By Genevieve S. Ward
RHINEBECK, N.Y. – When over 500 dealers and friends present at the show lifted their glasses in a champagne toast to Rhinebeck and its late founder Bill Walter, the spirit of the venerable show bubbled over.
Serendipitously, Rhinebeck Antiques Fair celebrated its 25th anniversary on Friday, May 25. The poignancy of the event, coupled with the spirit of Rhinebeck that surfaces each May, July and September, resulted in a weekend-long celebration of the legacy that Bill Walter left behind, through the guidance of Jimi Barton.
In addressing the crowd, Jimi recalled Bill’s “thrill of the hunt,” his “gift of friendship” and, most of all, his vision to create an outstanding antiques experience. Bill Walter, a literature professor at nearby Bard College, started the show in 1976, which hosted 35 to 50 dealers during three days at Bard. In 1979, he began the Fall show. Jimi instituted the Summer show in 1999.
Eleven of the original dealers were honored at the party: Corinne Burke, Steve Gero (Balcony Antique Shops), Terry Ann Tomlinson (Tree of Life Gallery), Joe and Nellie Ptaszek (The Dutch House), Arthur and Joan Mitchell (Timeworn Treasures), George Cole and Robin Mizerak, George and Hedda Elk (Rensselaerville Antiques), Jack and MaryEllen Whistance (Lock, Stock & Barrel), Kitty Dordick and Francesca Husted (Dordick & Husted) and George Walowen (Walker Valley Antiques).
The audience had the pleasure of reliving, through several speeches, the memories of Rhinebeck and its founder. Jonathan and Iris Oseas of Van Deusen House Antiques recalled “having so much fun…we never noticed that we had become antiques ourselves!” Antiques and The Arts Weekly editor Scudder Smith remembered the day Bill called with news that he was starting a new show. Since then, he said, “It has grown a lot. We’ve seen some great merchandise coming and going through these doors.” Exhibitor and staff member Howard Graff of Colt Barn Antiques recalled his first meeting with Bill 17 years ago and his short days of being on the waiting list, before becoming one of the most familiar faces in the show.
The camaraderie was contagious. During set up, dealers voted on best-looking booths, and the winners were, first place: Gloria Lonergan; second place: Kate Alex; and third place: Victor Weinblatt. Merle Koblenz won an award for generating the highest gate by the number of coded postcards she had distributed.
Nearing the end of the champagne celebration, Jimi brought the audience’s attention back to the qualities of the person who had founded such a legacy. Jimi shared one of his final promises to Bill: to publish a volume of his poems. After two and half years of working independently on this special task, Jimi announced the publication of The Chosen Ones: Twenty-five Portraits in Poetry by Bill Walter. The audience was hushed as Jimi described the process of selecting the poems, which were beautifully bound into a volume presented as a gift from Jimi to each of the dealers, guests, and friends of Bill.
And the tradition continues. This time around, 190 dealers gathered at the Dutchess County Fairgrounds, and enjoyed record-breaking attendance on Saturday. Rain, at this show, does not dampen spirits. Instead, while nearly all dealers had great shows, about 70 dealers reported “excellent” shows, and many had their “best Rhinebeck ever.”
According to Jimi Barton, the porters had never made so many trips to the delivery tents as they did on Saturday. Furthermore, more than half of the dealers made just as many sales on Sunday as they did on Saturday. The success of the dealers proves that, for Rhinebeck at least, the slowing economy did not adversely affect the show.
Larry & Marie Miller of Dorset, Vt., recalled, “The crowds on Saturday were incredible. You could not walk in the aisles. Sales were strong and we noticed that the best was what was selling. We sold across the board: quilts, smalls, and furniture. The selling continued on Sunday with pricey rdf_Descriptions still walking out the door.”
Dick Costa of Costa and Currier, Portsmouth, N.H., sold formal furniture such as a Portsmouth console table, and a variety of other good pieces: an Art Deco screen, a Victorian cast iron garden bench, an early paisley shawl, three hooked rugs, a silver beaker, and a wonderful bronze lion that had graced the corner of an English snooker table.
“It was the best Rhinebeck I have ever had by far,” said Jef Steingrebe of Bradford, N.H. “I sold all my garden things… [including] an urn and limestone finials. Every piece of French and American furniture I brought sold. I went [to Rhinebeck] with a 15-foot box truck full right to the back door, and only brought home three boxes of smalls and a lamp.”
Ken & Susan Scott of Malone, N.Y. remarked, “The Rhinebeck Antiques Fair is always a wonderful show for us, however this year it went far beyond our expectations…We had our best Rhinebeck ever!” I’m not sure if it was due to the anniversary, the rain, the excellent merchandise that was on the floor or a combo of it all…our show was fantastic!”
The dealers decided to bring a little of everything and found that the mix worked. “For country furniture we sold a blue armoire, country sofa, dough box, gameboards and a hooked rug. In the garden / architecture area we sold an angel chandelier, wall shelves, and bits and pieces of structural molding,” reported Ken Scott.
