Published: April 30, 2002
The Many Faces of the Antique Garden Furniture Show and Sale at the New York Botanical Garden
By R. Scudder Smith
BRONX, N.Y. – “Our trees are singing,” one of the employees of the Bronx Botanical Garden said on Thursday, April 25, as moderate to heavy rain fell while caterers, porters and dealers were preparing for the preview opening of the Antiques Garden Furniture Show and Sale. And not only were the plants everywhere singing, but so were many of the exhibitors, including Tim Brennan, who announced several hours into the show, “I have run out of SOLD tickets.”
According to Catherine Sweeney Singer, show manager, 800 tickets to the preview had been sold by Tuesday and “at this point we do not have a record of just how many have been sold since,” she said. It was estimated, however, that the 1,000 tickets mark would be hit. There was some concern by the show committee that the wet weather might keep people away, but one of the dealers was quick to reply “these people are gardeners, they will come out in any weather.” And that is exactly what they did. Depending on the price of the ticket, patrons arrived from 4:30 on to enjoy lots of drink and refreshments, plus a first-hand look at the well-stocked booths of the thirty exhibitors.
By Friday morning, the appearance of the show had changed. Several benches had been removed, urns were piled outside the door waiting to be picked up, and a pair of cast stone horses, about four feet tall, was standing outside the tent waiting for a ride to Bridgewater, Conn. According to Greg Randall, R.T. Facts of Kent, Conn., he acquired the horses from an estate in New Canaan, Conn. He noted that one had been positioned under a pine tree and had gathered more coloring over the years. An American carved marble spaniel, Nineteenth Century, with the name MIKE etched into the base, was at the front of the booth, and taking up a good deal of room in the center of the booth was an American cast iron urn dating from the third quarter of the Nineteenth Century. It measured four feet tall and four feet wide, with a shell-like bowl resting on a tri-form base with floral motif and the heads of eagles emerging from curled fish tails.
“It was good last night at the preview, but opening day has been great,” Jeffery Henkel of Pennington, N.J. said. Sold tickets were taped to a carved marble bench, a wooden bench that was going to a Greenwich residence, three bronze panels, and a small working fountain in the middle of the booth. The fountain, depicting two children on a rock avoiding a frog, was executed by Lindsey Sterling, American, mid 1920’s. “In addition to my pieces of sculpture, benches and urns, I have had a good deal of interest in the plants I brought along for decoration,” Jeffery said.
“An English strap bench in green paint, circa 1920, has already been delivered to a client in New York City,” Dan Wilson of Wilmington, N.C., said mid-day on Friday. He added that the preview had not been as strong as last year, but his sales had included a three-piece garden set, two chairs, a bench and several urns.
“The show has been good for us and people seem to be buying tables,” Bob Withington of Wells, Maine, said, adding that he had sold a cast iron console table and several cast iron pedestal tables. Many smalls left this booth, as did a marble statue of a young girl. “One customer from Boston came to the preview and left with seven rdf_Descriptions,” Bob said.
Snow White was positioned at the bottom of a stair-shaped rack, standing guard over the seven dwarfs, each with a colorful weathered surface, in the booth of Judith and James Milne of New York City. Apparently Judy became tired of people asking her if she could name all of the dwarfs, for when we posed the question to her she muttered “Sleepy, Doc, Dopey” and then headed off to take care of a customer at the other end of the booth. “Our preview was better last year, but our first day was better this year,” James said, adding that sales had included a large French cast stone planter, two pairs of cast stone dogs, a pair of cast stone benches, and a large, curved stone bench of French origin. A spring steel glider dating circa 1920 was brought into the booth first things Friday morning, and it was sold as the show opened that day. A piece that remained unsold was a fountain fishbowl in marble with eight carved birds mounted around the top. This bowl dated circa 1890 and was manufactured in Baltimore, Md.
“This show has been amazing and we have literally sold tons of things,” Anne and Garret Rowe of The Sugarplum, Wilmot, N.H. said. Anne added “on preview night we sold 75 percent of our booth, restocked it for the Friday opening and sold again. We are wearing thin the tires on our dolly moving things in and out.” Their customers came from many parts of the country, including both Chicago and Florida. “We are taking several things back to New Hampshire for one client,” Anne said. In addition to cast stone figures of cherubs and animals, The Sugarplum sold several pairs of planters and about twenty birdbaths. Several stone tables were sold, including one that a visitor saw as it was being unloaded from the truck and never made it into the show. “This garden business has become a year-round activity and people want a garden look in a portion of the house,” Anne said, indicating that they have sold stone columns that end up inside a home rather than in the garden.
Pam and Gene Martine of Greenwich, Conn., regulars at the show, noted that sales this time around had been stronger than in the past. By mid-Friday sales had included a bronze planter, columns, a large birdcage, a French baker’s table, a lead statue of an angel, a pair of zinc finial spires, and a small terrarium with traces of old yellow paint. Among the un-sold rdf_Descriptions was a pair of zinc eagles with spread wings, a large pair of wrought iron spheres dating from the first part of the Twentieth Century, and several section of cast iron fencing with swag decoration. It was suggest that this fencing came from a cemetery and dated from the late Nineteenth Century.
A terra-cotta putti in the guise of a fireman, French, late Nineteenth Century, held court in the middle of the booth of The Garden Antiquary of New York City. Each rear corner of the booth displayed a monumental size cast iron urn, European, with faces on the side of the urns and full figures cast on each side of the base. A pair of cast stone balls on pedestals, several small urns, and a stone bench with a perfect growth of moss were among the rdf_Descriptions sold.
