Published: January 27, 2004
– Conventional wisdom has it that it takes three years to get an antiques show off the ground. When it debuted in 2002, the American Antiques Show at the Metropolitan Pavilion was judged a beautiful newcomer with enormous potential, but sales fell short for a few exhibitors.
By contrast, this year’s American Antiques Show, which opened to a packed house on Wednesday evening, January 14, was a barn-burner, with excellent business reported by exhibitors across a spectrum of specialties, from formal furniture to American Indian art.
But do not compare the American Antiques Show to the old Fall Antiques Show, whose preview benefited the museum for many years, or to the much-admired Philadelphia Antiques Show, which, like the American Antiques Show, is also managed by the talented Josh Wainwright of Keeling Wainwright Associates.
“This is a brand new show, created from scratch by the American Folk Art Museum,” emphasizes the fair’s energetic executive director, Alice Hoffman. Much as vintners discovered that limiting production could enhance the quality of wine, the American Folk Art Museum realized that the key to success within a highly competitive market was creating a top-quality fair in an intimate setting with a finely honed roster of exhibitors carefully selected for quality and variety.
These days, that means 45 specialists in everything from needlework to Federal furniture, paintings both traditional and contemporary, Oriental rugs and carpets, and antique jewelry. The show is likely to become even more diverse. A specialist in American silver is just one possible addition in the years to come.
“People have discovered that we’re not just folk art,” says Wainwright, who described this year’s fair as “phenomenally successful.” Attendance increased despite bitterly cold temperatures and snow on opening night.
Says Hoffman, “Saturday’s gate was amazing — double last year’s — and there was a line to get in when we opened on Sunday.”
Having created a well-balanced show, promoters have also been skillful in promoting it. An Interior Designers Committee, this year chaired by William Diamond and Anthony Baratta, decorators known for their use of American country style on a grand scale, helped bring in other important decorators.
“It’s been an eye-opener for some of them,” says Hoffman. “One designer told me he was only interested in contemporary. I told him ‘come to the show and you’ll see material that will work in a contemporary setting as well as in a traditional or country home.'”
Excellent word-of-mouth and an extensive advertising campaign drew customers, including newcomers to the Americana world, from Ohio, Michigan, California and other distant points. One couple saw a newspaper account on Friday and on a whim flew in for the weekend from Cleveland. Another couple traveled hundreds of miles just for the wine tasting on Saturday night.
The most extraordinary story involved collectors who saw Russ and Karen Goldberger’s life-sized carved and painted penguins, $85,000, pictured in the Friday edition of The New York Times.
Returning from two weeks in Antarctica, John and Barbara Wilkerson – he serves as president of the Board of Trustees of the American Folk Art Museum – picked up the paper when they landed in Miami and, rather than heading home, made a beeline for the show, where they bought the birds. The penguins, now rather famous, were subsequently pictured in the Times again on Sunday, as well on a weather report that NBC television broadcasted throughout the day on Friday.
“The story gets even better,” Russ Goldberger confessed when asked. “The penguins were made by Charles Hart, who was inspired by Admiral Richard E. Byrd’s polar expeditions, around 1935. Ron Bourgeault knew all about Hart when he found a smaller penguin on a house call. When he explained to the owners what they had, they raced to the dump and recovered these two larger birds. Ron’s sold them at his marine sale last August.”
And then there was the Oprah factor. It is well known that the influential talk-show host has the power to make a book a bestseller just by recommending it. She works magic with antiques, as well. Winfrey and several assistants spent two and a half hours at the American Antiques Show, where she is rumored to have bought heavily from a number of dealers on the floor.
“Stand back. There’s Oprah and she wants to buy, buy, buy,” someone said as the celebrity entered David Wheatcroft’s booth. Taking one glance at his William Edmondson’s limestone birdbath sculpture of 1934, Oprah said, “But it’s sold, sold, sold.” Wheatcroft’s reply? “Next time, come last night, last night, last night.”
“Sam Forsythe and I have had a great show. As far as we can tell, others have too,” Ohio dealer David Good said from the floor on Sunday afternoon. “There is no question about it: this show is becoming better known each year.”
By Friday, Nathan Liverant and Son of Colchester, Conn., had parted with a sideboard of exquisite, small proportions, possibly made by Thomas Howard, Jr, of Pawtucket and Providence; a corner cupboard; and a collection of chestnut bottles formed over a 25-year period.
In addition to the Edmond-son, Westborough, Mass., dealer David Wheatcroft’s many sales included two other carvings, two signs and a ship’s figurehead.
Woodbury, Conn., dealer Don Heller parted with his signed Fiske cast-zinc firehouse dog, $24,000, and a massive burl bowl. His display also included a Looff dog carousel figure, $39,000, and a whirligig of a dandy, $28,000.
Among Allen and Penny Katz’s many sales was a carved and painted folk sculpture of a dog, circa 1900, and a watch trade sign.
It was a good year for the show’s Native American art specialists. Ted Trotta and Anna Bono of Shrub Oak, N.Y., racked up sales from a stand that included a Lakota buffalo robe of circa 1820, $110,000; a painted Apache shield, $85,000; and a Kwakiutl totem pole, mid-Twentieth Century, $42,500.