Michael and Lucinda Seward of Pittsford, Vt., reported, “We sold four large pieces of furniture, a large Eighteenth Century mirror, a large Nineteenth Century mirror, several paintings, two quilts, several other textiles, a pair of andirons and many smalls. Still, the trend we are noticing is that good things are selling. We saw a lot of furniture go out and several booths around us nearly sold out.”
The Flemings of Three Peaks Farm Antiques, Wingham, Ontario, said that the show “met expectations and better. We specialize in unique; (i.e. one of a kind) country furniture and old folk art, especially very good or exceptional folk art. That’s what sold well for us.” Sales included an exceptional painted and faux grained bonnet chest with incised chickens on the backboard and painted trees of life on the side columns. “We sold a wonderful fraternal piece, carved and framed that declared ‘The Liberal Soul Shall Make You Fat,'” recalled Jim Fleming.
About the sprit of the show, Jim added, “The 25th anniversary taking place during our first Rhinebeck certainly made it extra special. Jimi Barton, in the tradition of his friend and Rhinebeck founder Bill Walter, runs a very competent well-organized event. But what made it most worthwhile was an almost family atmosphere between promoter and dealers and dealers themselves. That’s quite something in this business.”
Cheryl and Paul Scott of Hillsborough, N.H. brought lots of fresh merchandise and sold a setter weathervane during setup, which reportedly sold again on Saturday morning. Cheryl reported, “Our first sale on Sat. morning was to a long time client who came in and bought three pieces of furniture. We sold lots of furniture…tables, chairs, a blanket chest, a shoe foot hutch table, and a variety of paintings [including] the diptych, a floral still life and a landscape. We sold two benches, a pair of terra-cotta planters among other garden rdf_Descriptions. [There was] lots of dealer interest, but also lots of decorators and retail.”
Here, the camaraderie is also evident. The Scotts noted that Northfield, N.H. dealer Tommy Thompson sold enough so that “when our truck broke down as we were ready to leave…he offered and took home for us what we couldn’t get in our car.”
Veteran dealers George and Hedda Elk of Rensselaerville Antiques, Rensselaerville, N.Y. remarked, “It was truly an anniversary celebration for us, as this was our best show ever, much better than anticipated, particularly on Saturday. We sold a number of very fine rdf_Descriptions, such as a set of four elaborate Coalport tureens, a large Wedgwood jardiniere, an etching by Rouault, and an export punch bowl. The atmosphere was euphoric.”
Jeff Bridgman of Dillsburg, Pa. reported, “I sold throughout the entire spectrum of my Americana offerings, including a dry sink, a mustard painted stand, a dough tray on legs, an oil painting, several American and Confederate flags, a hooked cat rug, a charcoal on sandpaper, some redware, and a trade sign. I also bought exceptionally well, acquiring a couple of really incredible things, which rounded out the weekend very nicely. Attendance was outstanding, and it never let up. I actually sold better on Sunday, which is a rarity.”
From North Edgecomb, Me., print dealer Lea Wait of M.A.H. Antiques remarked, “Despite the rain, the Rhinebeck Spring Show was definitely a success for us – it was one of the best shows we’ve had in the 24 years we’ve done Rhinebeck, and we’ve had some very good years! We sold a wide range of rdf_Descriptions, from Winslow Homer wood engravings to steel engravings of New York City and state, to classic Nineteenth Century hand-colored botanicals and fruit, to Black Americana prints.”
She added, “One of the most positive developments we saw was an increasing number of younger buyers, especially new homeowners, who were eager to learn … and then to buy. A show that attracts the buyers of tomorrow is number one on our list!”
Betty and Joel Schatzberg of Riverside, Conn. said, “The Rhinebeck show was wonderful. We had sales all day long on Saturday. There was traffic all day long. We had the most sales that we have ever had at Rhinebeck. It would seem that furniture was a big mover. Several large pieces of furniture moved on Sunday, as well. To a dealer, any Sunday sale is pure gravy and we certainly had our share.”
Elizabeth Robinson, Acorn Antiques, Westerly, R.I. noticed “great interest this year in prints from the Hudson River area especially, and I sold many of them. The quality and huge variety of fine antiques at this show was excellent. Jimi Barton and his staff made this show especially special with recognition of exhibitors who had been with the show since its inception 25 years ago and in giving a poignant tribute to Bill Walter, its founder.”
Rhinebeck is also diverse. Among its strong core of Americana, visitors are also treated to a wide spectrum of European and Asian furniture and textiles, as well as specialties such as rustic furniture and marine art. Vichai and Lee Chinalai from Chinalai Tribal Antiques, Shoreham, N.Y. recalled, “We were pleased for Jimi and the Rhinebeck staff that this year’s show had the biggest Saturday attendance in history – and it certainly paid for us. Rhinebeck attracts such a wide variety of people and you never know what to expect.”
