Published: November 23, 2021
Review & Photos by Madelia Hickman Ring
OLD WETHERSFIELD, CONN. – Now with new management, a new venue and sporting a makeover, the Wethersfield Antiques Show has returned after a four year hiatus. The Webb-Deane-Stevens (WDS) Museum, which is owned and operated by the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America in the State of Connecticut, is the new home and owner of the Wethersfield Antiques Show. The Wethersfield Historical Society, which ran the show through 2016, created it as a benefit for Trinity Church in the 1960s. The new version now benefits the education program at WDS Museum.
Joshua Torrance, the museum’s executive director, came to WDS a little over a year ago from Bennington Museum in Vermont. Before his brief tenure in Vermont, Torrance was the executive director at Woodlawn Museum, Gardens and Park in Ellsworth, Maine, where he was responsible for the Ellsworth Antiques Show for 20 years.
Torrance has brought that show experience with him to Connecticut.
“I wanted to bring the show back to Old Wethersfield. It’s a great opportunity for the museum, which is a magical setting for a show as it is beautiful and charming and in the largest historical district in the state. There’s always trepidation when you launch a new event in a new venue but response from the public and dealers has been very encouraging and overwhelmingly very positive and enthusiastic. What really can give this show strength and interest is we want people to stay, to tour all three of our historic houses, to enjoy the experience of being in Old Wethersfield, which is a great place to walk and see things. We have great local restaurants and cafes; we hope people can come and make a day of it. I’m really pleased at how the show turned out.”
After a preview party the evening of Friday, November 12, the show was open to the public Saturday and Sunday, November 13-14 at WDS’ newly-constructed Holcombe Education Center and the historic Webb Barn, both situated on the eight-acre complex that houses the Joseph Webb House, the Silas Deane House, the Isaac Stevens House, and other historic outbuildings. Twenty dealers participated, offering a variety of objects, from fine art to furniture and decorative arts to jewelry and books. Torrance said the show included just a few dealers who had participated in the original show, and he tried to strike the right balance of material.
It may be an obvious observation, but antiques make more sense in period settings, even if they are framed within booths with paper walls and spot lighting.
The effect of a period atmosphere was further supplemented by reenactors in Eighteenth Century clothing the museum invited to the preview party. Silas Deane and his wife, Elizabeth Deane (nee Elizabeth Saltonstall Evards), enthusiastically and convincingly portrayed by Sal Carmosino and Helena Reilly, were both on hand for opening night, along with John Koopman III, whose resemblance to General George Washington is uncanny. Koopman has made several appearances at events at WDS in the past, even depicting Washington in documentaries for other museums, including a 2017 film for Mount Vernon; the Monmouth Battlefield State Park Visitors Center film (2013); The American Revolution for the American Heroes Channel (2014), and the 2014 theatrical release, America. A fourth unnamed figure was portrayed by John Sharanski.
Most dealers were realistic in their expectations of a first-time event. If their feedback was any indication, the show has a strong chance of developing into a must-attend event.
The preview party opened after a blue-ribbon cutting at the entrance to the Holcombe Education Center. Kevin Rita, who had exhibited at the previous Wethersfield Show and whose fine art offerings lined the corridor, was the de facto gatekeeper for the event.
“It was a very attractive venue, and I thought the show, albeit small, was diverse and of good quality,” he said. “The preview party was brisk and the staff very accommodating. I made four good painting sales, all to existing customers, but folks I hadn’t seen in 20 months or more due to the pandemic.”
Down the hall from Rita, Yarmouth, Maine, dealer Bill Schwind reported good sales to both old and new customers. He felt it was a successful reinvention of the former show and looks forward to returning. “I thought the show looked terrific: good quality and a nice variety, a small select show with a lot of punch!”
Bruce Henley, who had participated in the original Wethersfield Show, does business as New England Home Antiques and was opposite Schwind; he had similar observations. “The Wethersfield Antiques Show had an eclectic group of dealers offering a wide array of merchandise. Both the new museum building and the antique barn lent themselves well as display places. It’s my hope that the show will continue, and that word will spread about the quality and diversity of the show.” The Wethersfield dealer reported sales throughout the weekend, of furniture and diverse smalls, with follow up afterwards, to both new and repeat customers.
A small room off the main corridor played host to four dealers: David Thompson Antiques & Art, Bayberry Antiques, Hanes & Ruskin Antiques, and DeWolfe & Wood.
