Story W.A. Demers, photos by R. Scudder Smith and W.A. Demers
WESTPORT, CONN. – The 39th annual Southport-Westport Antiques Show, presented by the Near & Far Aid Association, Inc, and the Antiques Council sailed into the 2003 season with a well-attended preview party (750-800) at the Fairfield County Hunt Club on April 24. The show closed on Sunday, April 27, with the show committee reporting substantial gates on Friday and Sunday, and disappointing crowd numbers on Saturday due to rainy weather.
The Southport-Westport show remains a first-class event – one dealer places it in the top three shows north of New York City in terms of quality – and for many in this well-to-do part of Fairfield County, the show is the true harbinger of spring, full of inspiration for home decorative arts enthusiasts. The question raised by some is whether serious antiques selling goes on and, of course, there is a range of opinions among the 67 dealers who participated — about a dozen of them new to the event or returning after a hiatus.
One dealer said the gate was so bad that “one could roller skate down the aisles most of the time,” another dealer characterized the crowd numbers as “soft at best,” and yet another said, “I think, generally, that the gate was off, and no, people weren’t buying freely. On the other hand, there were new faces at the preview party, especially decorators from New York who haven’t been there for years, and who were seriously buying.”
The show’s 2003 theme — “From Far to Near via Wind and Sail” — with its image of sails furled toward a new destination was indeed apt, for in 2004 the show will be moving to Greens Farms Academy in Westport and changing its date to the third week in June. As with any change, the news caused some grumbling in the “ship’s” hold by some dealers but no mutiny.
It is not just that the venue and show dates are changing, but next year’s show will also be going head-to-head with the Wilton Outdoor Antiques Marketplace, a June staple that draws many of the same dealers and buyers.
Southport-Westport show organizers said that the conflict with Wilton was inevitable since that was the only date they could get the academy. The reason for moving from the Hunt Club is primarily financial, organizers said, adding that they are rising to the challenge of maximizing the charity’s financial contri-butions. A benefit for the Near & Far Aid Association, a community-based charitable organization that has been active since 1946, the show is a key fundraiser. Near & Far distributed more than $840,000 to 70 agencies last year, more than $600,000 of which went to accredited Fairfield County organizations.
“Because we’re a charity, 100 percent of our proceeds go to the charity,” said Caren Hart Nelson, co-chair of the show. “Our costs for using the Hunt Club have gone up, and although we’ve a great relationship with them over the years, we’ve had to move on. Change is never easy.”
One dealer who specializes in American furniture said that while Greens Farms Academy may be an excellent venue for an antiques show, the fact that the date will be pushed beyond the traditional show season — September to May for the brown furniture trade – is a concern. “Typically, the industry standard is that fine furniture does not sell at shows in the summer months since people are often preoccupied with second homes, children out of school, family vacations, summer weddings and outdoor activities,” said the dealer.
Nelson countered, “For this area, after May 31, it’s a summer community, and we will attract that crowd and capture a new audience.”
The Southport-Westport Antiques Show liaison, Karen DiSaia of Oriental Rugs, Ltd, Old Lyme, Conn., was very upbeat about the changes in store for the three-day show. She said she understands other dealers’ concerns that this is the final year of holding the show at the Hunt Club and in the last week of April.
“Though there is concern about the change of date to the third weekend in June, the Antiques Council has embraced the challenge of creating the best early summer show in years,” she said. “It will be in a wonderful new location, which is only about a mile from the Hunt Club. It will be a smaller show and we feel that the new energy will only serve to enhance the 40th year of the show.”
Echoing this thought was Marybeth Keene of Wayne Pratt, Inc, Woodbury, Conn., who said that while she may have been wavering before, Saturday’s torrential rain quickly pushed her into the camp eager to leave the muddy paddocks, ever-roost-ing birds and Port-o-lets of the Hunt Club behind. “We’ll have to wait and see what next year will bring, but I have faith in the committee and Near & Far to organize a destination show that will draw people,” she said.
Jeffrey Cooley of Old Lyme, Conn., agreed that change of venue will be a challenge. “But clearly it is the right financial move, and perhaps a little ‘reinvention’ will be good for the show,” he said. “The date is the greatest problem, as it conflicts with Wilton, Father’s Day and, in general, people’s minds are far from home decorating or collecting in June when golf courses and summer homes and kids call.”
In addition to the preview party, special programs for this year’s show included a Designers’ Choice House Tour on Friday featuring five homes and a Saturday Night Spaces, a cocktail event on April 26, that pitted four architect/designers and their creative skills against one another under a 90-minute time constraint to transform an empty space on the show floor into unique vignettes using selected antiques and accessories from the dealers’ booths. “This was a terrific idea,” said Keene of Wayne Pratt. “It was very clever and drew a lot of young people.”
“We were trying to show that antiques are fun, and that you can use them in your home,” said show co-chair Nelson.
