Sunday, March 28, 2010

Busy, busy, busy...

I (Andrew) apologize. We have been rather reticent here for the past few weeks. It's been, well, rather hectic. Auctions, deadlines, and lots of trips out of town have kept us going and, frankly, neglecting other things. (Evidence of our travels: Hollie and I in front of the White House during a brief stop in Washington last week.)

Our most recent trip was, in some sense, like going home. Last week was the annual Furniture Forum at the Winterthur Museum (where I earned my master's degree). This year's theme was "Nature in Furniture, Furniture in Nature." Day one consisted of lectures on the use of naturalistic motifs (plants, flowers, animals, etc.) in the decoration of early American furniture. Day two complimented day one by including lectures about the use of furniture in nature; that is, garden furniture and furniture that was often moved outside for temporary use (like Windsor chairs). Robert Mussey, Brock Jobe, Wendy Cooper, Nancy Goyne Evans, Alexandra Kirtley were among the speakers, and as always, it was tremendously informative.

I was very disappointed in one aspect, however: attendance. In years past, the Forum often sold out (sometimes selling out fast, making it crucial to register early) and the auditorium was packed with over 500 attendees. This year, I only counted about 130. Sure, the economy is partly to blame...less money for extracurricular travel. And this year, the conference did not correspond to any shows (last year, it was just before the Philly shows, and in years previous, it was the same week as the Chester County Show). But I should also note that attendance at the Williamsburg Antiques Forum in February was also way down.

I think the biggest problem is the same thing we're seeing at auctions and shows: the regular attendees are aging and dying off and there is not a large number of younger folks filling those spots. Museums are struggling just as much with attracting the interest (and the admissions fees) of 20- and 30-somethings. So it seems that we in the trade should really think about reaching out to our institutional counterparts and see if we can't work together to attract new blood.

How can we do this? The first step the trade can make is to become members of local museums and attend conferences like Furniture Forum. I am routinely amazed at how few dealers and auctioneers I see at these conferences. I realize that with my academic background and my continued scholarly activities, I have more impetus to attend conferences, but wouldn't any dealer or auctioneer benefit from attendance? We're talking about listening to some of the most cutting edge research from the best scholars in the world. If a dealer or auctioneer expects to be seen as an authority among collectors, shouldn't every one of these conferences be chockablock full of dealers and auctioneers? Then why am I usually one of the very few members of the trade in attendance?


james conrad said...


Man O Man, tough column in MAD this month, can you tell us what you really really think?

You're right though, antiques have a MAJOR image problem, they simply do not connect to folks in a positive way in todays world. The question then becomes, how to turn that round and the answer is, i have no clue.

Hollie and Andrew said...

Thanks, James! Best to you too!

We could have been tougher on some folks, but you catch more flies with honey, eh?

We're not sure precisely what the answer is either, but we are pretty sure it won't be an easy one, and that it won't be a popular one (that is, until it works for someone and then everybody will be on board).

D. Kwiat said...

I just discovered your blog and wanted to say thank you. As a young collector/dealer it can be downright depressing at times (as you point out). But we are out there, and thank you for voicing our frustration... and triumphs along the way. All the best and I look forward to your upcoming posts.

Bettianne said...

Hi Hollie and Andrew,
I love your blog and I feel like I know you although I have never been introduced. I read MAD, I was at the Williamsburg Antiques Forum and at the Heart of Country in Nashville, however it's been many years since I attended an auction at Garth's. However I do go to the website and view the auctions.
I am an antiques show promoter of 29 years plus some volunteer time. I am a collector of Americana and a dealer as well. I agree with you that more people in these categories should be attending these forums. MESDA has good ones also. They are almost an institution of higher learning in themselves. The best speakers in their fields and they are usually accessible. Quite a few years ago I was able to converse with Wendall Garrett at a forum in Nashville, TN. He was charming.
I will continue to follow you and Hollie in your blog and I hope to meet soon.
Bettianne Sweeney
Willliamsburg, VA

Hollie and Andrew said...

Antiques Forum is only 10 months away! Let's be sure to meet up. Let us know if you're going!


Bettianne said...

I'll look forward to meeting you at the next Forum if not before.
Why don't you venture on down to Williamsburg for the Thanksgiving weekend and see one of the best little shows in Virginia.

Hollie and Andrew said...

We gladly come to Williamsburg whenever we have the chance, but Thanksgiving weekend has been, for decades now, one of what, in our opinion, is the best auctions in the Midwest! Garth's has one of their biggest sales of the year that weekend, so we're always home Thanksgiving Day and then working at auction Friday and Saturday. Seems like every weekend has a million options for places to go and things to see!