He added, “Whereas we normally could count on Rhinebeck for furniture sales, this year we only sold one set of tables; and whereas we usually find only a small percentage of the Rhinebeck crowd interested in our tribal pieces, this year we sold more than any other time, including Yao Minority ceremonial paintings from South China, probably the most esoteric of all the offerings in our booth. These were not the only religious or spiritual objects to be sold and appreciated and we find it rewarding that by sticking to who we are and what we do best, bit by bit over the years we have attracted an expanding group of interested and loyal customers.”
Marine art specialist Louis J. Dianni of Fishkill, N.Y. reported, “We had our second best show ever at this location. We sold several paintings including Nineteenth and Twentieth Century works by listed American and British artists and a great example of a sailing ship by Antonio Jacobsen. We also sold numerous ships in bottles and an Eighteenth Century ship model.” Louis observed, “There is a strong trend forming for works by Rockport school artists done between 1915 and 1950.”
Bert Savage of Larch Lodge, Center Strafford, N.H. enjoyed excellent sales including the highlight of the boot, a stunning salmon painting by Sid Bickford, which sold to a new customer. “We also sold our signed Westport, N.Y. chair plus some other furniture, carvings, prints and smalls,” noted Bert.
Noting that “rustic is not for everyone,” Bert continued, “it usually goes to a second home, off somewhere in the woods. The Rhinebeck crowd seemed interested in it and we had lots of conversations about it. Interest was across the board: Adirondack, Indiana hickory such as Old Hickory, fish and camp paintings, birch bark, and pyrography.”
Rhinebeck is also known for having the unique. Bearsville, N.Y. dealer Lenny Kislin exhibited an old hamster cage, a wonderful beetle mosaic, and the most unusual of pieces, an old spout with beautiful form, about 5 feet tall, that was an early Twentieth Century nebulizer used to anesthetize hospital patients. On the wall he exhibited several cut-paper portraits, circa 1928, of such personas as Theodore Roosevelt and George Bernard Shaw.
Scarsdale, N.Y. dealer Marilyn Saland brought a circa 1890-1910 cherry center table, 1920s McCoy planters and vases, and a circa 1840 bird’s-eye maple two-tier stand, as well as Currier & Ives prints.
Pine Tree Hill of Wilmington, Vt. displayed a set of early 1900s cast iron card suits, a set of four early 1900s pinball games, a large late 1800s painted tool box, a pumpkin painted wagon set, and seven early 1900s carnival knockdowns.
Joan Evans of Lambertville, N.J. brought a Nineteenth Century copper sundial, a pair of French Twentieth Century aloe zinc finials, and a hand-wrought iron table with scroll legs and marble top. A set of eight French fruitwood dining chairs featured leather slip seats.
An Oddfellows lodge staff from Ohio and a late Nineteenth Century commanche drum were among the offerings from Elliot & Elliot, Harbor Springs, Mich. The dealers also had a circa 1930 Georgia pine tramp art frame and a circa 1850 stencil decorated bench from New York.
Shaker rdf_Descriptions were plentiful from Maria Brooks of Hyde Park, N.Y. Artifacts from the Mount Lebanon community included a cedar chest, a drying rack and a bucket brush.
Jane Reilly of Inlet, N.Y. featured a Maine maple tea table, circa 1775, and a nice 1796 English sampler by Mary Gates, and an America, circa 1810, pocket decorated with verses and nature images by Betsy Briggs. Another piece of early furniture was a New England child-sized Chippendale blanket chest on a bracket base.
A unique rdf_Description as Coleman & May, Annandale, Va., was a Nineteenth Century American table globe, “the first one I’ve ever had,” according to dealer Jeremy Ulin. The rare globe was made by H. Schedler of New York or Jersey City, N.Y. Also unique was a Nineteenth Century plaster of Paris sculpture of General Grant in a shadowbox frame.
Country rdf_Descriptions at Mark Moody of New York City included a circa 1920s Coca-Cola cooler from a country store, an early Twentieth Century egg box with original mustard surface, and a circa 1820 country Sheraton chest of drawers in original red paint.
Twenty-five-year dealer George Walowen of Walker Valley, N.Y. had a nice two-drawer step back cupboard, while William Lohrman of New Platz, N.Y. was exhibiting a recent acquisition, a Hudson Valley pewter cupboard scraped down to original paint and boasting rare blind butterfly hinges.
Outstanding pewter from Flint, Mich. dealers Bette and Melvyn Wolf included two 1800 chalices “in the finest form” according to Melvyn. The American pieces were made by Albany maker Timothy Brigden, who was influenced by Dutch techniques.
South Hadley, Mass. dealer Victor Weinblatt had a number of interesting signs, including a “Potato Day” sign, a circa 1900 two-sided sign for the B.H. Foss Inn of Vermont, and a 1940s-50s tin sign for Wonder Bread. A highlight of the furniture was a circa 1840 grain painted diminutive secretary.
The Rhinebeck experience will continue with Rhinebeck “Summer Magic” on Saturday, July 28, with 165 dealers exhibiting from 9 am to 5 pm.