Old Lyme lies quietly at the mouth of the Connecticut River. Like many of the towns in the lower Connecticut River Valley, it offers scenery with meandering rivers, rolling hills and colonial architecture. It has flourished as an art colony since the beginning of the 20th century. The Griswold House, in particular, still stands stately on the Lyme Street of the town while other notable architecture such as Masonic lodging and town hall brings a Nutting-wise nostalgia and beauty. But our search didn’t bring out many antiques stores in Old Lyme. Instead we traveled to the other side of the river – Old Saybrook and found a great variety of stores.
Our first stop was at the Old Saybrook Antiques Center, a multi-dealer antiques mall. Their website does not do justice to their finest selection of antiques and fine arts. I could have spent the whole day there browsing everything carefully. Quality furniture and fine art are abundant in this mall. In fact, this is the only time I found paintings by George Cochran Lambdin or Edward Chalmers Leavitt in a antiques mall! (Both still life paintings are offered at reasonably prices.) Old Lyme artist George Bruestle’s landscape reminded visitors how gorgeous the outside scenery may look in the early Autumn. Geo’s favorite was a scroll front-secretary, while we both found a pair of candlesticks, probably French, definitely elaborate and delicate. Two prints caught my eye. One is an original etching by Eugene Higgins, who spent his summer in Pleasant Valley of Lyme and exhibited regularly in the Lyme Art Association. The print was not signed or numbered, although it bears an estate sale label. So it is possibly a posthumous strike by his wife Anita. Another print is hung in a booth featuring mostly paintings and prints from England. The harbor scene of this early print is on laid paper, possibly from a large illustration book. I didn’t find platemark, so it could be an example of skillful woodcut from the late 18th century.
Our next stop is the Essex-Saybrook Antiques Village, another multi-village antiques mall. It has many glass cabinets and less furniture. Postcards, WWII posters, and regional maps are interesting to explore. Not far away is Van’s Elegant Antiques. We found a few items here unusual and somewhat exotic, such as an oriental bronze vase with dragons twisting near the top. It is possibly Japanese since the dragons have only three toes in each foot. Next to it is fenestrated Chinese Export porcelain fruit basket and tray. Nothing is better than using exotic fancy Chinese porcelain to treat guests with expensive fresh fruits in the colonial and federal periods, although such antiques would be probably more eyebrow-raising if they are used to treat guests nowadays. I have seen a similar one at the Brooklyn Museum under the still life painting by Raphaelle Peale. The fenestration of this basket, to me, looks slightly crude, indicating it was more likely made in Canton.
By the time we had reached Valley Farm Antiques in Essex, it was already late afternoon. It is housed in an old barn with aisles of glass cabinets. The owner Erik and Saliha took over the 5,000 square feet store in 2001 and created one of the best store websites I have seen among dealers. They are much younger than other store owners and the store reflects their open-mind and broad tastes, ranging from Victorian to Art Nouveau, Art Deco to contemporary. There are some painted chairs in the back of the barn, NOT from the middle of the 19th century, but from 30’s or 40’s. The paint on them has a fluidity like Pollock. When asked how I liked the chairs, I thought they would be attractive in New York. Maybe Jeff Koons should look at them. Geo did find a relatively rare set of American Flyer toy trains “Northern Pacific” with their original boxes. In the end, I was happy to buy an illustrated children book “The story of a wooden soldier” published in the early 1900’s as a gift to my friend.
Coming soon: Antiquing the Connecticut Antique Trail!