Story by W.A. Demers, photos by W.A. Demers and R. Scudder Smith
Everything at the Rhinebeck Antiques Fair generally runs either like clockwork or magic. So when dealers and show management staff gathered under the big white tent at 1 pm on Friday, May 28, for a tribute service for the late Rhinebeck show promoter Jimi Barton, no one was surprised to see the glowering skies that moments before held rain begin to clear and shafts of sunshine emerge to bathe the fairgrounds. Barton would have wanted it that way, said Bruce Garrett, his longtime friend, colleague and now Rhinebeck show promoter.
Such is the legacy of the Rhinebeck show. Its family style character – a style that stretches back even before the Barton magic to the days of the show’s originator Bill Walter – is so ingrained that the 200 or so dealers who make up the Rhinebeck “tribe” say time and again that there are very few unpleasant surprises at Rhinebeck. By most accounts, the two-day show that was conducted at the Dutchess County Fairgrounds over Memorial Day weekend, May 29-30, ran true to that time-tested model.
“We had a terrific show,” said Garrett. “It looked wonderful, attendance was great and sales were very good.” Saturday’s gate was a record, Garrett continued, and when combined with Sunday’s numbers, the total number of visitors for the weekend came in at between 7,600 and 7,800. Of course, getting people into the show is only part of the equation. “Of those dealers who responded to our questionnaire, 78 percent reported having a ‘good’ to ‘excellent’ show,” said Garrett.
So as the Memorial Day weekend crowd fanned out for the annual travel ritual, dealers, collectors, designers and the retail crowd clearly were not letting increasingly dear gasoline deter them from the hunt for antiques; in town on Saturday merchants reportedly said that it was nearly impossible to get through the village because of the traffic.
“At least with Rhinebeck, you know that there will always be people,” observed Mimi Gunn, Chatham, N.J., whose fortuitous spot at the entrance of Building B ensured that her eye-catching, eclectic booth would reel in her share of showgoers. Featuring a large advertising wall clock, a yellow painted game wheel and many other rdf_Descriptions, Gunn said she hosted a great crowd on both days. Among her sales were the game wheel, a “bunch of paintings,” a wooden bicycle, jewelry, a Budweiser advertising sign and a big shell light from the 1950s.
Also from New Jersey, Gloria Lonergan of Mendham said she sold many things over the two-day show, including a red iron bench, a big blue blanket chest, an early settle chair in dark wood, signs, pantry boxes and doll and crib quilts.
Sandy Klempner Antiques & Interiors, Canaan, N.Y., was one of the dealers who did “just great” at the show, selling a large Nineteenth Century full-bodied wooden horse with traces of original paint, an American sign, a tuna fish sign, a Quaker quilt and a red and white drunkard quilt. She also reported selling a lot of smalls.
Similarly, recalled Chuck Auerbach of Akron, Ohio, “I had a real solid show. I sold across the board – quilts, furniture, game boards, rugs, folk art, primitive. People responded well to the broad base of things I like to have in the booth.” The only weakness, Auerbach noted, was in his photographs, mostly Twentieth Century team and group photographs, which usually do well at shows but not this one in particular. Auerbach said he subscribes to the family atmosphere of Rhinebeck. “Management make it easy as possible, and it’s one of the few shows that I like to hang out at during setup.”
There were some new dealers joining the Rhinebeck family for the spring show. Stuart Cropper from Lewes, England, for example, brought a selection of mechanical toys, early advertising, banks and money boxes, games, cartoon collectibles and other rdf_Descriptions. Presenting as the Eclectic Eye Limited, Cropper said, “I was very pleased with the show at Rhinebeck, especially as it was our first time there. I would say that our total sales at the show were fair to good. Our best single sale was an Austrian terra cotta pug, which we sold half an hour after the show had closed officially on the Saturday to somebody who had gone to the show looking for furniture.”
