David and Mary Jo Field of Croydon House Antiques, Enterprise, Ontario, offered this circa 1890 Cree chief’s jacket with blue, yellow, and green beads, horse hair, and ermine pelts for $7500.
Clay and Carol Benson of Port Hope, Ontario, had no trouble selling this open-top dish dresser, Nova Scotia, circa 1840, at $8500. (Note Carol’s neat trick of attracting the eye with green apples dotting the shelves.)
Croydon House Antiques, Enterprise, Ontario, asked $1150 for this jazz band automaton, 1930-40, “made in America.” Mary Jo Field thought it “a neat thing, a great look.”
Larry Foster of Napanee, Ontario, hung a hooked mat of the Bluenose, circa 1920, over a circa 1930 Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, boat hull at $950.
One of the younger dealers in the show, Adrian Tinline Antiques, Bowmanville, Ontario, asked $3800 for this circa 1880 pub sign, “The Swan.”
Wendy B. Hamilton of Collingwood, Ontario, wanted $595 for this open touring car hill climber in pale yellow, a circa 1914 Schieble Toy & Novelty Company friction toy.
“I love the dog,” said Cathy Consentino of Timber River Farm Antiques, Timber River, New Brunswick. “He’s my favorite of all the rugs.” The Chien d’Or in Quebec was once a tavern, then a general post office building. She asked $850 for the rug.
This elegant circa 1970 pheasant carving by Alcide St. Germain, Quebec, was in the booth of Audrey Sandford and Bob Robinson of Black Sheep Gallery, West Jeddore Village, Nova Scotia. It was $2250.
All prices in Canadian funds.
June O’Neil, a retired dealer of Canadiana, tells this story: In the 1960’s and ‘70s, when she and her husband, Bob (now deceased), lived in Bowmanville, Ontario, Bob used to drive his truck east through Ontario, Quebec, and into the Maritimes to pick 19th-century Canadiana furniture and accessories and early folk art. Pickers and dealers would wait anxiously for Bob’s return and would queue up as early as 3 a.m. in the O’Neils’ home driveway. First in line for choice pickings, June said, was usually Clay Benson.
(Today, Benson hasn’t lost his touch. At the twice-yearly open field Christie Classic of approximately 300 dealers in Dundas, Ontario, Benson is among the first dealers, if not the first dealer, combing the field at 6 a.m. for items to resell at a profit after the 8 a.m. opening.)
Forty years ago, Newcastle, Ontario, part-time dealer Rob Lambert (also now deceased) and his first wife, Mary, decided to start a show for pickers like Benson to offer their pre-1880 Canadiana and early folk art to an appreciative, growing audience of collectors. Indeed, young Clay Benson of Port Hope, Ontario, was among the original roster. So, too, was Michael Rowan of Green River, Ontario. Larry Foster of Napanee, Ontario, joined in the second year. Today, the three of them constitute the show’s true veteran dealers.
The Lamberts later sold the show to John Forbes and Jeff and Wendy Gadsden. In turn, current owners Bill Dobson and Linda Hynes bought it from them in 1994 “to ensure that collectors would continue to have the opportunity to buy the best in Canadiana and folk art.” This year is the 20th Bowmanville Antiques and Folk Art Show that they have promoted.
Naturally, over those past 20 years, the show has changed. Changes to the floor plan, for example, allowed additional dealers to participate. For many years now the show has been held on Easter weekend, opening on Good Friday from 6 until 9 p.m. As it is a holiday, this allows collectors and dealers to avoid congested traffic through Toronto to attend an evening opening. The show continues on Saturday, but “eager collectors want to come Friday evening,” Hynes said.
In addition, 40 years ago the country furniture and accessories offered at the Bowmanville show had to pre-date 1870. In 2000, however, following changes in the Canadiana market, Hynes and Dobson extended the date to pre-1900, which allowed for a more diverse offering. With the benefit of the Internet, they now maintain a Web site to promote the show to a wider audience, allowing collectors to preview items to be offered at the show. This whets their appetite. Dealers get lots of preshow phone calls.
This year, for instance, Peter and Helen Vernon of Toronto got calls from folk art aficionados inquiring about Rada Greg’s 1974 painting Calgary Stampede, a favorite motif with the artist. It sold early in the show. The artist’s work is documented in Blake McKendry’s Folk Art: Primitive and Naïve Art in Canada (1983).
Naturally, over 20 years, Hynes and Dobson have harbored favorite memories. Here are three. First, they admire particularly that, year after year, one minute after the show opens, the room is filled with “those keen collectors.” Second, one year, a new dealer sold three items for $60,000 in the first ten minutes of the show. Third, in 2000, a couple hired two young girls to camp out all day at the show so they could be first in line to buy a pair of “wonderful” Quebec candlesticks from Peter Baker, who had featured them in an ad in the Upper Canadian.
As popular as the show is with collectors of Canadiana and folk art, Hynes and Dobson have also received a few criticisms. “Some collectors find it too crowded on opening night,” said Hynes, “and some dealers and collectors may prefer that it not be held on Easter weekend.”
