Running Around the Tower Antique Show

Fair Park in Dallas can be a busy place. Specific buildings within the park, the site of the 1936 Texas Exposition, can be difficult to find. The White Rock Marathon occurring during show hours made it particularly difficult this time around. But honestly the parking space was harder to find than the Food and Fiber Pavilion, where the show was held.

For me the most enjoyable part of the day was gaining insights from veteran dealer Woody Straub. Here I brought up my theory that in the future objects and art of the American West would become harder to sell. Straub seemed to agree and brought up the fact that most of those collectors grew up with the American West on television. In fact, there are few new collectors, period. The people who collect have been doing it for a long time.

We were talking about shows in different parts of the country as he recalled some of his favorites. A Florida resident, Straub said the Sunshine State was currently a better place to buy than sell, at least as far as his brand of merchandise was concerned. The small shows he likes are the ones where the promoters made the extra effort. Being treated well is the reason to go out of the way. Two he mentioned specifically were the Madison Antiques Show in Georgia and one in coastal Virginia. To me the message here is clear. Antique shows can provide what the internet and auctions can’t,  an experience. That’s a word the industry has to begin to really take to heart.

Straub also talked a bit about the differences between doing shows in New England and in the South. He said in New England if you have a bad show, it could be because of the merchandise you brought, but in the South, it could be you. That’s because collectors at small shows in the South like to know a bit more about who they are buying from.

We also talked about shows in Dallas area, and he did mention that word was getting around that the Dolly Johnson in Fort Worth was a favorite among dealers, although he had a conflicting show that so far has kept him from displaying there.

Woody Straub and Eric Miller looking over a Pennsylvania landscape by Walter Baum

We also touched on the growing markets including Latin American Art. Straub pointed out a large landscape painting in his booth by Armando Barrias. The work as priced at $5,800 and while I wasn’t able to immediately locate auction records, Straub had some on hand and he indicated they had been on the rise for some time.

Forty-six years’ touring around the country cannot summarize enough Woody’s deep love of antiques. Born in a family which founded the Hobbies magazine with siblings antiques dealers, Woody began to buy and sell at the age of twelve.  While a serious collector needs dedication, patience and focus, a great dealer, knowing the varied interests of potential customers, needs eyes and instinct to buy. A folk art oil painting of a group of chickens is such a special find that I was totally intrigued by its modern appeal. Dated in 1865, the painting was identified on the label as folk-art pointillism. It is nevertheless a line drawing of oil paint reminiscent of engraving print made of roulette wheels. The central rooster, much larger than chicks and a hen around, was painted with fluidity and succinctness. While the background is reduced to totally black, thus no three dimensionality can be inferred; a tree can be seen gracely through the rooster’s  feather and also pops out on the left and top. The adoption of varied dots to form curvy lines, the flattened surface and the mannered, near oriental treatment of the tree make this unknown artwork a marvel.

We also ran into R.L. Riddell, who has a map shop in Dallas and was sharing a booth at the show. Riddell has two large books of art collections in the U.S. sometime around 1900 including Walters (which became the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore). A quick browse through the two-volume books shows that most of the paintings fall into the French Academy category and most of the painters will not be able to be found in major American museums today. While each individual engraving was done with great skill, and some are treated in speacial  monotone blue ink, the best part of the book, in my mind, is that it provides a glimpse of what the fad was back then among major American collectors. Where are these paintings now? I am wondering. Perhaps a more interesting question to ask is how many of contemporary artworks in future will only be seen in book reference?

Ridell asked the question, if you had money to invest now, what could you buy in hopes of turning a few thousand now into a lot more later? Photographs was one answer (please don’t take that as investment advice without doing your own research). Perhaps works by Latin American artists like Barrias is another. If you have further thoughts on this topic, please feel free to contribute through the comments section. Whatever the answer, it doesn’t seem to be as easy as it used to be!

Armando Barrias, Popocateptl

There were some other well-displayed booths featuring books, ceramics, Chinese furniture and weather vanes, but I have to mention the fact that if I had to sum up the show in one word, I might use gloomy. I don’t want to take away from the hard work that goes into these events or pile onto the damage the weak economy and other factors are having on the industry, but it doesn’t do anyone any good to have a show without edge or energy. The lighting in particular was very bad and most of the dealers did not supplement it with their own. There also wasn’t any music and I noted the price for “Spring Water” was the same price as the show admission, $6. Even if you went to the show and found the most wonderful object you’d ever seen for a great price, you might come out with a mild depression.

It’s time to spice things up a little.

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