Cropper said he returned home to England to discover two emails from potential new customers, which, he said, “if they translate into sales will make the show an excellent one.” Cropper added that Garrett and his team did an excellent job so that the show was very easy to do. “They were all very ‘exhibitor friendly,’ which is what you need when you are going to a show for the first time,” said Cropper.
Bogart was impressed by the show’s sophisticated crowd, including many New York decorators. “Fortunately, I renewed my acquaintance with one who bought several rdf_Descriptions from me and then left the show with her heavy treasures being carried out by the staff,” she said. “All who attended seemed to be enjoying themselves, as well as the dealers who enjoy a two-day show that does not have evening hours. I only wish I had done this show before and hope to do it again.”
Suzanne Cassano of Vol. 1 Antiques, Sharon, Conn., also hopes to become a permanent part of the Rhinebeck family. “The Rhinebeck Antiques Fair is a dream come true,” she exclaimed, characterizing as “fantastic” her first show at the fairgrounds. “As a dealer, from the moment we arrived to the moment we left, the experience was extremely pleasant,” she said. “Bruce Garrett has handpicked an assortment of high-quality dealers, with a range of product offerings, presented in a setting that is easy to navigate and fun to participate in. The customers are as varied as the products themselves, and we enjoyed chatting and getting to know these Rhinebeck regulars.”
Cassano sold a French iron wall sconce, among the antique architectural rdf_Descriptions displayed. “It was large in scale, dated from the 1860s and was from a hotel in Vincennes,” she said. “The customer who purchased it was building a French farmhouse and planned to find a place for it there.” Another interesting rdf_Description sold was a kitchen work island dating from the 1950s and made by Bramhall Deane Co, New York City. “It was very industrial with a stainless steel shelf, 3-inch-thick maple butcher block, a pot rack and iron fittings,” said Cassano.
Charles and Barbara Adams, South Yarmouth, Mass., were participating in their first May Rhinebeck. “We just couldn’t believe the number of people that attended this show,” said Charles Adams. “The show is just a real delight to do. The promoter and everyone here is so warm and welcoming to the dealers. The customers are very happy and are certainly enjoying the Rhinebeck experience! We were very pleased with our show. We sold several oil paintings, four pieces of gray stoneware, Bennington, blue sponge yellowware and two Taghkanic baskets, among other things. Every one around us seemed to be selling well, and several pieces of furniture passed by our booth on the way to the pickup tent. All in all, a very pleasant and profitable weekend.”
Among the Rhinebeck regulars reuniting for the two-day show were Bev and Doug Norwood, who hail from Timonium, Md., and exhibit under the aegis of Spirit of America. “Rhinebeck continues to be an exceptional show,” said Bev Norwood. “We look forward with much delight to each show because there truly is magic in the air! The setting is perfect, the management is extraordinary, the dealers have a genuine care and concern for one another, and the customers are superb. If this sounds like a fairy tale, then each of us already is living happily ever after!
“Bruce Garrett did everything, and then some, to ensure that the transition from the fall show -with Jimi Barton with us one final time – to the spring show – with Jimi’s spirit ever-present within each of us – was seamless,” she added. “The memorial service for Jimi was inspirational and uplifting for everyone privileged to know him.”
For themselves, the Norwoods rated this year’s spring show as “another resounding success,” with preshow sales “our best ever.” They sold across the board, including an 1808 Vermont sampler, three naive paintings, a diminutive theorem, two early game boards, two American silhouettes with excellent provenance, a number of paint decorated smalls and an Eighteenth Century Delaware Valley candlestand. “On the way home from the show, we received a cell phone call from a gentleman from Rhinebeck who had been to the show on Saturday, with a return visit on Sunday,” said Bev Norwood. “He said that he couldn’t stop thinking about two portrait miniatures that he had seen in our booth. We mailed the portraits to him immediately. They should be back in the Hudson Valley now.”
