Published: December 2, 2003
– James S. “Jimi” Barton, Jr, 54, died on Wednesday, November 26, losing to his battle with lung and liver cancer. He died peacefully at his home in Rhinebeck, where he had lived since 1997.
Jimi was born December 22, 1948, son of the late James S. and Catherine VanNorstrand Barton, in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., where he grew up and served as an acolyte for more than seven years at St Paul’s Episcopal Church. He attended Arlington schools, graduating in 1967 and from that time until last year he served as reunion chairman for his class.
His artistic talent was recognized early in his youth by his teachers and at the age of 9 he won honorable mention in a nationwide contest sponsored by the Poughkeepsie Sunday New Yorker. In 1971 he graduated from Dutchess Community College where he was awarded the David Lax Gold Metal in Fine and Applied Arts.
For 17 years Jimi was an employee of IBM, serving on the executive staff as a graphic artist at the East Fishkill location. During this period he also served as a volunteer on the National Ski Patrol at Gore Mountain, North Creek, N.Y.
Prior to retiring from IMB in 1989, Jimi met and started working in the office of the late Bill Walter, founder, owner and promoter of the Rhinebeck Antiques Fair that got its start at Bard College before moving to the Dutchess County Fairgrounds. Jimi soon became an important part of the business, learning from Bill the ins and outs of running an antiques show with emphasis on the needs of both the exhibitors and the public. As Bill Walter’s health starting failing in the mid 1990s, Jimi took on more responsibility and ended up buying the shows in 1996, shortly before Bill’s death.
Jimi surrounded himself with a dedicated staff and shared some of the most important tasks with his friend from childhood, Bruce Garrett. “He was my mentor and it has been an important part of my life to have experienced growing up with Jimi as my friend. We have had an honest relationship, like brothers, and have enjoyed the fun times, travel and especially music together.”
Music was a special part of Jimi’s life and he played with a number of bands, performing throughout both Dutchess and Westchester counties. In the 1960s Bruce Garrett was both drummer and singer in a band and, upon deciding to just handle the singing duties, hired Jimi to take over the drums. Jimi also maintained a place in his house “where a bunch of us would get together every once in a while and jam” he said recently. His expertise in music also benefited the Dutchess County Arts Council, an organization for which he served as president for two years.
Bruce Emond of Village Braider Antiques has been doing the Rhinebeck show for many years and noted, “When Jimi took over the business it was not just a matter of dollars and cents, but friendships and an awareness of his dealers.” He added, “I have never seen a promoter do so much for the dealers, he cared about us and would do anything for us.”
Jimi was a dealer himself at one time, not full but part-time, a fact that led Dennis Bakoledis to comment, “Jimi knew our needs, respected us and welcomed us to the show to become part of his large family. He was tireless in promoting the show, appeared on TV to get the name out, and was always looking for ways to keep Rhinebeck at the top of the scale.” Dennis said, “We all knew Jimi was very sick at the last show in October, but he stayed at the fairgrounds to the very end. He just wanted to see every dealer before they left, probably knowing that it would be his last time.”
John Gould, a 15-year veteran of the Rhinebeck Antiques Fair, feels that Jimi brought a new tone to the show, something special that he wove into the fiber of the show, and at the same time “made me feel important. Jimi invented new ways, or enlarged upon them, to make things better, and so often he passed the credit on to someone else.”
Training at IBM taught him a sense of orderliness, and it was evident in the years that followed. “He was so well organized, with the best interest of the dealers coming first, that it was always a pleasure to do Rhinebeck,” dealer Mary Carden Quinn said. Cheryl Scott mentioned, “Paul and I wrote Jimi a letter asking about the possibility of doing one of his shows and he called us shortly after receiving our note and invited us. We immediately felt a part of his family, he became a great friend, and it just doesn’t get any better than that.”
“Jimi loved what he was doing, it was not about money, but it was all about making Rhinebeck a great place for both dealers and buyers,” David Currier of Costa and Currier said. Dick Costa noted, “Jimi was a great friend, and a very religious person. I once gave him a small religious object and was very touched when I saw him wearing it about his neck at the last show in October.”
Bill Lohrman, a veteran of many years at Rhinebeck, noted, “Knowing the circumstances, we were all expecting this day, but it still comes with a shock. We had a great understanding and I did the show because of Jimi. We were not dealer and promoter, but treated each other as a friend.”
