[photos by Lana Pennington unless otherwise noted]
I wanted to be a doctor. I thought of fixing sick people and discovering cures for diseases. I also had a rock tumbler. I spent hours searching for oddly shaped little rocks, or just sometimes I stumbled upon a perfect dirty pebble. Tumbling and polishing the stones into smooth glistening beauties engrossed me. Then there was magic. I loved learning new magic tricks, especially card tricks; then surprising people with them, and knowing the secret behind how the trick was done.
Unfortunately, I believe we lose a good bit of our childhood fancies and whims. When kids find something that excites them or challenges them, they don’t hold back. In fact, we as adults usually do all we can to encourage children to express themselves and try new experiences. “Ask questions,” we say, “There are no wrong questions,” we say. “How do you know if you haven’t tried it?” we say. Funny, at what point in our growing up did we start restraining ourselves, stop asking questions, and just saying “wow” or “cool” because we had to act like adults? If we are lucky and leave open the possibility for our inner child to be inquisitive, excitable, fascinated, and interactive, some of us already know the adventures that await us at antiques shows.
The Richmond Academy of Medicine Alliance Foundation, Inc. (RAMAF), hosted the 49th Benefit Antiques & Fine Arts Show. The show transformed the rotunda of the Science Museum of Virginia in Richmond, VA. The transformation of the Science Museum Rotunda was fascinating alone as there normally hangs a wondrous Foucault pendulum that swings consistently convincing us we are indeed suspended and spinning on an axis in the universe. I think how appropriate that the “medical show” or “doctor’s show,” as I heard it referred to, should be held in a Science Museum. What an absolutely delightful mixture of elements in so many ways, it made me giddy just thinking about the possibilities. I live in Richmond, so I was excited to stay in my own backyard: know exactly where to drive, exit, turn, park and enter. Poof, the pendulum gone, the rotunda gone, it was magic. I wasn’t in Kansas anymore. Somehow a little corner turn and a few gray curtains and I was in Oz, or at least in a place removed from my daily reality, and for a child, the illusion was real. I think that’s probably one of the reasons I think of antique shows as entertainment, not different than going to the movies or a play. Antique shows are entertainment because of their elements of surprise, discovery, and illusion and because antique shows have the ability to transcend time. However this “RAMAF” show in the Science Museum was entertaining and exciting on many levels, the greatest being that the event was as hugely interactive as the Science Museum in which it was held. However the creative organization done by the show’s co-chairs Claira Cerniglia and Katie Urso combined with nature’s beautiful weather were sure to make for the perfect antiquarian play date.
Seekers Antiques was a handsome booth of English and American ceramics representing 18th century through the Arts & Crafts movement, which included Transferware and Wedgewood, along with many other lovely stonewares. I looked closely at the fine detail of the beautiful blue and white Transferware sets. Interestingly not all the pictures on the plates were necessarily the same, and yet as a set, they seemed to work.
Though I’m actually shy by nature, I let what remains childlike in me push the kid forward to ask the gentleman owner a question, simple as it was, “How do you know when you have a real plate and not a reproduction?” I laughed because I know how foolish the question came out. Lucky for me, the dapper well-dressed Mark Brown kindly smiled and seemed to know exactly what I meant. Mark then proceeded to give me the most entertaining and informative lesson about 19th century vs. 20th century Transferware production. Mark explained in the 19th century the lines are not perfect in the transfers, and there may even be overlays, etc. because of human imperfection. All the imperfection went away with the machines of the 20th century. Of course everyone wanted to be perfect? Funny, now we pay more for imperfection. May be perfect is overrated? Maybe someone should let the kids know? It’s okay to make a mistake. Sometimes.
Mark became so animated; it was hard not to be drawn in by his enthusiasm. We shared a contagious circle as Mark scurried about his booth pulling out plate after plate to show me scene, after scene, pointing out the tell tale signs of comparison. When we were done, I had a history lesson and one from my backyard concerning Jackson Pottery about the Richmond Monumental Church, and it’s connection to Transferware and how Transferware sets acted as conversation starters. Even though there were tons I didn’t know about Transferware, it really was thrilling to be near someone who was so excited to share. He told me of his blog on his website. He said “blog” sounded like a disease, so he called it a “journal.” Either way, I knew I’d read it. Turned out, I had caught a little of Mark’s Transferware “bug,” at least the strand about the Monumental Church. Of course, I just want to run around the show and pick up all the Transferware and look for the marks of human frailty or machine perfection. And just like a kid, I wanted to run each piece back to my teacher, Mark and yell, “Huh, huh, what do you think, am I right? Am I? Am I?”
