Published: June 3, 2008
When people describe Brimfield’s “fields of opportunity,” they are echoing an inspiration that struck New England show promoter Nan Gurley seven years ago. Except that in her case, it was to decamp with a cadre of dealers specializing in primitive, country and Americana to the Sturbridge Host Hotel, some six miles east of Brimfield. There, amid well lighted, climate controlled surroundings dealers could connect with serious customers wanting an alternative to tramping through the flea markets.
And so it was again on May 15 as Gurley and 50 high-end Americana exhibitors, most of them from New England, showcased a wide range of Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century furniture, folk art, textiles, toys, hooked rugs, paintings, architectural and decorative antiques.
In her preshow publicity, Gurley said, “Some of us are getting too old to set up a tent in 15 minutes, schlep through the mud, endure the rain or intense heat and sleep in the truck. The antiques don’t like it any more than we do.”
Of course, head-to-head competition with markets such as May’s 9 am Thursday opening was avoided by scheduling her Sturbridge show to open in the afternoon. Early buyers entered at 1 pm for $10, and general admission for $5 followed from 2 to 5 pm. The venue offered an opportunity for some dealers to display smalls that can be easily overlooked on the flea market fields.
Kathy Schoemer, an Acworth, N.H., dealer, for example, was making Sturbridge her first 2008 outing with an eye-pleasing display that included an 1870s needlepoint cat pillow, a calico-lined Nantucket basket and a whimsical pottery bear, circa 1900, that had been fashioned from sewer tile.
Early American lighting was in the spotlight at the booth of Susan H. Wirth. This Union, Conn., dealer had set up three different examples of candle lighting †all Eighteenth Century †one of which had come out of a private collection in Connecticut and the others, purchases. On display were a ratchet configuration, a threaded example and a version having the candle adjustment on a rod.
“A great show, an easy show,” enthused Butch Berdan, co-owner with Tom Jewett of Newcastle, Maine-based Jewett-Berdan. “Nan Gurley is the hardest working promoter I know.” The Maine dealers had brought an all-blue paint blanket chest, circa 1840, and they also assembled a lineup of smalls, including a braided rug out of Maine and a charming cat painting, 1920″0.
Fellow cat fanciers Michael and Lucinda Seward from Pittsford, Vt., offer a broad range of Americana, painted furniture, folk art, paintings and country accessories. For furniture, they had a paint decorated cabinet with two glass doors and three drawers, circa 1830, that was all original. Painted with freehand decoration was an interesting antislavery tray, also from about 1830, that, according to Michael Seward, depicted a figure that might be Liberty standing on the coast of Africa holding a shield and a banner emblazoned with the word “Reform,” while a slave ship lies moored in the distance. The Sewards also had Eighteenth Century prints of heads of state, “all very inexpensive,” said Michael Seward.
Pat Hatch of Harvard, Mass., is known for her black dolls, and for this show she brought an example from 1910′0, called a “stump” doll because it lacked feet, but retained its original white costume and button eyes. Other highlights in the booth were a chalk cat, circa 1840, and a candle lantern, circa 1820″0.
One of the show’s most eye-pleasing tableaux was assembled by Mary de Buhr. The Downers Grove, Ill., dealer had set up a corner chair and a northern New England table with an early Bible, two magnifying glasses and quill pens to create an illusion that some Eighteenth Century gentleman had momentarily left his study and might return at any moment. The chair, circa 1750‸0, featured flat flared arms with an applied crest and rush seat. It had double box stretchers and a black over red patinated surface.
A hooked rug from the 1940s by Raymond and Lydia Scott of Georgetown, New Brunswick, both deceased, depicted what might be the biblical Eve looking a bit disheveled in a folky way. The colorful rug was among three by the Scotts on display at Rustic Accents, Nashua, N.H.
Taking in the show’s overall look from her own booth space near the entrance, Gurley observed, “It looks better than ever. I think there’s a higher quality.”
Gurley has scheduled two shows for this season at the Sturbridge Host Hotel. The next is Thursday, September 4, as she and her dealers forego the July markets. The Sturbridge Host Hotel is on Route 20. For information, 207-625-3577.
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