Another Rhinebeck regular, Corrine Burke of Ridgefield, Conn., also reported a very good show and preshow. “I took more expensive things this time just by chance, and I’m glad I did,” said Burke, whose business is “country.” “Very good crowds. There was never a slow time all day. Sunday was good also. Usually, for me, Sundays are slow. I think Bruce has stepped right in and is true to the Rhinebeck tradition. Rhinebeck is a real easy show to do what with a two-day setup and closing at four.”
“We were particularly impressed with the seamless transition from Jimi Barton’s management of the show to that of his much-loved and respected successor, Bruce Garrett, and the show’s team of seasoned and caring assistants,” concurred David Allan Ramsay, Cape Porpoise, Maine. Ramsay’s show got off to a great start with the sale of a pair of Nineteenth Century cast zinc figural angel post lamps. Sales also included a vividly painted large game wheel, an early perpetual-motion toy in dry polychrome paint, a figural papier mache advertising bulldog, and several signs, including an unusual example paying tribute to a rock star. “Sales continued through Sunday, with a new retail customer, a Park Avenue resident, purchasing a Nineteenth Century cast-iron figural birdbath for her country estate, as well as a number of sales from our newly established jewelry department,” said Ramsay.
Paul and Cheryl Scott, Hillsborough, N.H., brought more traditional furniture this time, including an early Massachusetts cupboard and a Chippendale six-drawer chest. “We had a great show,” said Paul Scott. “We sold right up to 3:30 on Sunday.” Furniture sales included the chest of drawers, a Victorian dressing table and a bookcase.
A young couple who were renovating and furnishing an Eighteenth Century home near Rhinebeck stopped by the booth of Philip Liverant, Colchester, Conn., with their fireplace measurements. Lo and behold, merchandise and measurements matched, and Liverant sent the couple home with a large pair of double lemon top andirons and a fender screen. “I think I’ve made a new customer,” said Liverant. Among other notable sales, Liverant found new homes for an important folk art Uncle Sam whirligig, jam hooks and many smalls.
Tim Brennan and Dave Mouilleseaux, Rennsselaer, N.Y., also sold a lot of smalls and decorative early Twentieth Century rdf_Descriptions. “We had a very good show,” said Mouilleseaux. “Saturday was especially good,” he added, and sales included a period Empire recamier, an early Nineteenth Century French mirror and a set of eight wrought iron garden chairs with a balloon motif
Tom Longacre, Marlborough, N.H., said his sales results were very good. “We sold rdf_Descriptions across the board. They included a wonderful produce stand with a cash drawer, a painted wall cupboard, a Victorian gigging toy, a red, white and blue WPA sign, an interesting pair of folding beach chairs and a 1901 two-sided owl game board, among other things,” said Longacre. “The dealers set up wonderful booths, and the management and staff are some of the best in the business to work with.”
Plymouth, Mass.-based Village Braider’s display, right at the entrance of Building C (there are four such buildings used for the spring and fall fairs), had a compelling lineup of early American whirligigs from the 1930s and 1940s that owner Bruce Emond had acquired in Indiana. Striking cutouts of Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Mutt and Jeff and Uncle Sam combined with great original colors to catch the eye as well as the wind.
“The show was normal for us, and normal for Rhinebeck is a very good show,” said Emond, who tallied a total of 32 sales. “We sold a broad range of antiques from a room-size oval hooked rug to a 1950s large driftwood floor lamp, as well as a carved sandstone turtle with great surface growth, a pair of benches painted green, a large Town Hall sign, a Nineteenth Century cupboard with drawers painted green and a Nineteenth Century French child’s stove.”
Location is something Stephen Gero of Balcony Antiques, Canton, Conn., understands. This past winter, Gero’s group antiques shops moved west on Route 44 to a new location at 166 Albany Turnpike. Gero said he had 38 sales at the Rhinebeck show, ranging from $1,750 for a second period Empire sideboard down to small rdf_Descriptions, such as a pair of Hawke’s vases, oil paintings, majolica and a Victorian silver basket. “Saturday morning, people came in waves,” said Gero. “Smalls sold briskly. Later in the afternoon, there were more dealer and decorator sales. Sunday had a more of a retail crowd.”
