Published: May 22, 2018
Review and Onsite Photos by Rick Russack
STURBRIDGE, MASS. – The term “multicultural” is used frequently today, perhaps too frequently. The word probably does not fit most antiques shows, at least those in New England. But it does fit the 125-dealer Antique Textile and Vintage Fashion show produced by Linda Zukas. Now in its 28th season, the show took place on May 7, the day before the Brimfield markets opened.
While the bulk of the items for sale were certainly American, there were textiles and clothing from several countries: Mali, Liberia, Nigeria, Tonga, England, Spain, Greece and India, to name a few. It would have been difficult to count the number of languages exhibitors and shoppers were using. And there was more than textiles. Exhibitors brought jewelry, beads, buttons, purses, dolls, cloth animals, samplers, hooked rugs, sewing items and more. In fact, Zukas’ preshow mailer to her exhibitors encouraged them to bring up to 25 percent of their inventory in non-textile items. The show included an exhibitor from Africa, another from Spain, one from London, and from 21 states as far away as California, Washington, Texas and the Midwest. Several of the dealers have done the show for years.
The one-day show draws a crowd that might be envied by other show managers. Shortly before the doors opened at 9:30 am for the early buyers, there were more than 300 people waiting in a line that extended around the back of the building. It took more than six minutes for those waiting to enter the hall. According to Zukas, “The assortment and the quality of the offerings draws a variety of buyers. It’s an educated crowd – they know exactly what they’re buying and what things are worth. Dealers with boutique shops in New York, Los Angeles, Tokyo and London were buying for resale. There are numerous textile designers seeking inspiration for their next ‘line.’ Museum curators are seeking rarities for their collections, perhaps such as the piece of Seventeenth Century lace I saw in one of the booths. Many were buying for their own collections, and/or for personal use. The show is also a learning experience for many, as several of the exhibitors have written books on their specialties or have knowledge of textiles used in their native regions, such as the exhibitors from Liberia. The gate is up from last year and that’s really good to see. The line goes around behind the building. We’re really the largest of the vintage textile shows and that draws the crowd.” The show uses four halls and meeting rooms in the hotel.
After the show, Zukas said, ” I always like to see the buyers leaving with multiple bags. That usually tells me they’re buying from more than one dealer. One reason we get the crowd that we do is that this show has a much broader selection of textiles than others.”
There was plenty of what you would expect at a vintage textile event. Racks of dresses from the 1960s-80s, designer fashions, hats for both men and women, a wide variety of handbags and purses, beads, buttons, trimmings, table linens, bedspreads and quilts, hooked rugs and more. Cat’s Meow from Midland, Texas, had a wide assortment of handbags and purses, including alligator and lizard bags priced from $135 up and a petit point purse priced at $135. There were racks of dresses priced at $20, and they had crowds around them shortly after the show opened.
Oumaru and Aissata Swary from Liberia were exhibiting for the fourth time. They fly over specifically for this show and, as of yet, have not done any of the Brimfield shows. Their inventory includes textiles from Mali, the Ivory Coast, Nigeria and Liberia. Most of the material in their booth, such as the indigo wraps, which were priced at $50 and up, is not available from anyone else at the show. Some of the fabrics are more than 150 years old. One of the most unusual items in the booth, and certainly the only one in the show, was a red hunters jacket from Mali, with bush hog teeth and medicine pouches attached to protect the hunter. It was priced at $2,500.
Villanova, Penn., dealer Martin Platt also had some unusual ethnic items, including a traditional Japanese mino, or rain cape. Made in the Nineteenth Century of plant fibers, Platt priced it at $1,250. He also had a large ceremonial tapa, made in Tonga in the early 1960s. Tapas were made of bark cloth, derived from the paper mulberry tree, and are native to the South Pacific islands. They were laboriously handmade and decorated, and in the case of this one, had probably been a community effort. They might have been used as wall hangings, and Platt said one of the uses of a tapa would have been to cover the earth so that the feet of the King of Tonga would not touch the ground. It was priced at $550.
Tom Arsenault of Ipswich, Mass., specializes in textiles from central Asia -Turkey, India, Nepal, etc – and has sold items that wound up in Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts. Arsenault travels to the region, bringing back a wide assortment of native fabrics. His offerings included a selection of dyed cloths from Uzbekistan dating from the early 1900s and a particularly nice traditional Kuchi dress, probably from Afghanistan that may have been a wedding dress.
One of the more unusual “specialties” was a booth full of fraternal regalia. Alan Hoops, a Findlay, Ohio, dealer, specializes in garments worn by members of fraternal organizations, such as the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, their sister organization, the Daughters of Rebekah, the Masons and other similar societies. The Odd Fellows use the regalia during their biblical reenactments and other ceremonies. As membership in some of these societies dwindle, their meeting halls, or lodges, are being dismantled. According to Hoops, in the 1920s, there were more than 1,100 Odd Fellows lodges in communities throughout Ohio but now there are just about 60. When an Odd Fellows lodge is dismantled, all the regalia and furnishings are returned to the state’s Grand Lodge, and he has been able to purchase the material in quantity from state lodges. He had several caps and hats worn by members, and they were priced between $25 and $50. Prices for the other regalia varies, with an elaborate cape, probably worn by a “Noble Grand,” priced at $150. Hoops also had an early buffalo hide touring coat with a lamb’s wool collar.
Linda Zukas runs this show twice a year, on the Mondays of Brimfield Week. The next show will take place September 3; there is not a July show. For information, 207-363-1320 or www.vintagefashionandtextileshow.com.
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