Santa Fe, N.M., dealer Will Channing paired Felipe Archuleta’s “Lynx,” $28,000, with Charlie Willeto’s bifurcated figure of a man, circa 1960. Similar work by Willeto is in the Hemphill Collection at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
David Cook of Denver lined his back wall with a Second Phase chief’s blanket of circa 1860, $325,000. In a departure from the New England furniture and painting for which he is well known, Jeffrey Tillou offered an Apache hide shirt with beadwork and fringe decoration, $48,000.
Leave it to Raccoon Creek to come with something as remarkable as Noah Weiss’s monumental folk sculpture, “Birds of the Woods.” Intricately carved and painted, the huge mirror and two hall stands was decorated with 30 varieties of birds by the Delaware Valley carver who died in 1907. The New Jersey dealers were asking $795,000 for the group.
How do Andrew Flamm and Michelle Hauser do it? Two years running, the Maine dealers have turned up handmade African American bedroom sets. Completely unlike the set offered last year, this year’s suite, primitive and fabulously carved, was made by Willie Freeman of Greer, S.C., circa 1930 and cost $28,000. The dealers coupled the furniture with a gilt-lettered New York Central Railroad sign for a tugboat, $9,500.
Another marvel was a New Orleans voodoo tall-case clock, crawling with intriguing motifs, featured by Ballyhack Antiques of Cornwall, Conn., for $45,000.
Jeff Cherry and Kass Hogan of Pine Plains, N.Y., were on hand with a dramatic set of rustic furniture, including a settee and three armchairs made of birch root burls. From Maine or New Hampshire, the set was $17,500.
Superb Pennsylvania furniture included H.L. Chalfant’s painted Lancaster County dower chest of 1786. With three arched panels and floral decoration, it was $145,000. The earliest Philadelphia Queen Anne walnut bonnet-top highboy known was $225,000 in the same stand. Christopher Rebollo displayed a Lancaster County schrank with raised panel doors, circa 1750, $85,000.
Sandy Hook, Conn., dealers Lincoln and Jean Sander featured a Hartford bird-cage, tilt-top tea table in a rare large size, $17,500.
Among Shaker rarities was a Mount Lebanon arm chair by Sister Lilian Barlow and Brother William Perkins, $6,500; a revolver chair; and a circa 1840 bed in old green paint, $2,500, at John Keith Russell, South Salem, N.Y.
There were red dots all over at Judith and James Milne, who on opening night sold a green double-door paneled cupboard and a horse and sulky weathervane.
One of the best portraits in the show was in Samuel Herrup’s stand. The Sheffield, Mass., dealer featured a painting of the Darlymple family. Attributed to Oliver Tarbell Eddy, the oil on canvas was $95,000.
Weathervanes were the order of the day at Stephen Score’s. Highlights in the Boston dealer’s booth included a monumental female figure of Mercury, attributed to Fiske, 1893, and a huge fish weathervane that sold before the show was over.
A primitive wood weathervane of a whale, ex-collection of Barbara Johnson, was $29,000 at Harvey Antiques, Evanston, Ill.
Decoys nested in the booths of Stephen O’Brien’s and Russ and Karen Goldberg’s. O’Brien’s favorites included two wonderfully plump geese of about 1900. “You don’t see birds like this often because the shape didn’t work well. It tossed and turned in the water,” said the Boston dealer, who priced the pair $50,000.
Among the show’s many outstanding textiles was a shirred and yarn-sewn rug worked in a motif of houses, birds and flowers. Pictured in Joel and Kate Kopp’s classic American Hooked and Sewn Rugs, it was $45,000 at Jan Whitlock, Chadds Ford, Penn. An inscribed and dated embroidered wool blanket of 1818 was $15,000, and Whitlock’s own favorite, a set of two wood valances carved in the shape of swags, $38,000.
An exceptional pieced, appliqued and embroidered crazy quilt of 1893 was $24,000 at Elliott and Grace Snyder. Stella Rubin’s Baltimore album quilt of circa 1850, $28,000, was accompanied note from its maker.
M. Finkel & Daughter of Philadelphia sold to the walls, parting with two important pieces first: a Balch School sampler depicting the Providence State House by Sally Pearce Olney, 1786; and a Philadelphia sampler by Jane Loxley of 1776.
“Mr Loxley was a business partner of Benjamin Franklin,” Morris Finkel explained.
From his 2,000-rdf_Description inventory of delft, New Hampshire dealer Mark Allen chose to show a 1690 charger decorated with William III on horseback.
“We’ve brought our famous crossover selection,” said Maresca, who displayed in his booth, for general consumption, a cast iron Indian princess, $50,000; a goddess of industry, $24,000; and two sets of carnival knock-down dolls, one primitively handmade, the other not, $16,000 and $22,000.
“I’m calling this my adult section,” Tim Hill said with a laugh. On the right side of his booth, “Seated Nude in Garden” by the Chicago painter Drossos S. Skyllas was pinup art taken to another level, highly charged and exactingly painted.
“Temptation,” a painted relief carving of Adam undone by Eve by Henri Bernhardt of Spartanburg, S.C., circa 1932, was one of Allan and Penny Katz’s many sales.
Offering his analysis of this year’s splendid results, Russ Goldberger observed, “The museum did a fabulous job. Clearly, a lot of positive things are going on. The show is highly regarded and is becoming better known. New York is getting back on its feet. The stock market is doing well. That all lends itself to people feeling more bullish.”
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