Passport of Salisbury, Conn., first-time dealers at the show, spoke highly of the show and indicated that business had been good. A red sold tag hung from a large pergola, cast iron, found in northern France, late Nineteenth Century, complete with a cupola and directional. “We just took delivery of this piece and it sold quickly at the preview,” Elaine LaRoche said. The final delivery turned out to be easy as the piece is going right back to Connecticut to a home in New Preston. A large commercial clock-face, 86 inches in diameter, was against the back wall of the booth. This sheet metal piece had the original paint, French origin, and dated from the Nineteenth Century.
“I do only two shows a year, this one and the one in Marion, Mass.,” Debra Queen of South Dartmouth, Mass. said. Her sales were many, including a large cast iron window grate from Newport, R.I, that hung against the back wall, a cast iron table with glass top surrounded by six chairs, a work table from an old mill, and a decorative Nineteenth Century window. With the exception of a few smalls scattered about the booth, only one bench remained by noon on Friday.
“This has been wonderful, better than last year, and most of the back-up things we brought are sold,” Linda Stein of Solebury, Pa. said. Husband Howard started listing some of the objects that had sold including a French cast cement bench, a marble-top table, several woodblock engravings of flowers, two planters, four cast stone urns, a set of wooden furniture including a table, chairs and two benches, and a very fine Adams pedestal.
The preview was very active for John and Nancy Wilson of West Palm Beach, Fla., but things slowed down a bit for them on Friday. A curved strap bench was positioned at the front of the booth, right near one of the tent heaters, and it was constantly occupied by those seeking a bit of “warm.” The bench finally went to the shipper and headed out for Nashville. A stone table, French, circa 1940, was purchased by collector Allan Daniel and when asked where he was going to put it, he replied “I don’t know, but Kendra will find a spot.” Unsold on Friday was a large pair of Italian chandeliers, wood turned shaft, with eight light on the bottom row and six on the top. “Our shop in Florida is doing very well,” John said, adding “this will be our only showing up this way and we have given up Rhinebeck after all these years.”
“Things are moving out so fast I will be able to vacuum my rug shortly,” Michael Trapp of West Cornwall, Conn. said. He had sold signs hanging from a large stone urn on pedestal, English, circa 1920; a long trestle table, two board top with scrubbed surface; and a 9 foot 8 inch by 15 foot tapestry, French origin. Michael is always one to turn up the unusual, and this time he offered a large bug collection that showed various species in graduated sizes.
“How could you be in a nicer place,” Kate Alex of Warner, N.H., said, especially after slapping a red sold ticket down on her cast iron, marble top, French table with griffin base. It dated from the Nineteenth Century and Kate mentioned “we had to reinforce the top of the truck and use a come-along to get it in due to the weight.” Other sales making it “a great show” included six cast iron fence posts joined by a chain, and eight cast iron urns. Centreville, Md., dealer Aileen Minor showed a nice pair of wrought iron settees with scroll arms, wire backs and seat, manufactured during the late Nineteenth century by a foundry in Baltimore. An “Arizona Reservoil Vase” came from a New Orleans foundry and had leafage scrolls and North wind heads. A cast iron birdbath sported a sold sign, along with a number of other small cast figures.
Barbara Israel of Katonah, N.Y. was a bit frustrated on Friday as her cell phone conversation kept breaking up. “This is the lady calling back about the four large pottery pots and I can’t tell if she is taking them or not,” Barbara said. (A good connection had not been made by the time we left the show, but a call back is certainly a positive sign.) The Barbara Israel booth had a more country look than in the past, with tiered grass in the left hand corner supporting a large stone eagle, English, circa 1940, on the top, and a pair of reclining cast iron lions holding down the ground level. These lions were cast after the original group by Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen, circa 1880-90, measuring 44½ inches long. “We have had non-stop interest this year,” Barbara said, noting that a few of the sales included a working fountain, a pair of wooden chairs, large pots and two stone birdbaths.
This is the seventh year that Brennan and Mouilleseaux of Rochester, N.Y., have been doing the show and it half-way into Friday it was the second best show there. “This show is refreshing and it is building confidence in the business,” Tim Brennan said, adding that “it is heartening to see people coming to a show, enjoying themselves, and finding things to buy.” Sales from this booth included three cast iron benches, two pairs of chairs, six single chairs, three armillary spheres, a pair of cast iron owls from a bank, a fountain, and several cast iron melon urns.
“This show is a manager’s delight,” Katherine Sweeney Singer said, adding “the dealers are great and spend lots of time making the booths look just right for the preview opening.” Catherine also is the manager for the Winter Antiques Show in January in New York and noted “this is so easy by comparison and in such a wonderful setting.” Plans for next year include a slight increase in the dealer list and a larger tent. “This show has taken off so well that I think we could add a few more faces without hurting the reputation we have built,” Catherine said.
An interesting program of event accompanied the show, this year headlined by the display of sculpture from The Museum of Modern Art. Pieces are on loan to the botanical garden while construction is taking place at MOMA.
During the preview, a collectors’ plant sale is conducted, always resulting completely “sold out,” and other events range from a talk on the history of the garden bench by John Danzer of Munder-Skiles, to a book signing by Elizabeth Barlow Rogers, author of “Landscape Design: A Cultural and Architectural History.”
And if you throw in the beauty inside the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, where the perennial garden is now in full glory, it is hard to imagine a place where a real gardener would be happier. Except possibly in his or her own garden.
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