Published: October 26, 2004
Karen DiSaia has a horror of “big dead walls.” Chairman of the 2004 ADA Historic Deerfield Antiques Show, the dealer in antique Oriental rugs earned lavish praise for the ingenious design of the fair, which opened to crowds at Deerfield Academy on Saturday morning, October 9. The event won top marks for the quality of its offerings and the liveliness of its presentation.
Working with Skip Chalfant, Arthur Liverant, John Keith Russell, Ed Hild, Jan Whitlock, Grace Snyder, John Hunt Marshall and other ADA volunteers along with builders Bob Burdeck and Brian Boyea, DiSaia faced a daunting challenge: squeezing four more exhibitors (51 in all this year) into a smaller space at Deerfield Academy’s reconfigured hockey rink.
“If we add anyone else we’ll have to set up in the washrooms,” Russell had quipped.
Instead, DiSaia, whose reputation is growing as she takes on the management of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts Antiques Show and the Village Antiques Show at Henry Ford Museum, worked wizardry. Exhibitors in each of the four corners of the floor had serrated booths like folding screens, the chairman’s way of coping with the rink’s rounded edges. Two interior rows featured irregularly sized, cut-away booths. The net result was a show that was more interesting, more visible from nearly every vantage point and less claustrophobic. Grey carpeting underfoot and solid construction enhanced the presentation’s crisp, clean appearance.
The ADA Historic Deerfield Antiques Show is gaining momentum, becoming a crucial date in the fall show calendar and a “must do” for Americana collectors from around the country. The fair’s blossoming has everything to do with the felicitous chemistry among its three sponsors: the Antique Dealers Association of America (ADA), Historic Deerfield and Deerfield Academy.
When Phil Zea returned to Historic Deerfield as the museum’s director last year, he brought with him an ambition to reinvent the museum as the collectors’ mecca that it was when founders Henry and Helen Flynt were alive. The Flynts were famous for festive gatherings that brought Americana buffs to their beloved Eighteenth Century enclave, never more beautiful than when cloaked in Fall colors.
“We’ve cultivated Deerfield’s reputation as a sort of American Brigadoon,” said Zea, now eager to dispel one misconception: that Deerfield is remote. Deerfield is less than two hours by car from most points in New England; and four and half hours from Philadelphia. There are major airports nearby.
“I’m seeing many of my customers from the Philadelphia Antiques Show,” said Pennsylvania dealer Amy Finkel.
“We pulled buyers from all over – from Chicago, Philadelphia, Baltimore and New York,” said ADA president Skip Chalfant. “Sure, we could use more people and more sales. But we’re all very pleased. Sales and attendance were brisker than last year. I sold five pieces of furniture.”
Chalfant wasn’t the only one selling. Amid the Saturday morning buzz, a flurry of red tickets appeared on Sam Herrup’s circa 1780 Rhode Island tiger maple tall chest; Thomas Schwenke’s flat-top, shell-carved highboy and a large mirror; Nathan Liverant & Son’s pair of William & Mary maple side chairs; Artemis Gallery’s Federal inlaid bow front chest; George and Debbie Spiecker’s card table; Bartley Antiques’ oval-top New England tavern table; Peter Sawyer’s coastal New Hampshire or Newburyport Sheraton bureau; and Olde Hope Antique’s smoke-decorated cupboard.
Standing in for Sumpter Priddy, John Newcomer and Sarah Cantor sold a Virginia basin stand, 1790-1810; a Maryland mahogany server, circa 1815; and a New York State sewing table, 1805-30, before Priddy arrived on Saturday night. Ohio dealers Good & Forsythe; Connecticut dealers Lewis Scranton, and Wayne and Phyllis Hilt; and Massachusetts dealers Joan Brownstein, Peter Eaton, Collette Donovan and Hollis Brodrick also reported strong sales.
Key to any successful show; there was trading among exhibitors. Lewis Scranton of Killingworth, Conn., snapped up a miniature blue chest of drawers found in Maine.
“We’ve sold American furniture for 41 years. I love coming east to show people things they’ve never seen,” said Chicago dealer Taylor Williams, who brought with him a 12-foot-long harvest table and benches from Kentucky or Indiana, possibly of Shaker or Mennonite origin. “It fits16 dealers,” Williams said of the table that soon found its way to Stephen and Carol Huber. The gregarious Connecticut dealers thought they’d keep it for entertaining friends and family.
An 11-foot Hancock Shaker harvest table, ex-collection of pioneering collector Amy Bess Miller, was $45,000 at Courcier and Wilkins. To go with it was an unusual Enfield, Conn., Shaker side chair with brass tilters, $6,500, at John Keith Russell’s of South Salem, N.Y., who was busy selling painted Shaker boxes and baskets by various makers, including Ben Higgens of Chesterfield, Mass.
Asked to name a couple of favorite pieces on the floor, Zea chose one large, one small, both in the booth of Nathan Liverant and Son. The Colchester, Conn., dealers’ piece de resistance was a New London County, Conn., Queen Anne corner cupboard, $42,500. Liverant displayed its barrel-shaped back side to reveal original tool marks, nails and other construction details. The cupboard’s architectural front was a bold series of crisp moldings and reversing planes. Tucked behind a glass pane was a slip of paper inscribed with the maker’s name: “Oliver Spicer Sept 19 1795.”