Corinne Burke called Jimi “a great guy, wonderful promoter, and we will all miss him.” She also noted, “He was very smart, especially in the way he has brought Bruce into the fold. He knew that when the time came, his show would be in good hands.” “I never heard of anyone having a complaint at the show that was not taken care of by Jimi,” Steve Gero said, adding, “he ran a tight ship with fairness.”
Jane Wargo said, “It was a privilege to have been a friend of Jimi Barton and he made it all so easy. For some reason, we had a bond, we seemed to connect, as I know he did with so many people. It was his nature because he cared and was concerned for all of us. He was so much a part of Rhinebeck that none of us were surprised when, sick as he was, he arrived in October and visited everyone to see how we were. He knew it would be his final visit, and I think we did too. I knew it as I squeezed his hand for the last time. His courage was remarkable and inspiring, he was one special guy. Jimi, Phil and I will miss you greatly, God speed.”
“He kept Rhinebeck unique,” dealer Sandy Levy said of Jimi, “and he is so well respected for bringing a lovely event to the Hudson Valley.”
“I saw a pin one time and immediately thought of Jimi, so I bought it and sent it to him,” Kathy Schoemer said. The pin showed a rainbow with the wording “Dear Lord, please send me another rainbow.” Later Kathy learned that both Bill Walter and Jimi loved rainbows, talking about them often, and in a thank you note Jimi wrote about the pictures of rainbows he had collected. Kathy added, “I feel so good about my relationship with him, he was one of my best friends, and if anyone is going to arrive at the doorstep, he will.”
“Jimi would come into our office, all smiles, and meet with Pam, Anita and her staff, and everyone always had a good time,” R. Scudder Smith, publisher of Antiques and The Arts Weekly noted. “Over the years Jimi and I saw each other at our office, our home, at Rhinebeck and at dinner every Friday night before the opening of the show. Helen and I watched him grow from the right-hand of Bill Walter to the always friendly and confident manager of one of the most popular antiques show. We talked of many things — Rhinebeck, the exhibitors, the booths, the economy, his new PT Cruiser that had so few miles — but never of Jimi. His concerns were for others and only as we parted after our dinner last October did he make any mention of himself. In the middle of a hug goodbye, he said, ‘I’m not afraid.'”
While Jimi’s roots were firmly planted in the Hudson Valley, in recent years he had developed a fondness for Florida and spent some time there visiting his longtime friend dealer Tommy Thompson. Tommy mentioned that on his last trip from New Hampshire to Florida, “I made a detour Tuesday to stop in to see Jimi and we had a nice time talking about all kinds of things. I showed him pictures of what we had done to the house since his last visit and he asked to be remembered to his Florida friends. We didn’t talk shop at all. As I was leaving late in the afternoon, he said goodbye and ‘just pull the door shut when you leave.'” Always one to help out, Jimi had supported a number of groups and organizations in Florida including the Gulf Coast Men’s Chorus.
While Jimi was in Florida just over a year ago, the time he was diagnosed with cancer, he was in the process of negotiating for a couple of antiques shows in that state. “Those plans are on the back burner,” Bruce Garrett said, “as we are planning to concentrate all of our effort on the three Rhinebeck shows at this time.”
Jimi Barton’s concern for others is a matter of statement in the world of antiques. It was also felt by many more people through his work as a third degree Mason. He was a member of Triune Lodge #782, F. & A.M. in Poughkeepsie, a member of Tri-Po-Bed Grotto, and the Order of DeMolay, sponsored by the Masons, where he served three years as Chapter Advisor. He was also proud to have been elected as an associate member of the Dutchess County Agricultural Society in the fall of 2002.
Jimi is survived by his beloved sister, Barbara A. Barton of Pleasant Valley, two godchildren, and an endless list of friends. The family extends its sincere thanks to all those who cared for Jimi and were at his side during his yearlong illness, especially Maurie Slayton of Grand Rapids, Mich.
At Jimi’s request there were no calling hours and burial will be private. There was a gathering of family and friends for a celebration of Jimi’s life at 2 pm on Wednesday, December 3, at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Wurtemburg Road, Rhinebeck.
Donations in Jimi’s memory may be sent to Angel Food East of Kingston, Box 3813, Kingston, NY, 12402, or The American Cancer Society, Inc, local branch, or PO Box 102454, Atlanta, GA 30368-2454.
–R. Scudder Smith
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