My Experience of Exhibiting in Fort Worth

Setting up at the Dolly Johnson Antiques and Art Show

I have attended many antiques shows in the past, but last weekend I was exhibiting for the first time in the Dolly Johnson Antiques and Art Show in Forth Worth. The show had been traditionally country-Americana but was revamped to embrace a greater variety after the change in ownership two years ago.

I suspect that I was  the youngest dealer in the show, which may have been an advantage if I were targeting a younger audience, which turned out to be plenty during the two-day period. But for 19th and early 20th century traditional art which I was displaying, visitors perhaps were expecting some gray-haired New Englander.

In regards to whether it is the merchandise or personal charisma which moves the inventory, I think the success in the Dolly Johnson Antiques and Art Show mostly relies on the former. Certain styles sold better, as written by Eric in his previous post.  But those tend to be less dealer-intrusive items. In other words, they were sold for utilitarian purposes and decorative function, with less historical value or connoisseurship involved.  Art dealers have a much smaller buyer base, unfortunately. And unlike small items such as vintage signs or vintage clothing,  it usually also requires a certain type of trust to complete the transaction. Trust, again, cannot be built within a few minute’s acquaintance.

Talking with people can be entertaining. Visitors told me one of the photos by Gordon Smith was the Noble Planetarium which was only two blocks away from the Will Rogers Center. One couple told me that’s where they had their first date. It was touching to see the kind of connection with local interest for something forever gone, even though that did not mature into a final sale. Another person commented on the photo of “Rebuilt Carburetor.” As the owner of a 60’s vintage car, he explained to me how each part in the carburetor worked in vain. Several others debated what kind of vehicle the carburator had come from. I’m not sure the modernist beauty of taking a photo of such an object was recognized by anyone.

Will Rogers Memorial Center

Two of Arnold Grabone’s paintings got some attention from people of the painter’s native land. One helped me to translate the inscription on the back of the canvas from German into English. “That’s the tallest mountain in Germany.” After hearing that, I thought I had another item in my bucket list.

There were no 18th century Queen Ann chairs or Empire sideboards in the show; but furniture and other decorative art of mid-century sold well. It is perhaps related to the history of Fort Worth and Texas in general. There are no indigenous 18th Century Queen Ann furniture and such high quality furniture is non-existant in Fort Worth cultural institutions. While cow town collectors may resort to the Dallas Museum of Art for New England or New York furniture in the 18th or 19th century, they would have to travel to Houston’s Bayou Bend for utmost comprehensive resource. In reality, people are buying stuff that they could use in practice and perhaps without worrying about damaging the beautiful patina. Thus those rusty industrial-looking carts or chairs fit the purpose well.

Similarly, the lack of exposure in the 19th century American art may explain why visitors more likely pointed out the 30’s photos or vintage posters. Interestingly, a few paintings by an early Texas artist, Mae Anthony Burr, a female student of Frank Reaugh, got just about 15 seconds’ fame in most cases, even though they were displayed in prominent locations. Few visitors know the artists’ name, even though they maybe famed locally. It maybe a little bit of an exaggeration to say that to find the right buyers to recognize the values of the paintings is like to find a needle in a hay stack, because we did meet a few collectors who focus on Fort Worth Modernism and knew the painters well. But it is really discouraging that some visitors thought all were painted by us and confused the century-old paintings for recently painted ones.

This reminds me some sale opportunity in different format in some other shows. The Baltimore Antiques Show always has some lectures discussing collecting in different categories. In a recent trip to the Heart of the Country Show in Nashville, a round-table discussion brought three prominent dealers closer to the visitors, with their personal stories and tips about collecting.

Not surprisingly, there was a long waiting line for the gun show which happened in the same weekend at the same building. It reminded me that Eric was confused by the overwhelming crowd in the Gaylord Opryland Hotel in Nashville, which turned out to be a crowd attending a show organized by the National Wild Turkey Federation. Talking with some enthusiastic show attendees at that time, I learned that wild turkeys were at one time nearly extinct. What about the knowledge in historical material past and keen eyes in connoisseurship in the future? I ask myself.

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