The Land of Uncatalogued – Scenes from Nashville Antiques Shows

Nashville Antiques Shows: Five Parrots Carved Piece from Francis Crespo

Scenes from Nashville Antiques Shows… Welcome to Nashville for antiquing! Oh, don’t get too excited by the crowds. After all, many people are here for the guns (at State Fair Ground) or wild turkeys (at Gaylord Opryland).

Nashville Antiques Shows. Tailgate-Music Valley Antiques Show 2014Two major antiques shows opened last weekend in Nashville. They have different a different feel and perspective. Tailgate-Music Valley Antique Show was held at the State Fairgrounds, a low-key place known for its monthly flea market. Perhaps acting upon reverence to established antique dealers, the show organizers set up a separate room with a traditional look (with walls and paper). A vintage market took the rest of space and sprawled over two buildings. A lonesome dealer selling posters and industrial elements occupied an unheated corridor. When I walked through the corridor (as quickly as possible since the temperature was below the freezing point), I entered a different dimension: Not only are dealers much younger but so are the shoppers. The live music forced the conversation as loud as you would get from a busy street. Yet in the other building, the hushed talk was accompanied with self-conscious window shoppers. Had I been a dealer there, I may have felt left out of the party.

Heart of Country, although smaller, carries the reputation as a premium antique show of the South. Although Gaylord Opryland was invaded by camouflaged visitors for the National Wild Turkey Federation show, at least, this year, antique shoppers were not constantly reminded of their presence with turkey calls. (NWTF show was moved to a non-adjacent hall.)

Through the talk with some patrons at the concession area, I have learned that many out of towners came for the Heart of Country show and then headed to Tailgate show afterwards. I am wondering whether that trend may reverse. After all, the “Grand Daddy” antique show of the South did not even have a Facebook fan page. (It only exists as an event on Facebook).

The most interesting finding, besides an object which I could not resist, is that what was being offered in both shows falls more and more into a unique category – a category that defies our ability to compare from records and catalogues.

photo 1The information explosion has forever changed our way of shopping, largely from an elitism-centered approach to a crowd-source platform. I am probably not the only one who scans the UPC code of a book at a store to compare prices and read reviews on Amazon. Ten years ago, we were less resourceful. We either resorted to the recommendations from store owners or read reviews on the New York Times.

Antiques and fine arts businesses are not immune. Granted every object is unique; so is every house on the market, which is subject to scrutinized comps from real estate agents. How could you justify a retail price when a similar or sometimes for valuation purposes identical object (such as paintings by listed artists or art potteries from known makers) was sold in an auction house a few weeks ago?

At both the Tailgate-Music Valley Antique Show and Heart of Country Antiques Show, dealers were finding ways to discount the effect of this information explosion. In many cases, the items were so unique that you can hardly describe them in a few words, not to mention to find catalogues for comparisons. The term “one of the kind” has moved into a new paradigm.

The concentration on Americana or folk art objects at the Heart of Country Show seems to have been growing the past few years. Often, they were produced by unknown makers for a utilitarian purpose, with a kick – a desire to express and decorate. It was two years ago at the Tower Antiques Show that I saw the first pine safe (possibly from Tennessee). In Nashville, I saw three and one of them with a SOLD tag. I first noticed outdoor signs with provenance were popular in Philadelphia Armory show two years ago, now you could just go for the look regardless whether research has been done to locate the original owners. It’s probably better that way – If you cannot decipher the words, you won’t be able to find any information online either.

Duck decoys are common. Appraisers have developed a rigorous system to value them. But what if someone decided to make a twist by adding an eagle head and wired feet (and then signed his name)? That additional information does not make your search for reference easier; it confuses us on how to describe it.

Nothing is better to describe the charm of uncatalogued than Francis Crespo’s booth at the Heart of Country Show. There was a wood statue of Lincoln that looked more like it was from oceanic aboriginal art.

Then there was that giant bobcat with intricate lines as if made by an engraver. It was carved out of pine and apparently had sat outdoor for a long time. It almost reminded me of the Yoruba terracotta head at the Brooklyn Museum. That naturalism through delicate modeling of the body contour is balanced with a tint of drama. (The cat is shown with its mouth wide open.) How would you find a comp for that? Maybe that is a future project for Google search engine scientists.

It was from Francis that I bought a fun piece, and thus keeping my tradition of expanding my collection through my yearly trip to the Heart of Country Show. The five-parrot wood panel was directly carved out of one single piece of pine wood. Francis told me that American pine wood tended to be heavier than its European counterpart. And carrying it out of Gaylord Opryland certainly proved that. Hardly did he know anything about it except it’s from Cincinnati area and guessed the age as being from the 1930s. But the bright colors and vivacious gestures of the birds speak out. Maybe in future, an analytical software program can churn out millions of pictures to match an object and then extract provenance, price or transaction history; but it still won’t predict a flutter on the first sight of a pure beauty.

That is all that matters, and no comp could make it up.

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