Monday, April 6, 2015

Thoughts on the Bowmanville Show 2015

The Bowmanville Antique and Folk Art Show is like an ocean liner in an era of high powered, fast moving “cigarette” boats.

The venerable show, now in it’s 42nd year, plies the Canadian sea of antiques and collectables steadily and gracefully all the while buffeted by new trends, new events, an aging demographic, a paucity of younger enthusiasts constantly being pulled away by the tide into other areas of collecting.

In spite of the high winds of market change, this grand dame event keeps doing her thing, annually offering an impressive array of museum quality Canadian antiques and folk art albeit to a fickle public and a core of die hard yet arguably aging collectors.

The market for antiques, as witnessed in the past two decades or so, keeps getting further refined and targeted as event promoters and dealers struggle to keep pace with a changing market and demographic; serving up more and more options designed to attract the antique collector’s dollar. 

Time was when country furniture and folk art held a spot at centre stage and other categories, such as they were, had only bit parts or walk on parts to play. Now, the next generation of events has matured. 

Impressive open dish dresser in paint.
 Country furniture and folk art must compete head on with categories like advertising nostalgia, mid century modern, mission / arts and crafts, repurposed industrial, art decorative and 50’s kitch. And if that’s not enough of a distraction, full colour interior design magazines editorialize and publish photo essays on a regular basis about the merits of pickled or distressed paint finishes on mismatched $2 hardwood chairs and $10 tables that were manufactured in the millions between the two great wars.

Museum quality country furniture also competes for mind share with media outlets promoting repurposed objects found at flea markets. It’s enough to make a grown up antique dealer lock his or herself in their truck and weep.

The last major antique event held in my city a month ago didn’t even have the word “antique” in the title! It was called a “Market”. Is that what we’ve come to? Is the word “antique” seen to be actually pushing people away, not attracting them? 
Very pleasing folk art carving by Seton Tompkins.

 Perhaps, as the name "market" suggests, collectors have simply become customers and what they want is to only go shopping for interesting things that have little or nothing to do with antiquity. It's just stuff available in quantity and, most often, for less money than a genuine antique.

On the plus side of the ledger, the Bowmanville Show is lean. Only 23 dealers in a single room. You can walk the entire show in a matter of minutes. Or, as many people do, take hours to inspect it. And, come back the following morning and do it again. It's not often that pieces like this are on display and sale.

The strength of the show is the dealers that participate. The backbone of the show is a core of veteran dealers who design and occupy 20 by 10 foot booths. They know how to stage and interesting and impactful display of country furniture, folk art and accessories. All of their items on display are in original or old surface with excellent form and provenance. 

These veterans are backed up by dealers who are somewhat newer to the show and work extremely hard to find the best quality items that they can offer. Occasionally, a collector turns "dealer" and stages a booth at Bowmanville. Such was the case this year and at least one long time collector had an impressive offering of country furniture, textiles and folk art.
Superb blanket chest in original paint with a selection of quality accessories.

Unlike any other Canadian show I know, Bowmanville is a "vetted" event. A team of knowledgeable collectors /dealers go through the show before it opens and examine every item ensuring that it is properly dated, priced and its origin noted. 

This year the Friday night crowd was keen and interested. When the doors opened sharply at six, the aisles were filled almost to capacity and stayed that way for the entire evening. The atmosphere was pleasant and cordial even if not ready for the "tunes" emanating from from one young dealer's booth. He was apparently asked to turn down the volume. Perhaps jazz or folk would have been more appropriate.
Nicely painted folk art horse.

Curiously, the Bowmanville Show is held Good Friday evening and all day Saturday of the Easter Weekend. That timing doesn't sit well with some people who obviously have other priorities on this particular weekend. However, the Show and Easter weekend are a tradition going back for  years and not something that's likely to change. 

So, until further notice, start planning for next year and book your "seats" on Canada's best country antique and folk art show. Believe me it's worth the ride!

Many thanks to the dealers who permitted photographs of their antiques including Peter and Helen Vernon, Clay and Carol Benson and Peter Baker.

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