“I thought the show was wonderful,” Joy Hanes said. “I had some sales, nothing spectacular, although I did sell Lee’s favorite Windsor chair – which he said he would never sell – to a wonderful collector who promised she would love the chair as much as Lee had. I had several other sales, enough to make a profit. I thought the energy of the show was terrific, it reminded me a bit of the Brandywine River Museum Show which is also in a museum and always had an active and enthusiastic committee. The staff and committee of WDS were terrific, friendly, and provided the dealers with lots of snacks, plus lunch and dinner during setup. There seemed to be a steady crowd both days, although all but one of my sales were made on Saturday. I think there is a great future for this show, and I was pleased to be a part of the inaugural year.”
Laura McCarthy, Bayberry Antiques, reported a handful of sales, all to new clients. The Rockland, Mass., dealer has previously done two shows in Connecticut, in both Tolland and Danielson, both of which have a more country aesthetic and appeal. She said she was pleased with how the show went, noting that for a new show it was a “very good first endeavor. The museum staff went above and beyond; they could not have been more accommodating. I anticipate that as a show it will get better with age.”
Book dealer Frank Wood, hailing from Alfred, Maine, said he had never been to the Wethersfield area but “certainly wants to return. A number of attendees wanted me to visit them later to discuss the downsizing of their libraries. I think the show is off to a good start and a long run.” Sales and new connections were made over the weekend.
The remaining dealers in the Education Center were situated near the door that led to the Webb Barn and the garden and saw continual traffic throughout the weekend.
Patricia Funt Oxman also said that she had never been to Wethersfield before. It was her first show since March 2020 but set up was easy for her and the staff helpful. The New Canaan, Conn., dealer noted that show visitors were interested in antiques and took time to study things, which she appreciated.
“The funny thing is, it’s hard to know what to bring when you don’t know who will come,” she said. “We did enough to make it successful and I would come again. There was a lot of great stuff at the show – you need a large gate of the right kind of people to make it successful for everyone.”
“The new and fresh Wethersfield show was perhaps the most beautiful show setting I’ve seen in a long time. The museum buildings are gorgeous, and it was a treat to set up in this space,” Donna Kmetz enthused afterwards. She stressed that the show evolved from Torrance’s dealer recommendations as well as his work with the Ellsworth show. The dealer mix delivered the vision of a high-end boutique show, with a good variety of material. The proximity of Wethersfield to Hartford provided her an opportunity to hand out save-the-date cards for the upcoming Hartford show and she made sales, all to existing clients.
Across the aisle from Kmetz, Bath, Maine, dealer Peter Murphy made a few sales and categorized the show as “fair,” writing up receipts for a Victorian long bench, an Arts and Crafts shaving stand, a watercolor and an inlaid tray.
Next to Murphy, Knollwood Antiques and Richard LaVigné sold a Dutch mirror to another dealer who bought it for a client in Palm Beach, Fla. Having participated in the old show, he said the event was “in its infancy and will become a very nice table-top venue, which will cater to the mature clientele it has attracted. The committee was pleasant to work with and all staff provided us with a comfortable work environment; Stacy Expo Services worked wonders with a challenging floor plan.”
The rest of the show continued in the Webb Barn, which was accessed via a stone walkway through the garden.
Americana dealer Roberto Freitas sold a small coastal seascape by George Hathaway on opening night, to a new client who owns a couple of hotels. He was doing the event in between shows in Wilmington, Del., and Houston, Texas.
Paul and Karen Wendhiser were also in the barn and had done the original Wethersfield Show. They said the former event’s location was remote and hard to find, whereas the new show’s location at the museum and close to historic homes made a big difference. They took country Americana and jewelry and sold hanging wall shelves, a braided rug, hearth iron, pink lustre tea pot, paintings, bookends and jewelry, mostly to new customers.
The Wendhiser’s last sale before the show closed was an Eighteenth Century one-drawer blanket chest to a young couple who had recently purchased an older home in Old Wethersfield. “The show was their very first antiques show!” Karen Wendhiser said. “They were a lovely couple and so excited about their first antique purchase. It really pleased us too.”
A date for the 2022 edition of the Wethersfield Antiques Show has not yet been announced. For information, https://webb-deane-stevens.org/wethersfield-antiques-show/.
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