I had never been in a room filled with clocks. I can only imagine what a kid would make of such a room. I got to have such a delight when I ran right into the wonderland of Antique Clocks and find myself feeling like Alice’s White Rabbit. How could anyone think of being anything but on time? Rick Robinson’s business is Robinson’s Antique Clocks. I was transfixed, and easily considering time travel. When I closed my eyes, the rhythmic ticking sounded like a field of crickets on a summer eve and the background talk of the patrons seemed like waves of chattering cicadas. What caught my eye first was the display box full of pocket watches. I bent down and drooled over the case of tantalizing marvels; my eyes widened. I loved pocket watches. Still do. I think pocket watches reveal personal character and hold personal history. I figure that’s why such timepieces become family heirlooms.
Thank goodness there are people like Rick who like to put things back together when we leave parts lying around. Along the way, Rick became a gifted and learned restorer of antique clocks. Clocks with names like Simon Willard, Ely Terry, and Seth Thomas. I suppose to some these guys are household names. Well, these three gents don’t sit around my kitchen table sharing tea, but the way Rich chats these fellows up, they break bread at his house a couple times a week. If I were a kid, I would be expecting that Rick was about to say he was going to meet Ely for a burger and fries after the show. Way cool. Next I found out that at one point clocks had wooden movements. I could have stayed in Rick’s room of time all day.
Next I saw a dog. A great big, slobbery, undemanding, warmhearted dog with a face that just begged you to come pet him. Oooh, yes. You guessed it. I love dogs. It was a striking oil painting. Not only did I want to take this desirable lug of a canine home, but also I so wanted to hang this handsome English bulldog painted by Emile W. Herz in my living room. In the meantime “Fido” belonged to Nancy and Mark Reilly who owned Piccolo Art. Mark told me “Piccolo” meant “small” in Italian, and he pointed to the large display case full of delightful miniature portraits. Certainly a far cry from the photos of family and friends we carry in our pockets or on our phones and iPods. Still I think of the time and workmanship, and the time it took to create such portraiture. The relative had sat and was sketched or painted. Then some craftsman had to craft the frame and enclose the portrait. Not to mention the hundreds of years and multitudes of hands the small painting went through to end up in the Reilly’s collection. Our iPod pictures are certainly technologically fantastic, but what mother isn’t going to pick her portrait drawn by her 5 year old in a Popsicle frame instead? Then later as her 5 year old grows, Mom will have the whole Popsicle framed portrait framed and eventually given back to the son’s children.
Nancy Reilly was passionate about her portraiture specifically and decorative arts in general. A world traveler, and internationally schooled, Nancy captured my imagination with her impish nature that drew me in while she enthusiastically told a tale of a young gentleman’s portrait from the Flemish School circa 1670. The gallant youth from the House of Orange certainly bears striking resemblance to a youthful William III.
Earlier I had been excited about Transferware, next it was clock movements, and then Nancy Reilly had me wanting to practically kiss “Flemish William” while she showed me with a black light the paint’s remarkably original condition. I wanted to go ask the show manager to turn off all the lights and cover the windows. Really just like five minutes.
People who don’t go to antique shows might consider trying one. These non-antiquarians could put their “kindergarten” hats on and play “I Spy.” Amazing and quirky artifacts can be discovered at antique shows. For instance, Mary Peebles of Swan Tavern had a Full Front Miniature Desk. The desk with tiny drawers was 12” x 11,” complete with itty-bitty silver candlesticks. A desk fit for the King’s elf, or at least the elf’s dollhouse. I immediately thought of Piccolo’s too. The childlike connection between the desk and a Piccolo miniature portrait hung above the desk as if it were the full size version.
At Park Place Gallery, I spied the animals walking two by two. Thirty-five pairs of animals quietly marching up into the ark. According to most stories, Noah built the ark; but at Park Place Gallery there is a different story: Curtis R. Wolfe built his around 1930.
Later I saw this dark ornate Marriage Box at Essex Antiquarians. As I approached I thought perhaps I had spied a jewelry box with detailed metalwork overlay. But the attractive notecard identified the wood piece as a Marriage Box.
