Antiques on the Road, Somerset, PA

Somerset, Pa Courthouse
Somerset, Pa Courthouse

A town better known today for the Flight 93 Memorial, a stop in Somerset, just one hour outside of Pittsburgh shown what the town had to offer in the realm of antiques and collectibles.

The first stop was Cottage Pine Antiques at Georgian Place. With reservations about exiting the turnpike in order to check out the antiques, a look inside the door revealed this was more than the piles of stuff often found along highways and in tourist destinations. Inside the door were a number of clocks, lanterns and of particular local interest, brass miner’s tags. In another corner we found a large table covered with neatly organized and plastic sheathed postcards, vintage advertisements, cabinet cards and other paper products. Two sets of reasonably-priced glass furniture cups made the stop fruitful.

The second stop was Somerset Galleries and Showcase. A large chandelier and some furniture in the window gave somewhat of a misleading impression as this store was filled mostly with glass products. Some unusual examples of pressed glass were interspersed with more common glassware. An older couple stood in the back chatting it up with the woman behind the desk. Somerset gave the impression of being a quintessential small-town America kind of place and the conversation painted that kind of Norman Rockwell pictures. It was overheard that an elderly gentleman, obviously anxious to leave the chit-chat of the women, had been in the Memorial Day parade a few weeks before and had even fit into his uniform. Moreover the proprietor had warned us about a dog sleeping on a sofa in the adjacent room. Soon a loud “woof” confirmed this fact. (Flash?)

The third and final stop was outside of town in an old church in the village of Lavansville, just as the gentleman at Cottage Pine Antiques had described. A woman named Connie welcomed us to Bryner’s Antiques as we entered this once sacred cavity now filled with the ticking of clocks. Open 29 years, much time had passed since the days when the building was used for prayer. Not far in, a wooded music box in a glass case caught my attention. Once I had completed my way up and down each aisle, Connie asked if I liked music boxes. I indicated that I regularly noticed them but had never bought one. She wound one up and began to play a song with rich melodic sound. The second box was much larger than the first and used a disc instead of a cylinder. This larger box had an even deeper, more resonant sound. The discs, it turns out, can still be manufactured to order. A new disc played “Music Box Dancer” written in the 1970s on this 1908 device. Part of the way into the song accompaniment began, taking the low registers like thorough bass. This is a feature not all music boxes have. A second set of combs makes hearing this part possible.

There was also an Edison cylinder player with a small horn that had caught my eye. After hearing the music boxes I asked how the Edison sounded. “After that you may be disappointed,” she said. Yet she wound up and it started abruptly. While in terms of sound it was just scratchy noise compared to the clean fairytale-wise symphonic music boxes, I immediately felt I was hearing the past. The music, discerned with efforts out of background noise, sounded both warm and authentic. In the age when a song can be digitally patched up and assembled thousands of times, the actual voice and melody, devoid of any post-processing, to me are more humane.

Bryner's Antiques in Somerset, Pa
Bryner's Antiques in Somerset, Pa

From there we moved onto a Victrola with a wooden case that used a similar technology as the Edison to reproduce music from a more familiar vinyl record disc. But the technology had improved from that 1905 patented model in that the previous player can only play either 2 or 4 minutes sound. (The famous Johannes Brahms recording by Thomas Edison contains only one sentence of the composer while he rushed to squeeze a piano piece into the limited recording time.

On the way out, we noticed two ceramic Ansonia clocks. One was reddish pink while the other deep blue. A tall wooden New Haven clock had both the days of the week and the year on a lower dial. Out of curiosity, I asked whether the clock could accommodate for a leap year. Connie said “I don’t know how but I think this one DOES!”

There are other shops to be explored in Somerset. A local antiquing map shows at least nine shops around. One called the Cat’s Attic wasn’t open. It was however the handsome court house seen many times from the Pennsylvania Turnpike over the years that begot the decision to finally exit the roadway and have a look around. A walk around the block and it was back in the car and headed for Brooklyn.

Download a list of the Antique Shops in Somerset

About Art After X

With the death of President Kennedy in 1963, America changed. As hard as it is to minimize that sentiment, the effect of Dallas was even greater. The same year saw the merging of the Dallas Museum for Contemporary Arts, which had been central to the art scene, and the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts. Douglas MacAgy, then the director of DMCA, not only opposed the merger, but also declined to directorship of the combined museum. The regionalist movement which had been strong for decades, was giving way to more of an interest in what was going on nationally, and internationally. Like it or not, Dallas was on the national stage.

When the Kennedy’s arrived in Fort Worth, local collectors had decorated a hotel room with internationally-renowned works. While the president and his wife learned a great deal about the ability of Texans to collect major art, there was little they could glean about the local scene in this era-defining city.

With this in mind, we have begun a project to look not back at the art scene in Dallas, but foreword from 1963. We are interviewing gallery owners, curators and others involved in the art scene then, but this will be a story told mostly through interviews with artists active in the city from that point into the 1980s.

The result will be a book with a video component.

We hope you will join us in our journey. The hashtag for the project is #artafterx and the url will point to the latest updates on this weblog.


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