Published: November 23, 2015
An Americana Powerhouse That Does H.F. du Pont Proud
Review and Photos by Laura Beach
WILMINGTON, DEL. — If Henry Francis du Pont were looking down from on high on Thursday evening, November 5, he must have been desperately unhappy not to be at the opening of the Delaware Antiques Show.
Sponsored by du Pont’s own Winterthur Museum, the fair, which continued through the weekend at the accommodating Chase Center on the Riverfront in Wilmington, has blossomed into one of the great showcases for historical American art and design. Leading collectors of American decorative arts were on the floor on opening night, and many were buying, something Winterthur has done much to encourage by timing its Collectors’ Circle events to coincide with the show.
The Delaware Antiques Show is managed on behalf of Winterthur by Bryn Mawr, Penn., dealer Diana Bittel, whose old-school approach — one balancing the interests of exhibitors, patrons and volunteers — results in a high-power, low-stress event well-liked by all.
“Attendance was up,” Bittel, still waiting for the final tally, said after the show. She complimented Winterthur on its promotion, programming and astute cultivation of a youthful committee headed this year by Dina du Pont, Margaretta Hershey and Kris Walker. “They are a cute, smart, social, wonderful group of volunteers. It’s really special, something that doesn’t happen much at shows anymore.
Of course, Henry Francis du Pont, who died in 1969, did not attend. In his place was the New York designer — or decorator, as he prefers — Thomas Jayne. A Winterthur fellow himself, the show’s honorary chairman is unsurpassed as an interpreter of American decorative arts in contemporary settings, combining a love of antiques and a knowledge of historic interiors with a sure sense of the present. In a video created in honor of Jayne Design Studio’s 25th anniversary, Jayne noted, “Mr du Pont was such an influence on American design and what I see in my work is his interest in combining objects that are historically related in a beautiful way… his love of historic objects and their arrangement for color, texture and sculpture ….”
There were some major sales, especially in the furniture category, this year.
“I sold three pieces late in the day on Sunday, which made the difference between a good show and a great show,” said Gary Sullivan. Over four days, the Massachusetts dealer wrote up a secretary desk attributed to John Shaw of Annapolis, Md., a Chippendale New York roundabout chair, a Queen Anne high chest, a Duncan Phyfe astragal worktable, a pair of Philadelphia side chairs from the Haskell Collection and a Pennsylvania dressing table.
“We sold a pair of mirrors, two Martha Washington chairs, a powder horn and have two other pieces on hold awaiting on a decision,” said Frank Levy of Bernard & S. Dean Levy Antiques in New York.
Philadelphia collector Jay Stiefel expressed mild envy that someone else had spirited away a York County, Penn., walnut architectural scroll-top corner cupboard of circa 1790 at Philip H. Bradley, Co., Downingtown, Penn.
Bittel sold a New Hampshire tiger maple desk to new customers.
“I just can’t believe how beautifully constructed this is,” said Pennsylvania dealer Christopher Rebollo, who created a revolving platform for displaying both sides of his John Needles of Baltimore cylinder desk.
Local dealer James Kilvington admitted that the Delaware Antiques Show hits his sweet spot. Impressively, Kilvington sold an untouched pair of japanned George I side chairs, a pair of Philadelphia Queen Anne balloon seat side chairs, a painting by Delaware artist Stanley Arthurs and a rare corner lantern.
“Even though it’s above the Mason-Dixon line, this is a Southern show. We get a lot of people from Virginia, Washington and Baltimore. Everything sells here, but buyers take their time,” said Killington.
The most spectacular example of Southern furniture — a Scots Irish dower chest from Walton County, Ga., 1820–35 — was on view at Sumpter Priddy III, Alexandria, Va. Painted yellow with red and green floral and heart decoration, the chest is from a small but significant group of painted furniture from the Southern backcountry that Priddy has been researching for several years. There is an as yet unconfirmed report that a prominent American collector has acquired Priddy’s chest.
Stephen and Carol Huber’s many sales of American and English samplers and silk embroideries included pieces from New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Delaware. “We sell everyday at this show. People take their time here,” said the Connecticut dealers.
“We sold 12 samplers ranging in price from about $3,000 to about $30,000,” said Amy Finkel, who wrote up a pictorial Philadelphia sampler embroidered with a shepherd, flock, house and abundant floral decoration by Elizabeth Stewart in 1807. The Philadelphia dealer was asking $48,000 for an important Salem, Mass., sampler that Peggy Silver worked in long, lustrous stitches.
“We had a great show last year and this year was even better,” said silver specialist Mark McHugh. A San Francisco customer flew to Wilmington to buy from Spencer Marks Ltd, whose sales included a circa 1920 Arts and Crafts silver lamp by Clemens Friedell of Pasadena, Calif.; a pair of Tiffany & Co. figural baskets of circa 1873–75; a Gorham coin-silver figural basket; a Thomas Fletcher of Philadelphia pitcher and an Arts and Crafts flatware set by Lebolt of Chicago.
Connecticut dealer Jeffrey Tillou said he sold about 15 items: furniture, paintings, weathervanes and decorative arts.
The Maine partnership Jewett-Berdan wrote up an important pair of watercolor portraits, an early sampler that had belonged to the dealers Pam Boyton and Bill Samaha, an early chair table, smalls, a hooked rug and some decorated boxes.
“The committee does a fabulous job taking care of us dealers, which we really appreciate,” said Tom Jewett.
Ron Bassin of A Bird in Hand Antiques said that he and his wife, Joyce, made 13 sales, including two folk paintings.
Garden ornament specialist Barbara Israel parted with a pair of peacocks, an urn, a Diana statue, a grapevine bench, a fish fountainhead and a pair of espaliered tole fruit trees.
Also pleased, Elle Shushan, the Philadelphia specialist in portrait miniatures, said, “I sold lots of little things, to lots of people. I am still working up formal invoices.” The show’s many virtues include “easy hours and a carpeted floor.”
Though decorative arts dominate, the Delaware Antiques Show is also a prime source for paintings by the Brandywine illustrators and artists who trained at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Their work could be seen at Schoonover Studios, Ltd, Somerville Manning Gallery and Dixon-Hall Fine Art.
John Chaski did not have the best show — and could not have been more delighted. His wife, Jen, gave birth to a 6-pound, 5-ounce baby girl, Hannah, just as the fair opened. “We were home from the hospital by Sunday afternoon and I was at the show by 4 pm for pack out,” said Chaski.
Summing up Delaware, Jeffrey Tillou noted, “This show has atmosphere and energy. No sales tax? Quality of merchandise? Roster of dealers? Venue? Perhaps all of the above. It just seems to work.”
The 2016 Delaware Antiques Show is planned for November 11–13. Mark your calendar and make sure to book a room at the oh-so-convenient Westin Wilmington, adjacent to the Chase Center.
For additional information, www.winterthur.org/das or 800-448-3883.
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