Funny how as kids, it seemed in our nature to collect things. I don’t necessarily mean groups of things, like I my rocks and butterflies. I mean just little odd mementos that we thought were important. Maybe we kept these childhood tokens in a jar or a shoebox or a cigar box: some marbles, baseball card, a yo-yo, faded school picture of a little boy, orange crush bottle cap, movie stub to Jaws, first library card, and a peace button.
Though I doubt that the Marriage Box was meant for it, it occurred to me that maybe modern marriage could have a marriage box system. The marriage could have two boxes. The “Annual Box” and the “Marriage Life Box.” Throughout each year, the married couple would collect mementos good and bad from the year and put them in the “Annual Box.” At the end of the year, the couple could then go through the “Annual Box” reflect on all they achieved throughout the year. Then the couple would choose what best represented their year together and put that keepsake in the “Marriage Life Box.”
See so that’s my cool idea that probably isn’t what the real marriage box’s purpose, but I still had just as valid an experience with the box. It certainly made it no less fun.
By the time I was done recreating a new identity for my Marriage Box, I practically stumbled into a furniture quandary: a half moon table on wheels. Of course my first thought was to make a quick sweep of the Essex Antiquarians’ booth possibly to find the other half. Nope. Nothing. Rick Bevilacqua, the owner, came to my child wonderment rescue. “It’s a hunting table,” Rick clarified, and removed an even smaller half moon piece from the center, “The table would be wheeled out to the hunt and it would act as sort of a bar,” Rick was animated and social, the kind of dealer that is both knowledgeable and approachable. Rick explained with story like examples how the glasses would be set along the remaining wooden “rainbow-shaped” surface. The space underneath the wooden piece he removed would hold some type of basin, but the basin might hold liquid or even ice. Rick even pointed out that the surface of the table was a bit blonder in shade because the sun would have bleached out the color. Ok so in my head, my first thought controlled by my childlike nature is that I was looking at some of the earliest lawn furniture. The next thought, the adult one, was how the table would still have a great life as a bar—only I’d probably have a piece of glass cut to cover the surface.
When I stopped at Manlove’s Choice Antiques/Barbara Rew Antiques there was an oddly shaped glass bottle inside a strapped leather holder. Remember the game “20 Questions,” well I’m thinking 100 questions would not have gotten me remotely in the ballpark. Gary Manlove explained the mystery to me. Seems the unconventional bottle was a circa 1900 riding flask that a horseman would strap to his saddle. There were two other items that caught my eye in the booth. The first one was a charming painted coffee bin from the 19th century. The second item was a 1st edition of Hemmingway’s For Whom The Bell Tolls. I might be understating when I say such a book was my kind of bedtime storybook. I wished “the little old bell book” tolled for me all the way home to my bookcase.
John Forster of Barometer Fair had a fascinating booth that one couldn’t pass up. Anyone with an inquisitive mind, John is an antique gadget guru of scientific instruments. John’s booth seemed like a science fair exploded. How appropriate that he, of all dealers, was displaying inside the Science Museum. Even though I turned out to be an English major, I wanted to go through his booth almost item by item. “What’s this?” “What’s this?” “How’s this work?” Yes, John had barometers galore. Even if I didn’t collect barometers, I still wanted to take one home. But there were other curiosities: an 1840 Apothecary Chest with all the bottles, 1910 Kodak camera, 1900 Blickensderfer typewriter that wasn’t in QWERTY, and a 1949 Krick Weather Forecaster. I think that was one of the great aspects of this show: there was a diverse group of dealers.
Sometimes it’s the bright and shiny that pulls. Shelton Gallery & Fine Silver traveling all the way from Nashville brought a delicious collection of sterling cow creamers and an eye-catching set of 6 tall silver mint julep cups with applied horseshoes. The oversized tumblers date from the Presidential era of Richard Milhouse Nixon and all come with their original Wakefield Scearce bags.
You know how shiny objects fascinate babies and toddlers? Martin Chasin Fine Arts might consider supplying sunglasses in the future. The booth was the most glorious set of Christmas lights mixed with diamonds layered on glitter sprinkled with fairy dust. The display cases were breathtaking with a perfect mix of English silver and porcelain, Irish crystal and stunning china. This year was Chasin’s debut in the show; one can hope the light returns next year.
