By Karla Klein Albertson
NASHVILLE, TENN. – For many Americana dealers, January means New York, but February is the month for their annual working vacation at the Heart of Country Show. Walking the mean streets of the Big Apple, dealers dream of a perfect place with tropical foliage, bursts of colorful flowers, waterfalls and balmy air.
And that dream comes true at Nashville’s Opryland Hotel, where the extensive botanical garden “enviroscapes” under glass means one can deal, eat and play in ideal surroundings. This year, February 8-11 was the getaway weekend for exhibitors and collectors longing for a midwinter break.
Although there is certainly no dearth of shows around their base in New Hope, Patrick Bell and Ed Hild of Olde Hope Antiques have excellent reasons for making an annual pilgrimage out to Tennessee.
Hild explains, “We love coming down here, because we see people we don’t see anywhere else – people from the South and the Midwest who just come to this show. We’re in New York in January where there’s a lot of pressure; it’s very serious. As wonderful as the show is in New York, it’s fun to come down here a few weeks later and meet people who are so happy to see us – they’re very warm and wonderful.”
Other dealers emphasize the strength of the market. Mendham, N.J., dealer Gloria Lonergan who will be doing Philadelphia’s Navy Pier show in April, explains, “Collectors from all over the country come to Nashville – they fly in. And the decorators and dealers are here shopping.” She offered both furniture and folk art including a painted Indian weathervane, a marvelous early Parcheesi board and a dancing pig painting, dated 1931. Her pair of identical tables from a convent sold quickly.
Terry Daniel and wife Brenda drove down from Newville, Penn., out past Carlisle. “Nashville is fun; we love the town and the Opryland Hotel. We’ve been coming here 22 years. People come here to buy – we’ve never had a bad show here.”
Gino Ferrieri in the booth of Ostrich Hill Farm, Schaefferstown, Penn., agreed: “Nashville always has been a good show. In Pennsylvania, everybody’s competing to buy and sell the same stuff. I bring special things here that I can’t sell back there.” This year, his centerpiece was a magnificent high baroque Italian bed with canopy, circa 1750, from an old Philadelphia family -$52,500 for these sweet dreams.
After exhibiting in Antiques at the Other Armory, Allentown-area dealer Thurston Nichols – showing off a great pair of architectural masks from a Philadelphia theater – also came down to do some business on the floor, saying “I wanted to shop and sell.”
Nichols highlights a point that frequently comes up when people talk about Heart of Country: the opportunity for Eastern dealers to network with those from the South and Midwest. Exhibitors like Bill Powell from Franklin, Tenn., Rick Ege from St Louis, and Scott Estepp from Cincinnati had strong sales during set-up to colleagues from other parts of the country stocking up for spring shows.
For example, Houston dealer Karen Sobotka, headed for Round Top, bought Estepp’s unusual display shelving. Particularly eager for these more reasonably priced wares are right coast dealers who live in areas where the competition is stiff and prices high. Celebrate the joys of fresh merchandise.
Ed Hild’s remarks refer to the other side of the coin as well: the need for a supply of fresh collectors. Antiquers in Connecticut and Pennsylvania have a fistful of buying options every weekend – no hurry, the stuff is always out there. For collectors in the rest of the country, shows like Heart are It. After waiting in line for the opening bell, all that pent-up energy pours out during the preview party.
Joanne and Jack Boardman, classic country dealers from DeKalb, Ill., sold their long table to a “nice young man” from California and the blue-painted blind cupboard to a collector from North Carolina. Jack commented, “It’s been a very good show – both ways, buying and selling – for us. Last October was too; we’ve been very fortunate. We don’t put spotlights up anymore. I think it glares. We don’t want to look like a store, we want it to be a room setting, so we just bring some of our lamps from home – and people like that.”
Carolinn Pocher and William Woody of Darwin, Philadelphia, also had a sold cupboard and table stashed in one corner, but most rdf_Descriptions just get carried at time of purchase.
This makes keeping up appearances at the high-profile Gallery Booth a challenge. George Allen and Gordon Wyckoff of Raccoon Creek Antiques in Bridgeport, N.J. (“one mile east of Commodore Barry Bridge”) were selected this year for the special spot at the center of the show, which they themed, “Rural Folk Art: Traditions in America.” The nod for this honor requires both inventive presentation and a deep inventory of wonderful things with which to fill the expansive display space.
Superb country furniture in original paint, a wall of blue and white stoneware, and a strong showing of textiles helped draw a steady stream of customers to the booth. Two stars of the array were a great lion pattern hooked rug, dated 1922 in wonderful condition, $4,800, and an applique feather heart quilt with 100 individual stars from New Jersey, circa 1870, for $6,800. The firm also has a large collection of colored transferware in the Richard Jordan pattern, even after selling a set of four graduated platters in purple at the American Antiques Show in January.
The main exhibition along the central aisles of the show had a familiar patriotic theme. For “Long May It Wave,” specialist dealers Jeff Bridgman and J. Kenneth Kohn pooled their flags to show and sell. Saturday at their side-by-side booths, Jeff reported, “We’re partners in flags, but we have separate antiques businesses. We sold a number of things from the display and three of the larger flags – it’s been excellent.”
Throughout the show, dealers showcased their own quilts, rugs or posters with all-American motifs in red, white and blue. New York’s Praiseworthy Antiques had a shield-bearing, saber-rattling Union Army hall tree, circa 1875, for $10,500.
As Harold Cole points out in his remarks [see sidebar], the trick to making Heart of Country a national antiques destination has been the packaging of trips by show founders Dick and Libby Kramer, who offer special price room reservations at the Opryland Hotel as part of the event announcement. The Kramers also schedule annual educational opportunities and excursions.
This year’s attraction was “An Evening with Andrew Jackson” on Friday, February 8, which received such an overwhelming response that it took four large buses to transport collectors to the site east of Nashville. An after-dark tour by lamplight of the property Jackson purchased in 1804 was coupled with entertaining lectures by Robert Hicks and John Kiser of the show’s advisory committee. The unique experience ended with a southern dinner and good jazz in the parlors of Tulip Grove, which belonged to the president’s younger relatives.
This base of educated, enthusiastic collectors frequenting the show was most in evidence at the packed booth run by Linda Roggow and Carole Chenevert of Ohio’s Mad Anthony Books, the show’s permanent purveyors of the educational lowdown. No time to sit down or even sneeze, the two women worked side by side to fill requests, further encouraged by special “Book Fair” sessions nearby featuring various authors.
Roggow said emphatically that collectors – even novices – were not requesting the easy stuff but serious references on their specialties, such as the premier volume from the Chipstone Foundation’s new Ceramics in America series. They also run a great out-of-print section, which often produces exactly the book on visitors’ want lists.
At Mad Anthony’s and throughout the show, business seemed to be rolling in unshaded by national economics. In the end, antiques may prove the best investment after all.
The next edition of the biannual show rolls around October 17-20.