“Consistent” is the word Mark Moody, Shohola, Penn., used to characterize his Rhinebeck experience. “You can always count on crowds both days, and I sold really well on Sunday,” said Moody. “People seem to be looking for unusual rdf_Descriptions, breaking out of the normal parameters. For example, I sold an egg scale. Now, I never before had owned an egg scale, but its form and color made it one of the most graphic pieces in the booth.” Moody said he also sold a nice early Twentieth Century fieldstone birdbath, a pair of lamps made from 1940s bowling pins, a folk art painting and chalkware figures of dogs.
When she is not writing mysteries about the antiques trade, Lea Wait of MAH Antiques, Edgecomb, Maine, sells antique prints. “We had some ‘old time’ customers – it was the 27th time we had done the show – but also made sales to some newer, younger customers,” said Wait. “One of the joys of doing antiques shows is meeting new prospective collectors and talking about your specialty. As print dealers, that may mean explaining the difference between a wood engraving and a lithograph. And at Rhinebeck this year, we did more than our share of explaining to interested younger buyers. That’s a good sign for the whole industry.”
While Wait said her average sale per customer was lower this spring than in the past, “the number of new buyers made us feel very positive about the whole experience,” she added. “Rhinebeck was a wonderful show, as always.”
Wait’s mystery series started with Shadows at the Fair, set in Rhinebeck. “I still get a kick out of people who’ve read one or more of the books and recognize prints in my booth from the books.” Wait’s next book, Shadows on the Ivy, is scheduled to be published in August.
Moving from prints to antique quilts, Marie Miller Antique Quilts, Dorset, Vt., reported an “excellent” Rhinebeck show. Among the many pieces she sold was an expensive album quilt, circa 1860, measuring 70 by 82 inches. It was displayed in her booth along with a US Navy patriotic quilt with American shield, anchors and a wheel, a bear paw quilt, circa 1880, and a flying geese quilt, circa 1840. “Furniture sales included some of our recently acquired rdf_Descriptions, including a set of four Windsor chairs, a tavern table, dry sink, etc,” said Miller. “Smalls also moved rather briskly. People seemed to be in a buying mood again after a long winter. The gate was fantastic.”
For their part, the Kozubs, Sue and her husband Bob, reported that the show went “very well.” Ester Gilbert Antiques specializes in Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century decorative rdf_Descriptions, barometers and antique firearms. “We sold some nice rdf_Descriptions, including a grain painted Vermont blanket chest and a Civil War Sharps carbine,” said Bob Kozub.
“This show was the best-selling show I’ve ever had at Rhinebeck,” said Susan Parrish, New York City, who specializes in antique quilts and textiles, painted country furniture and Nineteenth Century accessories. “I thought the people who attended were more thoughtful, serious, real collectors who knew what they were looking for – actually, quite different from some shows in the past. Overall, I was very pleased.”
Also pleased to participate were Louis and Janet Dianni, freshly returning from their Florida home each year for this event. Along with greeting old friends well into the day on Saturday, the Diannis made solid sales of their trademark antique marine art. A few of the highlights that some happy visitors chose to leave with were an Antonio Jacobsen painting of the steamship Madison, an oil of “Sand Dunes” by Provincetown, Mass., artist Arthur V. Diehl, a rare doorstop in colorful original paint of a pirate carrying loot, numerous pairs of maritime-related bookends and ships in bottles. One new collector traveled from New Jersey to get an education on the endless varieties of ships in bottles, after an almost hourlong discussion with Janet Dianni. “He had a broad smile and left with his first treasure,” said Louis Dianni. “A spectacular maritime shadow box featuring an American ship, tugboat and lightship and retaining its original tramp art frame of superb design was sold postshow to a passionate collector who had visited on Saturday but ‘could no longer sleep without owning it,'” said Dianni.