It’s always exciting to see people you know, especially when you were a kid. I remember as a kid, I saw my teacher in the grocery store and get excited because I was surprised to see someone I knew outside my family. Besides we all knew that teachers only lived at school. I’m sure that was my initial reaction in seeing Ingle Nook Antiques and Shaeffer’s Antiques. I was lucky enough previously see both dealers at Bettianne Sweeney’s Holiday Show in Williamsburg, VA. Ingle Nook again displayed unique pieces of furniture and accessories from our American heritage. At one point I was eye to eye with a delightful watercolor of a well-dressed rabbit. The 19th century painting was contained in a rare folk art frame crafted entirely with pinecones. Really. I had to look at that frame way more than once. Ingle Nook still has my 1826 complete set of English hand painted deck of cards. Maybe I can put the deck on my Christmas wish list and ask Santa.
Bill Shaeffer has a welcoming sense about him; he reminds me a bit of Will Geer, the actor who was Zeb Walton on The Waltons. Spending time with Bill felt like a lazy Sunday afternoon walk with the dog, then curl up with a good book, snuggle into a catnap in the sun, and cap the day off with a home cooked dinner. Bill makes it easy to talk to him about his British pottery and Victorian Staffordshire. There is no pretense. Bill’s very nature makes me want invite him home to dinner, and bake homemade biscuits, just so he can tell me more.
You know you’re home when there is someone happy to see you with open arms. Go to any kindergarten or first grade classroom, and odds are high that some little kid will run up and hug you. Right after the first kid hugs you, every other kid comes flying: the hug attack. Understand this hug attack happens even on your first visit to that classroom. Let’s say you go a second time, well, in the students’ world, you’re family. You have value in their world. Now the second time, there is no first single hug; your second visit results in an immediate group hug attack. Be prepared that second hug attack will feel like a happy greeting from a Great Dane. Yup something to be said about just showing “happy.”
Exactly my “happy home” thought when I saw Fletcher/Copenhaver Fine Art. I know it might sound silly, but I really was just so happy to see these gentlemen again. I met John Copenhaver and Joel Fletcher at the Washington Winter Show, and the time I spent with them felt like the best part of one of my favorite movies. This visit was my second time to the classroom: big hugs all around, “So what’s my art lesson today?” My lesson was about one of their featured artist by the name of Alix Aymé (1894-1989). Aymé, born in Marseille, lead a talented, varied, and challenged life. Such stories John told of her life and her work. Alix is not as well known here in the States as she is in Asia and parts of Europe, but it won’t be long before John and Joel bring the States to Aymé. I looked at Aymé’s Young Boy Wearing a Coat. This particular work happened to be a mixture of mediums: charcoal, watercolor, and pastel. The boy was looking up and somehow compelled me to look back, and I didn’t want to look away.
Another piece that reached out to me was in fact Gondoliers an etching by Henry de Waroquier, 1881-1990. I spent a good amount of time daydreaming as a child. The only problem I had with the dreaming was that I did it during the school day which seemed to irritate adults. Truth be told, I still have a problem with daydreaming, and every once in a while, I catch myself off on a beach, walking in the woods, fishing, somewhere other than work. However, being an adult I can self-correct. But while I stood in front of that etching, I was back in Italy and having myself a darn good mind free holiday.
In my wallet, I have a small thin smooth stone. The stone is a bit bigger than a nickel. It comes from Owego, NY a small town upstate. I found it on Cemetery Hill. I can see my whole town from the cemetery. I stumbled upon the stone walking home. For some reason, I picked that stone up, put it in my wallet and have carried it with me ever since. That was over thirty years ago. I’ve told myself it’s so I will always have a little bit of home with me wherever I go. I was lucky. I grew up with one set of married parents in the same house, in the same tiny “Main Street USA” kind of town. My dad worked at the same employer over forty years and my mom stayed home. I was a lucky kid, so I’ve carried that stone.
Imagine my nostalgic surprise when I went to Brandon Case’s Antique Prints and discovered a small print representing my hometown on the Susquehanna River. Such a find is one of the most wonderful reasons I go to antique shows. I would not have dreamed that I was to find something that close to home literally. I don’t think it matters what size the treasure is, you just know when it’s perfect. My inner child was flipping summersaults, and outside, I was gushing with smiles and glee. I so wanted to do a happy dance. I hit all the bells: discovery, surprise, magic. I swear sometimes this adult stuff is overrated.