Published: December 5, 2006
Culturally vibrant, cosmopolitan and ethnically diverse, Minneapolis and St Paul, with a population of about three million, are rich in visual and performing arts. Two local museums — the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and the Walker Art Center — are frontrunners.
The 23rd annual Minneapolis Institute of Arts Antiques Show, this year at the Zurah Shrine Center at the Historic Harrington Mansion from October 26 to 29, is a mutually beneficial arrangement for museum and show. With new management and a reenergized committee, the fair is on an uptick, with ambitions to become even better.
Like all successful shows, this one is the collaborative effort of a talented ensemble: manager, sponsor, committee, exhibitors and public.
The Minneapolis Institute of Arts Antiques Show got a big lift three years ago when Connecticut-based show promoter Karen DiSaia took over. DiSaia, who also manages The American Antiques Show (TAAS), the ADA-Historic Deerfield Antiques Show and the Connecticut Spring Antiques Show, has a reputation for being hardworking, diplomatic, flexible and solution-oriented. She and her husband, Ralph, Oriental rug dealers from Old Lyme, know the MIA Antiques Show well, having exhibited there themselves for 14 years under various management.
Housed in a 1915 McKim, Mead & White gem with additions by Kenzo Tange and Michael Graves, the 123-year-old institute is top drawer. It has a world-class collection of Asian art, recently expanded with gifts of Chinese Export porcelain and contemporary Japanese ceramics; American and English period rooms; a king’s ransom worth of silver and growing collections of post-1900 design and decorative arts, including knockout Prairie School pieces, the freestanding Purcell-Cutts House of 1913 and studio ceramics from the circle of Warren MacKenzie and Minneapolis’s Northern Clay Center.
The museum’s five-member curatorial team for design and decorative arts is led by Christopher Monkhouse, an architectural historian whose previous posts include the Heinz Architectural Center at the Carnegie Museum of Art and the Rhode Island School of Design Museum.
MIA curators are on and off the show floor throughout the weekend, resulting in sales for dealers. Last year, Francois and Susie Lorin of Asiantiques sold the museum a costly Eighteenth Century seal made for China’s Imperial palace. Another exhibitor, Douglas L. Solliday of Columbus, Mo., sold the MIA an exceedingly rare pair of French influenced Mississippi Valley case pieces. The brilliant acquisition anticipated the museum’s major 2004 exhibition “Currents of Change: Art and Life Along the Mississippi River, 1850–1861.”
The Decorative Arts Curatorial Council
All show proceeds fund acquisitions for the MIA’s department of architecture, design, decorative arts, craft and sculpture. Since its founding 23 years ago, the Decorative Arts Curatorial Council has raised nearly $1.5 million for acquisitions, both American and European. The eclectic list ranges from Chelsea and Sevres porcelain to a Meads and Alvord desk-and-bookcase of circa 1832–34 to a Wendell Castle settee and ceramics by Beatrice Woods and Peter Voulkos. Several prominent collectors are active members of the council. The antiques show is the museum’s second biggest annual fundraiser.
Local collectors and businessmen like Sam McCullough, Stew Stender and Damon Farber are bringing corporate management practices to the MIA Antiques Show, which has a volunteer committee of 35.
This year, Stender, a co-chair, and his wife, Deb Davenport, the daughter of Wisconsin antiques dealers, organized a dinner party at their suburban home for exhibitors. The committee’s many efforts to make dealers feel welcome are greatly appreciated.
New corporate sponsorship is dramatically increasing the show’s bottom line, which in turn elevates the fair’s profile. Last year, the show raised $100,000 for the MIA and had a gate of 1,900.
“The gate was up ten percent this year and we expect profits to be up as well. We had our best Saturday ever,” said Stender.
Organizers do a superb job producing a 120-page color show catalog and planning events through the weekend to bring in shoppers. A new collectors’ night on Friday was highly successful. Other activities included an interior designer/ASID preview and lecture, tours of the show with local personalities Gep Durenberger and Jeff Ducharme, a lecture on regency design by Ann Gore and booth talks by exhibitors.
Ideal facilities are scarce to nonexistent in most urban areas. Minneapolis is no different. The Zurah Shrine Center has drawbacks. Though close to downtown, it has little upscale commercial or residential foot traffic. On the plus side, the center is easy to get to, has plenty of parking and the neighborhood is improving. The 40-dealer show sets up on two floors, also not ideal, but organizers make it work. The fair is cozy, intimate and casual.
The MIA Antiques Show is a well-balanced and traditional display by professional show dealers and established shopkeepers from New York, New England, the Mid Atlantic and the Midwest. A core group of exhibitors have participated in the MIA Antiques Show for many years. About a third of the dealers, said DiSaia, are new to the show.