Some dealers were less sanguine about events that seem tangential to actually selling antiques. Said one: “I think the future of the show will be based on the participation of decorators and their interests, not as a show of antiquarians.”
The quality of the show itself, however, was summed up by Jeff Bridgman of Historic York County, Penn., as offering “much that appeals to the discriminating high-country collector.”
“It was a stunning and interesting show,” agreed Cooley. “The new layout was a great success and the innovative programs worthwhile.” Cooley said that he sold a “lovely watercolor by Fidelia Bridges [1834-1923] to a delightful, thoughtful collector.”
Among the show’s new dealers, Rhonda Eleish and Edie Van Breems, Woodbury, Conn., who specialize in Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century Scandinavian and northern European antiques, brought a Nineteenth Century Finnish step back cupboard dated 1844, in original paint and with a replacement lock on the door. They also showed a Nineteenth Century Finnish Rocco rust painted two-door armoire and a Nineteenth Century Finnish painted document box circa 1837. Smalls included copper molds and wooden cheese molds, baskets and bowls.
Also at the Southport-Westport show for the first time were Melinda and Lazlo Zongor, Bedford, Penn., who deal primarily in coverlets and other early American textiles. Highlights of the Zongors’ offerings included a coverlet by the New York weaver James Cunningham featuring George Washington on horseback and the New York state seal in the corner block. The rare red and white version on display was perhaps one of only two others that are known to exist.
“Among other things, I was pleased to sell several copies of my book, Coverlets and the Spirit of America,” said Melinda Zongor. “Since this was our first time at this show, our material, coverlets, is new to this audience. We were gratified by the genuine and strong interest in them.”
Their first time exhibiting at Southport-Westport, Stuart and Audrey Peckner of N.P. Trent, West Palm Beach, Fla., deemed it a “successful show,” considering the economy and the fact that they were exhibiting continental furniture. “We sold on opening an important Charles X formal étagère as well as a Directoire dining table,” said Stuart Peckner. “I was impressed with how hard the council and committee worked to try and create a selling atmosphere.”
“Considering the markets over the past 24 months, the gate was not thrilling but was on par with many other antiques shows,” said Charles and Rebekah Clark, Woodbury, Conn. “People seem to be taking their time considering purchases. We anticipate follow-up sales in the coming weeks.” The Clarks believe that price points seem to be the current preoccupation.
“People expect prices to be lower in the current economic condition even though costs — inventory, booth rent, fuel, labor, materials, etc — have risen,” they said. Bringing a Regency sinumbra to the show along with a classical bookcase secretary and other American furniture and accessories of the classical period, the Clarks sold lighting to a customer who had purchased lighting from them last year.
Bridgman observed that even if the gates seemed smaller, “I find that the people who come are serious – both last year and this year.” What differed this year, added Bridgman, was that last year he sold almost entirely flags. “This year I sold across the board,” he said. “I sold many flags, but folk art, furniture and a great Amish quilt contributed to half or more of my sales. I was extremely pleased, and I definitely topped last year’s sales.”
Bridgman sold a very unusual, late Nineteenth Century, cast-iron caribou head with an ornate oval back plate that was decorated with grape vines. “It had white paint with an exceptional surface,” said Bridgman. “I also sold a wonderful, yellow paint decorated flour chest with a lift-top lid over two doors. I am particularly fond of this form, which is uniquely Pennsylvania.”
A large green majolica lizard coolly eyed visitors at the booth of Charles L. Washburne, Chappaqua, N.Y., and a larger-than-life grasshopper poised for a leap beyond the glass case that contained him and hundreds of other colorful majolica pieces. The lizard was later to be seen basking in the spotlight of the Saturday Night Spaces designed competition as evidenced by the tag affixed to his tail.
Like the lizard, a graceful Chinese Tan dynasty horse from the Eighth Century was marked with a tag at Vallin Galleries, Wilton, Conn., during the preview party, indicating that it would figure into the Saturday Night Spaces design-off. Peter Rosenburg, owner, said he has been bringing his Chinese and Asian art and antiques to the Southport-Westport show for eight to ten years.
Other highlights in his booth were a Japanese painting on paper of China geese done in the Nineteenth Century, a Chinese lady’s Ming dragon court robe of the late Fourteenth Century embroidered with fanciful golden dragons against a bright red cloth, and an extremely rare Chinese export bureau in elm burl with rosewood and ivory inlay, circa 1820. A globelike Chinese perfumer with internal gimbal crafted of pure silver in the Eighth Century was so delicate that it had to be opened carefully lest it became deformed.
Anyone wanting to conduct some quick research on just about anything displayed at the show could duck into F. Russack Books, Inc, Danville, N.H. Owner Rick Russack, who said it was his fifth year at the show, pointed out an interesting find, a book published in 1955 titled Susan’s Teeth And Much About Scrimshaw. “This is a very rare book,” said Russack, “I’ve only seen one other.” The book, privately published by Everett Crosby, provides details about and depicts the whale’s teeth carved by sailors.
