Published: September 12, 2023
Review and Photos by W.A. Demers
NORWALK, CONN. — All systems were a go for the 16th annual Lockwood-Mathews Mansion Museum’s Old-Fashioned Flea Market on August 27. Many folks were back from vacations, kids mostly back to school and the day presented halcyon blue skies, sunny but not too warm, just a perfect day to stroll through the museum’s parklike campus to peruse and perhaps take home some of the burgeoning merchandise laid out on tables, on the lawn, inside popup canopies and lining the path through the park by more than 80 dealers. Numerous food offerings and even a “Children’s Corner” to entertain youngsters were deployed. The only drawback would be for someone hoping to check out the inside of the mansion museum, which was surrounded by blue fabric construction fencing due to ongoing renovations inside. Instead they could hope to find “at least one treasure to brighten their day,” in the words of the flea market chair Steve Balser.
The museum’s executive director, Susan Gilgore, estimated that between 2,000 and 3,000 people attended the event. “LMMM has held the Old-Fashioned Flea Market for many years in September,” she explained, “but this year, given that the weekends available fell on religious holidays, we decided to move it to the end of August.”
Understand that an old-fashioned flea market has antiques cheek-by-jowl with vintage material hauled out from basements and attics as well as handcrafts. Shoppers can find everything from an antique Eighteenth Century drop leaf table to brightly knitted hats and mittens and toys and home décor from the 1960s-70s. The event has a local feel with many of the dealers being residents of Norwalk or nearby Fairfield County, Conn., towns.
The antique drop leaf table was at the booth of flea market chair Balser. It was an 1816 New York state example of cherry, and Balser used it to display an Eighteenth Century writing desk, spice grinder, a selection of carpenters measuring sticks, chocolate molds, English weights and a wonderful figurative doorstop from the 1920s.
For those with more of a Midcentury Modern sensibility, Darlene Young of Norwalk had just the ticket in the form of a Douglas Furniture table and chairs set from the 1960s, which she priced to sell at $200. This was her fifth year doing the show and she swore by her usual spot on the edge of the path that circles the mansion grounds. She also had vintage bamboo-back chairs, a 1960s campaign chest by Dixie and a Kent Coffey credenza.
More prevalent than furniture were the myriad tables offering a mixed fare of household items and collectibles. Father and son Aaron and Dexter Bunte operating side-by-side as Collectors Basement and DNA Collectibles, respectively, had a desirable stack of Beatles and Rolling Stones record albums along with antique tools.
Vinyl LPs were also available from Chris DiJoseph of Norwalk, who was doing the show for the second year. His booth was filled with prodigious stacks of record albums and CDs along with a smattering of framed art. He said as a dealer he enjoys “talking to a lot of cool people,” about music and art.
Just as you can find examples of American and foreign material culture at this event, you can also discover a new author. There were several sitting at tables promoting books they have written. For example, Allia Zobel Nolan turned her experience as a senior editor of religious books at Reader’s Digest Children’s Publishing to branch out with her own titles, including two new ones that she was promoting at the show. One was a revived edition of Why A Cat Is Still Better Than A Man and Heavenly Headbutts, an uplifting book designed to inspire hope and thoughtful meditation, holding out the possibility that our pet soulmates on Earth will be sharing our lives in some form or another in heaven. Nolan and her husband Dexter also have a dog, who was seen on a leash shopping the show with Dexter. The dog’s name is “Kitty” because, as Dexter explained, they have had cats so long that he was used to calling out “Here, kitty, kitty.”
Among the dealers there were also representatives from area social organizations set up around the park offering information about their activities. These included members of the Norwalk Garden Club who not only provided ice-cold water to visitors as the day got warmer but also information on a wide range of horticultural topics, such as how to combat the spotted lantern fly, controlling invasives and how to promote paths for pollinators. The club is celebrating its 99th year and actively recruiting new members.
Nancy Rosett and Eugene Bauchner representing the Norwalk River Valley Trail were on hand providing literature on the multi-use trail that is under construction. The plan for the trail is to run from Norwalk to Danbury, stretching about 38 miles and passing through Redding, Ridgefield and Wilton.
Dee Smeriglio and Helga Garnett were back again this year accepting donations for cancer research and treatment and offering a wide variety of free plants that Helga starts in the spring to have available for the show. They included many different forms of cacti, asparagus fern, lilac and tiny Japanese red maple trees.
The White Elephant table raised $700, while the gift shop raised $300 for a total of $1,000. “If you think that the majority of the items were selling for just a few dollars, it is pretty remarkable how many visitors came by to show their support and make purchases. All proceeds are for our educational and cultural programs,” said Gilgore.
She added that with 25 volunteers involved, “ We are so lucky to have such giving and loyal volunteers always ready to help us manage our events; They are a remarkable group of people.”
Gilgore also praised the show’s supporters. “We are very grateful to all our supporters. The Flea Market as well as all LMMM’s 2023 programs this year are made possible in part by CT Humanities with generous funding provided by Connecticut State Department of Economic and Community Development/Connecticut Office of the Arts (COA) from the Connecticut State Legislature; LMMM’s founding patrons: the estate of Mrs Cynthia Clark Brown; LMMM’s leadership patrons: the Sealark Foundation; and LMMM’s 2023 season distinguished benefactors: the city of Norwalk, the Maurice Goodman Foundation and Lockwood-Mathews Foundation, Inc. In-kind support for the flea market came from Waste Innovations; Lowe’s Home Improvement, Norwalk; Jerry’s Artarama; and Liz Sue Bagels, Inc.”
So what’s in store for dealers and shoppers at next year’s flea market? “We hope to move the event back to mid-to-late September, as August can be too warm for both vendors and visitors, said Gilgore. “I am hopeful that the mansion will be ready for visitors then, but the building is undergoing mechanical upgrades, and right now, we are anticipating reopening the mansion to the public in the fall of 2024.”
For additional information, www.lockwoodmathewsmansion.org or 203-838-9799.
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