Mother nature likes to joke around spring time in Texas. It could be too hot, too wet, or too cold. This year, Round Top seems to have brought the best weather for road trip warriors like us. There are infinite degrees of green among trees and grass of pastures. Indian Paint Brush and Blue Bonnets dot the landscape along Route 77, even better than the picturesque landscapes of Porfirio Salinas. (We were told it was rather hot during the week, from Marburger Farm dealers, since there is no air conditioning).
Driving from Dallas to Round Top within one day can be challenging, even for frequent visitors like us. We got up at five and preloaded with lots of snacks and water. We knew neither did we have time for a leisurely lunch nor was there lots of choices for food. Still, upon arrival, the first thing we learned is that both Red Barn and Marburger Farm events would close at four this year. Well, that only left us five hours to cover probably 500 booths.
We treasure Round Top because it was one of the few occasions that we can meet many collectors/dealers friends who live around the country. However, given our limited time, we could hardly talk with any for long. We also learned from many dealers that sales were rather soft. The first day went well, especially the first few hours, when dealers, decorators, and pickers swarmed into the shows to get the best and often put for resale right away. However, weekdays got much quieter, especially on Friday. According to one seasoned dealer, you could easily count the number of customers by standing in the aisle.
Saturday is the only day for folks like me to visit Round Top. To close shows one-hour earlier means that many visitors won’t have time to even go through all the tents in the Marburger Farm. If the foot traffic is really a concern, then I don’t see why all events cannot perhaps shorten the weekday length while extending to another weekend day.
Red Barn is about to turn 50 this fall. I would expect to see the same dealers, often in the same spot, year after year. Harold Cole, being one of the most established antique dealers from Northeast, returned after his fall 2016 debut and elevates the show’s prestige with his top-notch merchandise. Cole told me that he was a picker for Albert Sack for many years. He brought a New York dresser with original brass and finish. The massive claw-and-ball feet, gadrooning, and the over-hanging top show some of the best quality from New York shops. However, he still favors furniture of Newport, and proudly presented a Queen-Anne side chair with a tea table. And if you think if you have seen enough exotic antique weathervanes, wait until you see Mr. Cole’s ram weathervane. Such one of the kind would still fetch lots of money from auction houses, but in a show like this, you can hear the personal stories about it, and learn about the maker.
Deborah Dunn, from McQueeney Texas, surprises us with her fun and funky merchandise every time. The eye-popping item this show was a set of Mexican tiles that form Guadalupe imagery. It was not old, made in 2000, but provides a definite focus point if it can be properly framed. “I just love the Mexican tiles. And I bought directly from the artist. He wrapped up for me. And I still have the 1996 newspaper it was wrapped in.” Here, the lack of the age is supplemented by the intimacy of a personal story. Had I had a space for it, I would have grabbed the item for a bargain price.
By the time we got to Marburger Farm, it was already after 1:30 p.m. Some dealers, hearing some potential storms moving into the region, started packing. It was also, in my opinion, the best time for shopping, since all dealers would rather not lead merchandise. Also because of the size of the show, it would be hard to remember the excitement if you walk away and want to ponder upon the sale a little bit. Dealers usually write down their numbers and booth locations on their business cards, together with the description of the item of interest. But I wonder how many would actually go back.
Marburger Farm seems to have slighter younger vendors and the looks are also less Americana and more decorative. I guess you need some stamina to stay under a white tent for almost a week. There is a good deal of mid-century stuff, and lots of repurposing and French country-chic. I am sure that I have missed some unique things as a last-day visitor, but I was still amazed by the eyes from some vendors. Who would imagine to repurpose agriculture tools into sculpture? And how many times have you paid attention to the cast iron railings of an old mansion? And more shockingly, if you see cornstalk featured in balusters, maybe for a Midwestern house?
Although there are many decorative abstract paintings, to the degree to clog one’s mind about originality, it is refreshing to see several dealers are offering contemporary artist’s works. In Red Barn, I have found many lovely Texas landscapes and still life paintings by Lilli Pell, who lives in Wimberley, Texas. In Marburger Farm, Evelyn Jones brought a painting by Karen Lawrence, an artist from Atlanta area. Her interior painting, more impressionistic in nature, has a light quality of John Koch and marvelously captures how texture and light play on reflective surfaces. A Brooklyn dealer, Doni Belau of Girls’ Guide to Paris, has brought a recent painting by Kerry Lessard. The contemporality of such works has a striking contrast against offend-no-one narrate-nothing mentality of mid-century generic works. That’s why they stand out even among thousands of items. And thanks to these dealers, they helped me get to know such artists so that I can learn more about their work in future.
It has been a conundrum for us between the two largest shows in Round Top. We have always admired Red Barn show, but we end up finding more to bring home from Marburger Farm every time. We have never been disappointed by visiting Round Top (except the speed trap near Rosebud and Lott), and the friendship formed between collectors and dealers are only strengthened through these unique events. I wish that we could have more time, maybe sip some coffee, chat with friends, and watch some longhorns grazing afar. It is just so beautiful at this time of the year. After a brief but warm meal from Hunan Chinese Restaurant in Giddings, we kept driving another three hours and got home around 9:30 p.m. It was a long day, but well worth it.