bob Withington of Maine provided high excitement with a sophisticated exhibit of statuary and architectural stone dominated by a massive iron mirror flanked by both sconces and reeded columns. In the foreground of Withington’s display a dramatic circular window appeared to be suspended in space by sheer will, providing a visual as dramatic as the garden it was no doubt meant to preview.
Nearby, Schorr & Dobinsky’s eye for popular selections continued as the Bridgehampton team opened on a successful note with a visually arresting display of French faux bois, stone urns and garden furniture. A forsythia-filled planter welcomed browsers and buyers to inspect unusual 1940s pineapple fountains from Rhode Island, a traditional French faux bois armchair and an assortment of mirrors, including two mounted in carved furniture frames. Several round ornamental mirrors made in France or Italy, circa 1900‱950, added a “decorator’s touch” to the walls.
Bruce Emond, The Village Braider, Plymouth, Mass., said, “We sold everything and left through the front door.” Quite a statement for a dealer whose booth was filled to the brim with massive garden urns and statuary.
Manhattan dealers Judith and James Milne adorned an entire wall with an impressive array of eight American copper lanterns from the 1940s and 1950s. Nestled in a corner of their booth, and setting off a garden table and chair set, was a floral 1920s lamp that bore some resemblance to Jack’s beanstalk. The Milnes’ showstopper was an elegant cast stone planter in the shape of a swan. It was centered on a table under two huge wooden architectural arches.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the swan theme cropped up several times in different forms. Philip Meunier of Paris showed garden-inspired majolica, which he said was for the “winter garden” †indoors. Among these was a rare majolica swan vase designed by Louis Carrier Bellense (1858‱913), manufactured by Choisy Le-Roi. Across the room, Linda Elmore played the lighter side of the motif with a 1920s swan bassinet as planter. Said Elmore, “We usually do a very serious garden booth but decided to do something more light-hearted, more eclectic this time.” She referenced the recent success she had at the Modern Show with a “quirky” booth.
Meanwhile, Finnegan Gallery of Chicago led with a handsome wooden dog sculpture wearing a collar. It was sitting among an impressive array of Eighteenth, Nineteenth and early Twentieth Century garden furniture and Scottish stoneware urns.
At The Elemental Garden, Woodbury, Conn., a rustic two-tiered working stone fountain again featured the boy-on-fish theme. The dealer’s tag line, “everything for the garden,” was carried out with a broad array of planters in many sizes, columns and tables for cache pots, iron gates, two of gothic form, and outdoor lamps.
Linda and Howard Stein of Bridgehampton, N.Y., offered Italian marble urns, circa 1820, along with carved limestone urns, approximately 3½ feet tall. At Bridges Over Time, Newburgh, N.Y., Betty and Ed Koren featured six antique planters, probably from a New York City townhouse, as well as several newish garden animals sprouting well-tended moss. A set of large reversible oil panels, 8½ feet tall, probably once theater backdrops and found in a barn at a New York estate, provided dramatic flair.
The Red Horse Gallery of Bridgewater, Vt., displayed several trellis-iron sconces from Belgium. “We went to Brussels to buy them,” Sue Lilly said. Although the booth featured a large pine plate rack, Irish or English, it was the suite of eight red and white amaryllis water colors, each a different variety, signed (but unintelligibly) and dated 1946‱947, that commanded the eye.
Speaking of horses, while some gardens may overlook corrals, few sport the kind of thoroughbreds that Leah of New York City displayed. First there was a quixotic poker table and chair set with hoofed legs, circa 1870, obviously made for a private club. And next to that, a life-sized horse sculpture made with Harley-Davidson parts, which a buyer from Hermes reportedly purchased for $100,000. It is said to be destined for the company’s new downtown store.
David Drummond, Lititz, Penn., arrived with an eclectic selection of garden items, the most impressive being three folk art porch posts. Taken from a Maine home and carved of pine, circa 1920, the trio spouted fairylike heads with Spock-like ears, and rock or wooden eyes. Each mouth was open to incredulous expression.
Ronnie and Guy Weil of New Hope, Penn., showed two large wooden bird decoys, comfortable in their place among the surrounding urns and garden pedestals.
DeGennaro Modern, while showing an array of modern furniture that included two turquoise wire lounge chairs from the 1960s, demonstrated that a dealer’s inventory can be funky and formal at the same time. Almost obliterating the furniture behind was a pair of monumental cast iron garden urns signed Adams. About 36 inches wide, with curved and filigree handles, they topped columns decorated with swags and bows.
Michele Fox of Grandview, N.Y., laid out an inventory of American quilts and fabrics meant to decorate the country porch or home. A summer-weight Nineteenth Century whole cloth chintz cotton quilt hung in the center of her booth. The circa 1860 creation measured 90 by 80 inches.
Ani, the New York City designer, offered archaic stone pieces collected from around the world, as well as custom design services. Gorham Gardens, New York City, housed specimens in graduated bell jar terrariums. On the wall, three iron deer heads surrounded a massive staghorn fern. Portuguese eel traps and a display of wooden rakes completed the garden setting.
Finally, Firehouse Antiques, Galena, Md., ignited its corner of the show with a display of statuary and urns dominated by two Palladian windows, wall-mounted to form a circle.
Garden displays will also be prevalent at Stella Mgmt’s next show, the Chicago Botanical Garden Antiques Show, April 20′2. For further information, 212-255-0020, www.stellashows.com .