Published: January 20, 2016
Review And Photos By Laura Beach
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Show promoters Karen and Ralph DiSaia, often working with partners, are becoming known as revitalization experts, masters at taking old shows and making them new again. The latest demonstration of their talents was the January 8–10 Washington Winter Show, staged at the Katzen Arts Center at American University, where Karen DiSaia was once an undergraduate.
Many will remember the event in its former guise, as the Washington Antiques Show, founded in 1955 and for decades a top industry event. Long story short, the fair, after parting with its prior sponsor, was reborn several years back with a new name, new beneficiaries and updated committee structure. At its helm today is energetic executive director Jonathan G. Willen, head of a D.C. arts and events management company bearing his name.
Rather than turn away from the old charity model that worked so well in the past, the Washington Winter Show has embraced and tweaked the formula. That means lots of volunteers, a lively preview party, a loan exhibit, a handsome show catalog and plenty of special events to attract visitors all weekend. A Friday luncheon with Georgia lifestyle guru James Farmer was full to capacity; Jazz Night on Saturday was a hit; and Sundaes on Sunday, aimed at schoolchildren, cultivated the next generation of collectors. Apropos of the 2016 show theme, “Through the Eyes of a Child,” exhibitor Ron Bassin of A Bird in Hand Antiques recounted his delight in selling a carved bird to a 12-year-old girl who did her research, knew her stuff and negotiated a good price.
Willen told Antiques and The Arts Weekly, “I think we’ve been successful because we are engaging audiences, especially younger audiences, at every level. We are seeing an impact with the age 24 to 40 crowd. And they are definitely spending.”
“The committees do a fabulous job bringing people in. It helps that there are three charity beneficiaries. Each has its own constituency, ” said Karen DiSaia.
Shades of New York’s Guggenheim Museum, the circular Katzen Art Center dictates an imaginative floor plan that exhibitors seem to like. Though dealers set up on three floors, move-in and pack-out, aided by multiple entrances to the building, are relatively easy, says Virginia dealer John Suval. Visitors appreciate the attached parking garage and the show’s upscale, largely residential setting in northwest Washington. The show negotiated an attractive rate at the Savoy Suites Hotel, two miles away, helping to defray costs for exhibitors and other out-of-town guests.
“There was a lot of selling over the weekend. Washington is famous for being a Sunday afternoon show,” said DiSaia. One exhibitor who did well was Diana Bittel, co-manager with the DiSaias of the new Philadelphia Antiques and Art Show in April. In keeping with the show’s theme, the Pennsylvania dealer devoted a wall to children’s portraiture. A portrait, a chest, a cow weathervane and a mirror were among her sales.
“This is one of the few traditional shows left. We do a fair amount of business with collectors from Virginia, Maryland and Delaware,” said Paul Vandekar, best known for his fine selection of English, Continental and Chinese porcelain and pottery. The veteran New York dealer says fairs are an important way for him to meet new customers and, increasingly, complete transactions initiated online.
New Hampshire dealer Mark Allen had excellent results, writing up a Boston William and Mary highboy; two paintings, one of which was an English floral still life in the manner of Dutch painter Van Os; and expensive brass candlesticks. He featured two rare delft dishes — one dated 1650, the other 1651 — decorated with Biblical scenes by the same Rotterdam maker.
“We sold across the board — paintings, little folky things, weathervanes, Grenfell rugs,” said New Jersey dealer Ron Bassin.
Ditto The Norwoods’ Spirit of America. After a year off for health reasons, the Maryland dealers sold a range of American folk art and painted furniture during and after the show: a theorem, a countertop cigar store Indian, a decorated New Hampshire blanket chest, keeping boxes, folk portraits and samplers.
Back in the fair after a decade’s absence, Delaware dealer James Kilvington parted with “a real variety: a couple of paintings, a gorgeous ring, a flintlock pistol, a drop leaf table, a map of Washington, a Rose Mandarin urn and silver.” A highlight of his presentation was a William and Mary gate-leg dining table formerly in the collection of Dr James L. Marvel of Lewes, Del.
One tenured exhibitor, John Suval, departed from tradition, displaying Pueblo Indian pottery from his personal collection alongside his inventory of Chinese export porcelain. “I sold to a younger person, which is always nice, and a couple bought a San Ildefonso wedding vase for their daughter,” said the Virginia dealer.
Brennan & Mouilleseaux’s chic, eclectic look was a hit. “They sold and sold,” said DiSaia. Tim Brennan noted, “Dave and I have been consistently gratified by the response we receive at the Washington Winter Show, both in terms of committee support, and, of course, sales.” He attributed the firm’s success to its “mix of mostly Midcentury Modern furniture, lighting and accessories together with some interesting period antiques” and said “new blood gravitates to our booth.” Brennan concluded, “We strongly believe that other quality midcentury dealers really ought to give this show a very careful look. There’s real potential here.”
Silver dealers Spencer Marks, Ltd., marked up a pair of 1820 English sterling bottle tickets by Philip Rundell and a Tiffany Japanese pattern flatware service from the 1870s.
Nautical art and antiques specialist Dave White dispatched two charming Windsor children’s chairs identically decorated with sailing ships flying American flags.
Ohio dealer Charles Edwin Puckett sold several important regional maps from the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries, illuminated medieval manuscript leaves and a whimsical Fifth Century terracotta camel.
“We had a very good show — an encouraging way to start the New Year,” confirmed Teresa Puckett.
The Virginia delegation was a special treat. Joining Alexandria dealer Sumpter Priddy III, whose many Southern treasures included an inlaid Virginia corner cupboard and an inlaid Western Maryland dower chest, was Gates Antiques of Midlothian, Christopher H. Jones of Alexandria and Swan Tavern Antiques of Ordinary.
With considerable success, Fredericksburg dealers Joel Fletcher and John Copenhaver have embarked on an ambitious program to introduce Americans to the exquisite work of the Franco-Vietnamese artist Alix Aymé (1894–1989), who they discovered in Paris. Her first American museum exhibition was at Johns Hopkins University’s Evergreen Museum in 2012. A documentary film on her life is in the works.
Beck’s Antiques, also of Fredericksburg, offered what may have been the most spectacular piece on the floor: a desk-and-bookcase made for the Kendal and District Industrial Exhibition of 1872. Lavishly carved and inlaid, and fitted with dozens of cubbies and drawers, the casepiece’s center door replicates the central tower of the Kendal Parish Church in Kendal, Westmorland, U.K. The desk-and-bookcase turned up in the spring of 2015 at an estate auction near Charlottesville, Va.
Bill Beck told Antiques and The Arts Weekly, “We actually ran out of sales receipts late Sunday afternoon. I didn’t recognize as many political figures as in some years, but there were still plenty of folks we see every year. And it is nice that the committee supports the show so well.”
“Sunday, despite the Redskins football game, brought out some serious and knowledgeable collectors. Many were repeat visitors,” added Maryland dealer James Kochan, whose sales included a pen and ink bird’s-eye drawing of Fort Washington during the Civil War made by a talented soldier-artist stationed there in 1864.
For information on the show, call 202-248-7159 or visit www.washingtonwintershow.org.
For DiSaia Management call 860-908-0076 or visit www.disaiamanagement.com.
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