Always out of the ordinary, Martin Birnbaum’s booth was again filled with unusual things. Reporting an “above average” show, exceeding expectations, the Kiskatom, N.Y., dealer said he sold a large African makunde statue, a Eighteenth Century Dutch Old Master painting depicting Jews slaughtering pigs and a museum-quality early Nineteenth Century woolen block-printed dress. Birnbaum said his collection of outsider art by Lewis Smith (1907-1998), who drew and painted on paper, cardboard and the walls of his house in Ohio images of muscular women boxers, among other things, also attracted a lot of attention.
Not everyone had a great show. Reporting an “okay” show comprising a “fine” Saturday and a “poor” Sunday were Milton and Elaine Schedivy of Olive Branch, West Shokan, N.Y. “I think the numbers were off, and the cold weather and the price of gas may have kept some people away,” said Milton Schedivy, who nevertheless pointed out that the management of the show, now under Garrett, is both considerate and helpful. Front and center in their booth was a 27-inch French bronze of a female violinist, signed E. Delaplanche and made by the Barbedienne foundry in Paris, circa 1875. An oil on canvas painting, possibly of Yosemite views, done in the style of Albert Bierstadt, an early Nineteenth Century parlor pocket watch holder with intricate hand inlay and a pair of ruby luster decorative mantel pieces, circa 1890-1910, were also on display.
Promoter Jimi Barton Is Remembered
The late Rhinebeck Antiques Fair promoter Jimi Barton was remembered at a tribute service conducted under the white food court tent at Dutchess County Fairgrounds on Friday, May 28. Bruce Garrett, who took over the reins at Bill Walter Shows after Barton passed away in November 2003, show staff and many of the regular Rhinebeck dealers gathered to share reminiscences about a man who, according to Garrett, “always impressed people, never forgot and always made good on his promises.”
Garrett shared a couple of incidents relating to his long association with Barton, which began during their childhood – one involving a toy typewriter they had played with as children and its eerie reappearance in a Red Hook, N.Y., antiques shop they both visited shortly before Barton died and the other related to their mutual love of Cella’s chocolate-covered cherries and Barton’s thoughtful capacity to remember what people close to him liked.
Marks remembered Barton’s love of the holidays and his dedication to maintaining Walter’s antiques show legacy. The Holdens recalled Barton’s great friendship with Walter and spoke of Barton’s grace, courage and positive attitude and how their association with him had taught them that it is good to get to know people better while they are alive. Wargo focused on Barton’s eyes – “piercing and hazel, eyes that smiled and cared.”
Ramsay recalled Barton’s capacity to love, his friendship and loyalty, as well as his self-confidence that allowed him to seek truthful comments from those around him. Gould said, “Jimi left a trail of good works, including much outside the domain of antiques, a reputation for kind acts, a legacy of leadership, an establishment of a successful venture, a creation of opportunities for others.” Jill Wilson addressed Barton’s spiritual side by reading from the 16th Psalm.
Neither Thompson nor Smith was able to attend the tribute event – Thompson due to an illness and Smith due to a schedule conflict with a grandson’s graduation. Smith sent along a written tribute, which Garrett read to those in attendance. In it, Smith said that while he subscribed to the principle that all men are created, he also believed that God had devised a pecking order for antiques show promoters and Barton was there at the top. Sharing a poem written by his great-grandfather, Allison P. Smith, editor and publisher of The Newtown Bee, in the 1880s titled “The Friendly Kindly Man,” Smith paid tribute to the kind of man who “in his daily life . . . seems to cast out fear/and radiates a real and lasting cheer.”
The Rhinebeck family of dealers reunites again this summer on July 24 for Rhinebeck Summer Magic. For information, 845-876-1989 or rhinebeckantiquesfair.com.