50 Years and Into the Fort Worth Show

Fort Worth Show Dolly Johnson

About three years ago, I attended my first antiques show after moving to Texas — the Dolly Johnson Show. Although the show had gone more mid-century and industrial than in previous years, the show stopper then was the Susanna Fuller White trunk, from the Mayflower. Americana was still the heart and soul of the show.

Americana Fort Worth Style
Americana Fort Worth Style

The current owner, Jan Orr-Harter, had the vision of broadening the scope and appeal when she bought the show from JJ Frambes in 2009. Only three years into the show, she has successfully transformed the show into an eclectic market that goes beyond antiques and art. That is prominently reflected by the change in the show’s name: Fort Worth Show of Antiques and Art. Its website is even simpler: FortWorthShow.com.

Broadening the scope and appeal has been a trend among antiques shows. The Philadelphia Antiques Show has adopted a more flexible standard by setting different time windows for different types of objects. For artwork, modernism is welcome as long as the artist is deceased. The Metro Show, which replaced the former American Antiques Show two years ago, took a totally different turn by dropping off its pursuit of patina to incorporate a wider range of objects- the name itself doesn’t convey “antique” at all.

To some extent, the current Fort Worth Show has some characteristics of its predecessor – a penchant for folk art and country craftsmanship. Yet through mixing objects of anti-urbane, un-common or untamed by unconventional training, it has achieved an eccentric sophistication that may shock some long-time patrons but can excite a younger crowd. When we were there on Friday afternoon, the traffic was steady.

Vintage Martini, Fort Worth ShowThis year Ken Weber of Vintage Martini, a clothing retailer, participated in the show for the first time. Together with another first timer, Adrienne Astrologo of Ladybag International from Philadelphia, they represent a desired demographic shift from the show promoter. Risking being called a sexiest, I would argue more or less that men collect, women shop. Collecting American furniture or art is methodological and fastidious. You would trust the voice of Wendell Garrett or the hand-touch of Leigh Keno. Shopping vintage on the other hand is fun, impromptu, and spontaneous. In that case, you would be happy to tag along with Martha Stewart, who visited the Brooklyn Flea a few years ago.

Of course clothing, jewelry and accessories can be collectible but first and foremost on the consumers mind is whether it fits and looks good.

Thus it is the emphasis on the shopping experience (mostly targeted to a female audience) that these vendors would contribute. Given the long history of the Dolly Johnson Show, a more complete transformation, if there is to be one, may not happen this year or next. But the equilibrium will be matched once more vintage dealers settle in.

Otis Dozier at Fort Worth Show
Otis Dozier painting at Fort Worth Show

Yet, even within the spacious Will Rogers Memorial Center, the show is not as big as those super markets such as Scott Market, Brimfield or Marburger. The great advantage of “there is something for everyone” also means that, after dividing the limited space by the extraordinary range of selection, a die-hard collector could find fewer items of interest. Variety vs. homogeneity has always been a conundrum for show promoters. The smaller the show (and while not the largest in the region, this one is on the large side), the bigger the problem.

Dealers have taken the cue themselves in anticipating the shifting interests of patrons. Gordon Harrison of Harrison Gallery, who also exhibited at the Heart of the Country show in Nashville, seemed to bring more affordable art here with modern and regionalism-looking works. They offer unique decorative value without depleting one’s wallet.

In contrast Jane Christian of Art, brought paintings of Dallas Nine and Fort Worth Circle. Otis Dozier’s work has been recently sold at David Dike Auction for more than $30,000. Although not everyone can afford a large painting by Dozier, the presence of paintings with local interest helps educate Martha Stewart followers who may just browse between vintage Coke signs or Fort Worth hotel memorabilia, and perhaps ignite their interest for, in the words of Amon Carter who founded the museum not far away from the show,  higher attributes of life.

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