Understated Theta Show in Houston Reaffirms Position as Foremost in the South

Soap Hollow

Theta Show BannerFor some visitors at this year’s Theta Antiques Show in Houston, they may be surprised to see changes in the exhibition roster. Some dealers could not make their way from Delaware Antiques Show to Houston in just two days. That opened the door to new faces with unconventional merchandise. Once again Theta proves its prominent status as one of the highest-caliber shows in the South.

Taking I45 from Dallas, we arrived on early afternoon Sunday, just a few hours before the show closed. Many dealers, in fact, have followed the same route a few days earlier after packing up at the Dallas International Art, Antiques and Jewelry Show. Participating shows in two largest metro areas of Texas back to back is convenient for many dealers living afar. When we asked about comparison between the two shows, most dealers confirmed an uptick in the footprints and sales in Houston – It is after-all well-known that Houstonians love shopping.

We did not recall American Garage Gallery from last year. Their booth, filled with Americana, combined understated charm with West Coast coolness. Yet, a 19th century dower chest made in Soap Hollow, Pennsylvania (near Johnstown) was given a prestigious location at the front. Having lived in Pittsburgh for many years, and  having visited the landmark show Made in Pennsylvania: A Folk Art Tradition at the Westmoreland Museum of American Art, we had the chance to tour with Charles Muller, the expert in Soap Hollow painted furniture and learned from a dozen objects in the show. Back in 2007, when he published the book about Jacob Knagy and his furniture making, some dower chests from Soap Hollow had already fetched six-figures in auctions.

We were told that the dower chest was not only illustrated in the book, but also a rare example of its kind: the maker and the year of making are usually signed for Soap Hollow furniture. But this one has also the owner’s name – a genealogy study about the family history will be a must for its new owner. (Not surprising, the dower chest had a red dot next to it by the time we spotted it.) It is a mystery to think how a dower chest from rural areas of Johnstown navigated the country several times including Los Angeles and Houston (this phenomena is sometimes lost of the contemporary use and over-use of the word green).

A Coca-Cola architectural fragment was another interesting object from the same dealer. Taken from the cornerstone of the Milwaukee, Wisconsin Bottling plant, the iconic bottle in cast concrete looked exceptionally lively with the upward wings. The increasingly negative public opinion, with New York’s mayor Michael Bloomberg in particular associating soft drinks with obesity, seemed non-traceable and irreverent in front of such an iconic object: it reminded everyone it has been popular since its birth more than one century ago – a feat that no other brand has equally achieved.

Ted Fuehr of American Spirit AntiquesThere was generally good feedback from dealers. Here and there, I could see sold labels next to furniture. My guess was that furniture delivery tended to be made at the end of the show so that those red dots were easier to be spotted. Whitehall Antiques sold a sideboard with curved front cabinets and a slant front desk. Both were of mahogany and from England. Ted Fuehr of American Spirit Antiques was also pleased to see a much lighter truck load back home.

Ted also brought a few weathervanes of different subjects. Placed on top of tiger maple surface, they looked stunning fresh. Although many folk art subjects such as roosters, cows and horses have been dominating the higher-end weathervane market, Ted showed two sailboats weathervanes. Stacked with triangles of different orientations and thickness, the sailboats weathervanes are more architecturally decorative than naively whimsical of the animal forms.

“There are some great opportunities in the medium range market now for decorative art,” attested by a dealer who offered a stunning sterling sofa made in India. It was actually quite comfortable to sit on — such sofa made in 20th century has better ergonomics than earlier ones (especially those with a horizontal crest to keep sitters from slouching back). I could almost hear Joan Rivers’ comment in her documentary: “This is how Marie Antoinette would have lived if she had had money.”

Having attended two shows of similar size within a week, we have seen two different styles. The Dallas show emphasized on high-end and luxury: Bathed in bright light and floored with beige carpet, it had that celebrity glamour affecting both patrons and vendors. Theta Show was less extravagant. (The live piano was gone this year.) It had a much casual and relaxed atmosphere. Besides the look, Dallas Show has a much bigger presence of jewelry dealers. In comparison, only two dealers in the Theta show displayed predominantly jewelry. The presence of jewelry may broaden the demographic of the clientelr, however a ready abundance conspicuously exalts tasteful consumption and ridicules the pursuit of patina and subtlety in decorative art and fine art.

Theta Show Houston

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