Published: July 10, 2018
By Walt Borton
SANTA FE – A new venue in a new city can be risky business for an established antiques and arts event. That is especially true in a market undergoing major disruptions ranging from the economic impact of the internet to the aging of its core customers. It does not help when veterans in the trade second-guess a show’s dates, venue, market strength and financial sustainability. The major international art market of Santa Fe is overpopulated with such “sages,” and this writer confesses to be among those initially skeptical of launching a major new Santa Fe show this early in the summer season, in the town’s most expensive venue, a place with carpet so colorful it clashes with everything.
So, some unease was understandable, when, early on Friday morning, June 22, 120 dealers from around the country gathered to set-up in the Santa Fe Convention Center, the new permanent home for the 29th Annual Cody Old West Show. There was an unusual hush in the cavernous show hall, where dealers quietly loaded-in, seeming to leave the important question “is this going to work?” unspoken.
Tension began to abate as exhibitors realized that producer Brian Lebel had brilliantly transformed the convention center’s awkward rectangular show-hall into an old-timey small town on market day. Charming specialty stalls – with large spaces for textiles, furniture and even giant cowboy movie posters – surrounded a refreshingly open “market square” bustling with table tops featuring festive displays of spurs, saddle bags, vintage rifles, boots and very old, very expensive, empty whiskey bottles. Every foot of wall around the room supported colorful mini-stalls showing jewelry, books, paintings, pottery and attire, so that even the chaotic orange, red and yellow ethnographic patterns of the room’s carpet seemed to fit in.
When, in the early afternoon, serious collectors with VIP credentials at $100 arrived in numbers not seen at a Santa Fe show for decades, the mood completed its transition from apprehension to enthusiasm. Soon, visitors could be heard on their cellphones urging friends “get over here now,” and the crowd just kept coming.
By Saturday, the number of visitors to the Old West Show, which continued through Sunday, was setting new records for Santa Fe. Co-producer Melissa McCracken said, “I’ve never seen a Sunday show crowd like that. I was still letting people through the door with only 20 minutes to go.” Gate figures confirm that over the three days more than 3,000 shoppers visited the show. The phrase “I’ve never seen a show crowd like that” was echoed by veterans of decades in the Western trade.
Although crowds do not guarantee business, the Santa Fe premier of the Cody Old West Show generated not just a big but a serious crowd of qualified buyers. Familiar faces from Santa Fe’s flea markets, posh galleries, consignment galleries, renowned Canyon Road and Indian Market mingled with out-of-towners in cowboy gear – Old West Show regulars, we presume? – and with tourists in tennies, shorts and tees. Throughout the weekend, the place hummed with business, which McCracken attributed to running coupon ads in every newspaper in town over the six weeks before the show.
Design authority and author Mary Emmerling and her husband, Reg Jackson, from Scottsdale, Ariz., spent three days shopping the show. Northwest Coast specialist Jim Flury was in from Seattle. Linda Cook, of the David Cook Gallery in Denver, joined the crowd. Robert Parsons shopped for his two prestigious galleries in Taos. Brant Mackley was there, passing out invites to the opening of his new Santa Fe gallery, as was a Canyon Road contingent that included Chick Monahan of Morningstar Gallery, Nathalie Kent and Jim Arndt of Nathalie, and gallerist Jose Navarro. Josh Baer was seen swapping stories with collector-producer John Morris. Legendary Santa Fe dealer Forrest Fenn spent hours roaming the aisles.
Rick Gottsponer, who, with wife, Julie, owns Sandbar Trading of Wichita, Kan., mentioned selling 26 small Pima baskets during the preview, but added a very important take, saying, “It was exiting. I saw lots of young buyers, couples with children. They would ask about a piece, google it on their phones, then ask more questions. These kids are taking a real interest in the work and they are buying.”
Lebel described the same experience. “We had young people asking questions! I haven’t had to answer a question from a young person – a new collector – in years. It was thrilling because these were people interested in starting to collect, and I heard that a lot from several dealers.”
By show’s end, longtime dealer, photographer and old West historian Bill Manns of Santa Fe said, “Not much to pack, we sold damn-near everything we brought.” Dan and Rebecca Pauly, also from Santa Fe, proclaimed it “outstanding,” both hugging Brian Lebel for emphasis.
Lakewood, Colo., dealer Patty Klepper described activity at their end-cap booth as “busier than we’ve been in a long time.” Her husband, Gary, said he came within $1,000 of his high-goal for the show. First-time exhibitor Jed Greenough of Grand Island, Neb., called the show and Santa Fe “a terrific experience.”
“The crowd for my best material was here,” said Randy Rodriquez of Rio Bravo Trading Company in Santa Fe.
“There were major pieces priced upwards of $200,000 and many top-end transactions,” Lebel noted. One exhibitor had nothing priced at more than $500 but did $10,000. “It was,” Lebel and McCracken agreed, “the perfect weekend.”
Next up for Old West Events is the Mesa Old West Show and Auction, set for January 26-27, in Meza, Ariz. For more information, www.oldwestevents.com or 480-779-9378.
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