Dealers who do Minneapolis try to minimize their travel. About a quarter of this year’s exhibitors came to Minneapolis directly from the Cincinnati Antiques Festival, and many dealers were heading off to shows in Tulsa, Boston or elsewhere before returning home to unpack their trucks.
“Americana always does well here, but area collections are strong in Chinese and Chinese Export art and antiques, silver, English and Continental material and Twentieth Century material,” said Damon Farber, a 2006 co-chair.
DiSaia has added more Native American material, a toy dealer and a book dealer.
“I’d love to have an Arts and Crafts furniture dealer,” she said.
Three local dealers with European art and antiques — Robert J. Riesberg of St Paul, Anthony Scornavacco of Gem Lake and Birdsall-Haase Antiques of St Paul — demonstrate the sophistication of the local buying public. Scornavacco and Birdsall-Haase are particularly known for silver, gilt-bronze and porcelain.
New this year, upmarket folk art dealers Raccoon Creek of Oley, Penn., sold a theorem, a spice box, a Pennsylvania stenciled box, Indian artifacts, an articulated doll and three iron trivets in the show’s first 24 hours.
A crib quilt was one of the first things to go at Harvey Art & Antiques. The Evanston, Ill., folk art dealers emphasized sculpture, ranging from a circa 1890 cow weathervane with beautiful patina, $32,000, to a button suit, $12,500, made by Ruby Ann Kittner of Clinton, Iowa.
A Sheraton rope bed was $3,500 and a trotting horse weathervane, $5,500 at Rutabaga Pie, Chesterfield, Mo.
Lana Smith of Louisville, Ky., put together an attractive display of country furniture and folk art. Her Sheraton schoolmaster’s desk was $2,400; a theorem on velvet, $3,000; and a grain painted and stenciled Maine cellaret, $3,000.
Turkey Mountain Traders were well received in their Minneapolis debut. The Native American art specialists from Scottsdale, Ariz., featured beaded Iroquois whimsies. Their display complemented an exhibition of Iroquois whimsies at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts through February.
Harbor Springs, Mich., dealers Elliott & Elliott successfully mixed folk art, Native American art, jewelry, and Twentieth Century design. A shagreen, chrome and brass Maitland-Smith table, circa 1960, in their booth was $19,500.
“It may be the best one in the country,” toy dealer Jim Yeager said of his Fallows’ tin side-wheeler Niagara, ex-collection of the Perlman’s Toy Museum in Philadelphia.
Also new this year was James Infante, an art pottery and glass dealer from Jersey City, N.J., who featured Otto Prutscher glass compotes, $21,500 a pair, and a monumental butterfly and web amphora vase, $24,000.
David Weiss, son of old-time Midwest dealer Fran Weiss, carries colorful Steuben. His other specialty is patinated metal furniture by Philip and Kelvin Laverne. A two-door cabinet from the early 1960s was $21,000.
“I’m definitely seeing demand for imposing pieces,” said David Lindquist of Whitehall Antiques. The Chapel Hill, N.C., dealer has not missed an MIA Antiques show in 23 years. His large inventory of English, French and American furniture succeeds with designers and retail customers furnishing big houses.
Lisa Freeman and John Fiske got their start as dealers at Riverwalk Antiques in Minneapolis in 1994. Specialists in early English oak and walnut, they now live in Vermont, but return to the MIA show each year, meeting up with avid collectors like Bill Nesheim, who bought a relief carved Jacobean desk box from Fiske & Freeman on opening night.
Stylish and traditional, first-time exhibitors Al Cunha and Wayne St John of Essex, Mass., combine formal English furniture, campaign furniture and Asia trade pieces. A breakfront made in Ceylon for the English market, circa 1840, was $15,500. Rosewood bookcases, possibly Portuguese, were $28,500.
The cross-cultural theme continued at The Federalist, Kenilworth, Ill., where a Dutch clerk’s cabinet of mahogany and curly maple was $16,000.
Lori Cohen of W. Graham Arader III in Philadelphia offered works by Francis Lee Jaques, a wildlife painter who created dioramas for the American Museum of Natural History and the James Ford Bell Museum at the University of Minnesota, among other institutions. Jaques moved to Minnesota in 1953.
“Most dealers seemed pleased with sales and hope to return next year,” said DiSaia, who was startled when several dealers asked to sign contracts for next year before packing out.
Dates for the 2007 Minneapolis Institute of Arts Antiques Show are October 25–28. The co-chairs will be Damon Farber and Gayle Fuguitt, who served as vice chairman of this year’s show.
“Our goal for next year is to continue building our Friday evening new collectors’ event and to make sure that the show is a good experience in every way for our dealers,” said Stew Stender.
For information, 612-870-3039 or www.artsmia.org.
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