“We’ve been chasing this piece for 45 years,” said Arthur Liverant, speculating that his grandfather may well have first seen the cupboard in the 1950s.
Zea’s other choice was a fragment, initialed “I.T., “from a molded-front chest made by the White Shop of Windsor, Conn. The fragment was inexpensive at $2,500.
“I’ve always wondered what happened to the chest,” mused Liverant, ADA’s vice president.
This being a show for aficionados and purists, there were many such marvels and relics on the floor. Hollis Brodrick, for instance, sold a weather-beaten door of circa 1660-1700. “It came from the first Little family homestead. It’s the only flat-paneled door I know of from Newbury, Mass. A picker bought it in the 1980s and it was in Eddy Nicholson’s collection,” said the Portsmouth, Mass., dealer.
Another Portsmouth dealer, Sharon Platt, featured a rare Seventeenth Century shadow molded door from Newbury, Mass, $2,850, along with four brace back Windsor side chairs. “Just what I like to see: a wonderful paint history,” Platt said of the chairs, priced $6,500.
Elliott and Grace Snyder used all nine sides of their cut-through booth to advantage, displaying a tin chandelier with reflecting disks and weighted baluster, circa 1820-30, $17,500, identical to one in the collection of Historic Deerfield. A New Haven Colony bible box of circa 1700-1710 was $19,500.
Another bible box turned up at Stephen-Douglas’s. The Vermont dealers were asking $85,000 for the tulip-carved example, possibly from Woburn, Mass., initialed and dated “PG 1685.” Akin to both was Brian Cullity’s Wethersfield/Hartford area spindle-decorated William and Mary blanket chest, $16,500, dated either 1701 or 1704. The only other example known, illustrated in Nutting’s Furniture Treasury, is in the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago.
The show boasted two writing-arm Windsors, one at Peter Eaton and Joan Brownstein, the other at Olde Hope Antiques. Olde Hope’s late Eighteenth Century Connecticut example in black over green paint was $42,500.
Everyone brought his best. Maine dealer David Morey unveiled the Jagger Family William and Mary desk, only 33 inches wide, retaining its original vermillion paint and brasses. Found in Westhampton, N.Y., about 20 years ago, where it had been stored since 1938, the Southampton, N.Y., case piece dating to circa 1700-30 was $38,000.
Massachusetts dealer Stephen Garner offered a pretty bird’s-eye maple, cherry and mahogany sideboard server, $19,500, from northern New England. An identical design can be found in the account book of cabinetmaker Norman Jones, circa 1820, of Hubbardton, Vt.
Pennsylvania dealer Chris Rebollo offered a rare set of six circa 1800 Massachusetts Federal shield back side chairs, $18,000; and a serpentine front inlaid mahogany sideboard from Philadelphia, circa 1790, $48,000. Peter Sawyer’s pair of Massachusetts card tables, circa 1800, with bow fronts and ring-turned and fluted legs, was $48,000
Jeffrey Tillou of Litchfield, Conn., featured a Dunlop School New Hampshire flat-top figured-maple highboy, $65,000; Joan Brownstein and Peter Eaton showed a beautifully proportioned Queen Anne highboy, $70,000, and a Boston walnut and walnut veneer Queen Anne lowboy made for the Dawes family (of Paul Revere’s Midnight Ride fame), also $70,000. A Chippendale oxbow chest of birch was $18,500 at Cheryl and Paul Scott. An unusual painted Moravian side chair with a shaped, pierced back was $5,500 at Jeff Bridgman. Tom Schwenke displayed a Lincoln & Cushing of Hingham, Mass., Pembroke table on its side, the better for collectors to inspect its paper label.
In addition to furniture, the ADA Historic Deerfield Antiques Show was particularly strong in textiles. Stephen and Carol Huber offered rare embroidered coats of arms in triplicate. Their best embroidery was an early Boston coat of arms for the Bolles family. Dated 1758, it was $55,000.
“This is a real good study piece,” Ruth Van Tassel said of a Folwell School Philadelphia silk embroidery, $3,800, that remained unfinished, exposing Samuel Folwell’s skilled draftsmanship. A rare Lancaster County, Penn., whitework baby’s cap was $3,200.
Coverlet experts Melinda and Lazslo Zonger of Bedford, Penn., artfully displayed a “Harry Tyler’s lion” figured coverlet of 1836, in rare blue and green with a “Monkey Tree” border, $6,500. A classic New York double-weave in indigo and white dated July 4, 1826, and commemorating the 50th year of American Independence, was $4,500.
“Coverlets are finally getting their due,” said Melinda Zongor, who has done much to inspire their revival.
Jan Whitlock had only the créme de la créme, building her display around an exquisite yarn-sewn hearth rug conceived as a double-handled urn with flowers. Dating to the first quarter of the Eighteenth Century, the rare rdf_Description was $85,000.
On Saturday afternoon, Historic Deerfield tempted shoppers with a forum on “Neoclassical Furniture in Western Massachusetts.” Programs under discussion for another year include an introduction to American decorative arts for Deerfield Academy students. What a wonderful way to pass the antiques bug to the next generation.
“This is our fourth year at Deerfield but only our second consecutive year at Deerfield Academy,” concluded Chalfant. “We keep hearing that this is the best-looking show in New England. We’ll keep working at it.”
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