Furniture, ceramics, Chinese export, folk art, Eskimo and Indian art were also among the many categories covered at Russack’s booth.
DiSaia of Oriental Rugs Ltd, brought a large selection of antique oriental carpets, among them a 3-foot 5-inch by 2-foot 2-inch antique Daghestan prayer rug, circa 1880, that had been beautifully preserved and a 7-foot by 12-foot Sennehkurd/Malayer, circa 1930, that was woven with a rare combination of colors – shades of coral, green, yellow and light blue.
She sold an antique Gendge Kazak, which was “perhaps one of the most interesting I have ever had. It had brilliant color in diagonal stripes and was in fabulous condition. It sold to someone who just loved it and found a spot for it.” DiSaia also sold a very small, but interesting Anatolian Yastic, “again to someone who just loved it and bought it. No taking it home to try it. That is a rare thing in this market.”
At Southport-Westport for her fourth year, Norma Chick of Autumn Pond Antiques, Woodbury, Conn., filled her booth with furniture, delftware, paintings and folk art. A “Portrait of a Young Girl with Her Doll,” American, circa 1930, gazed wistfully amid an exuberant collection of vanes, including a J. Fiske trotting horse from the last quarter of the Nineteenth Century, an American scroll and arrow, circa 1860, a copper rooster, a gamecock and an Ethan Allen horse vane.
While pundits have labeled the ostrich as the “national bird” of France following the cross-Atlantic chill between the United States and its gallic ally, a more heroic French Nineteenth Century cast-iron eagle stretched its wings on a rocky outcrop at The Finnegan Gallery, Chicago. Chockfull of American, French and English garden furniture, architectural rdf_Descriptions and accessories, Finnegan also displayed a pair of turn-of-the-century French wrought iron tables with marble tops and an unusual pair of French faux bois “standing mushrooms” fashioned in the 1920s in the rustic style of the late Nineteenth Century.
Fine early silver and period furniture were represented at Anthony Scornavacco, Gem Lake, Minn., including a French step back cupboard, circa 1790, an English three-part dining table, circa 1800, shown with a set of ten English Regency chairs, and an old Sheffield plated candelabra suite comprising four candlesticks and a pair of candelabra arms, circ 1820. A large Belgian tapestry, circa 1700, hung on the booth’s center wall.
There was much to meet the discerning eye at Wayne Pratt, Inc, Woodbury, Conn., including a Boston block front kneehole bureau table, circa 1760-80, that, according to Pratt, exhibited a wonderful surface and original brasses. A rare Chippendale carved cherry bonnet-top desk and bookcase, attributed to Benjamin Buckham (1737-1773) or Samuel Loomis (1784-1814) was also on display. “We sold a couple of tall pieces and chest of drawers,” reported Keene. “A lot of our clients were there, and we met new people at the show and preview.”
American furniture and accessories up to circa 1820 is the focus of Janice F. Strauss American Antiques, South Salem, N.Y., and that was evident by the American tall chest in ruddy maple and Boston Queen Anne desk on display. The tall chest, probably South Shore, Mass., circa 1770, featured six graduated drawers, the top one simulating three. Its center carved fan disguised a secret wooden lock. The desk, circa 1735-50, made of mahogany and the interior featuring the protruding and stepped ends typical of the William and Mary period, exhibited serpentine shaping incorporated into both the vertical and horizontal dividers along with blocked drawers. A seven-year Southport-Westport show veteran, Strauss also brought an American teakettle with the maker’s name on the handle — John W. Schlosser, a coppersmith born in 1785.
Attending the show for their second year, Kathleen and Roger Haller of Silver Plus, New York City, specialize in English Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century silver. Among the wide array of rdf_Descriptions on display were several silver antique pieces by Hester Bateman, whose hallmark was simple but elegant bright cut decoration. The display case showed a Bateman goblet made in 1779, a cream boat fashioned in 1785, a cream jug crafted in 1786 and a caster created in 1787.
Steve Shapiro of SAJE Americana, Short Hills, N.J., said he has been a Southport-Westport show dealer for the past seven years and is very sorry that the show is moving to a new venue and will take place in June next year. “It forces us to choose,” he said, referring to the conflicting Wilton outdoor show. Shapiro was showing a bird’s-eye maple and mahogany four-drawer Hepplewhite chest with an inlaid top edge and inlaid band above the high flared French feet.
Above a Maine dressing table, circa 1820, in original paint and stencil was an oil on canvas likeness of little Mary Barker from Portland, Maine, who, 8 years old when her portrait was painted in 1844, posed with an accordion and flowers. Shapiro quipped that the girl’s nose was turned up from the smell of the cheeses wafting from a luxuriously provisioned hors d’oeuvres table next to his booth during the preview party.