On a positive note, Hynes said, “Collectors and dealers continue to comment with amazement that each year is better than the previous one. In recent years, we have been pleased to welcome a number of new young dealers [e.g., Ben Lennox and Adrian Tinline], who, along with our veteran dealers, have made this specialized show a continued success. It is also very gratifying to witness new faces in the Bowmanville stampede.”
The show was down about 50 visitors compared with last year’s opening night, but up 50 for Saturday. “Not bad, considering the economy in the last few years,” said Hynes. Thus the owners are confident. “This unique and very specialized show will continue for many years to come.”
How much longer will it under their auspices? Currently, the show is for sale. Dobson is now the warden for Lanark County, Ontario, and spends two or three days per week in Toronto at the Ontario legislature. Moreover, he recently sold his August show in Odessa. Is the sale of the Bowmanville show not far off, then? Who would buy it?
Participating dealers would like to see the Bowmanville show continue. Cathy Consentino of Timber River Farm Antiques, Timber River, New Brunswick, has exhibited at Bowmanville for 18 years. “It was due to the kindness of Gerry Marks that I did the Christie Classic show [in Dundas, Ontario], and there I met Bill Dobson, et voila,Bowmanville.”
Consentino offers some furniture in original surface or taken down to the original color, a lot of hooked mats, some quilts, and folk art. “The emphasis of my shop is on articles made by hand, expressing individuality of the spirit. I like to think that I am an historian, safeguarding the memory of the people who have been here before me.
“Bowmanville is my favorite show of the year to do. The array of merchandise offered there can give you goose bumps. It’s always a good show to do—to learn, to see wonderful things. It’s the care with which all of the dealers approach doing this show that has enabled it to withstand so many years. That being said, it has also the most pressure of any show I do, for I try not to bring stock that has been other places.”
Gary Dawson of Aurora, Ontario, has been exhibiting at Bowmanville for at least ten years. He brings the best Canadiana furniture he can source and also interesting and beautiful accessories, such as English spongeware, which sells well. His sales have been “excellent.” He too puts away special things throughout the year for Bowmanville. “I don’t go out looking for stock,” he said. “I just sit and wait for the phone to ring.” For this show, for example, he brought five items collectors had phoned him about. One call was for two geometric-patterned hooked rugs, the smaller and more colorful of which literally sold beneath his feet for just $85.
“The show has survived,” he said, “because it is the one chance each year collectors have to see so many beautiful objects, et cetera, under one roof. You could spend an entire year trying to find the range that is offered at Bowmanville—in one shot!”
This was young Ben Lennox’s third year exhibiting at this show. The Kitchener, Ontario, dealer offers a mix of smalls that have good form and usually solid provenance. Weathervanes, trade signs, whimsical folk art, and a smattering of stoneware usually adorn his booth. Sales for Lennox over the past two years have been just OK. (“OK in that I’ve been selling better at shows where I can bring a bigger cross section—advertising, mid-century, and industrial items, et cetera,” he said.) On the other hand, the contacts he makes during the show have led to additional business. “I find collectors will typically take the time to talk to me at Bowmanville and advise me what their interests are and what to look out for on their behalf.”
Lennox praised the Bowmanville show for being “a force” for 40 years: it’s typically one of the first shows of the year; it has a specific focus; and it is 100% vetted by a committee of people such as John Bos and Tim Potter, who are very knowledgeable about antiques and Canadiana. He added, “Dealers often sock stock away specifically for this show, much of what is being shown is fresh [to the market], and the quality is generally impeccable.”
Veteran collectors also praised the show. Chris Edgar of Toronto asserted, “The show owners and exhibitors have maintained a very high standard of quality, in terms of the material being offered for sale. The show is vetted, and I think that process also helps to keep the level of quality high. As well, vetting, to a certain extent, can inspire greater confidence among buyers. Another important factor is that the show has maintained much the same focus—country furniture and folk art—and that has kept the same crowd coming back year after year.”
Yet, while Edgar generally praised the show, he and a few other collectors have some concerns about it. “Given that the show has survived this long with fairly minimal changes in format,” said Edgar, “I have to wonder whether my suggestions for improvement are really advisable. That being said, as a show attendee, I can say that I would prefer a new venue for the show that provides a more pleasant environment for the public. The present venue is lacking in several categories, including the lobby area, the food/catering facility, booth lighting, and the size of the booths (you could say that they are either too small or maybe just too crowded with material). Presenting less material, but presenting it well, is preferable to a booth packed with too many items.
“In terms of expanding the range of material offered at the show, I'm more inclined to suggest offering earlier material than what is typically available in the Canadiana market. By this I mean inclusion of vernacular American, English, and even Continental antiques. Given the show’s longstanding focus on country furniture and traditional folk art, I would be reluctant to suggest inclusion of later material (i.e., mid-century design or nostalgia).
“Bowmanville has been and continues to be an exciting antiques show. It allows advanced collectors an opportunity to buy high-quality items and items of great rarity. Given the lack of retail shops (compared to forty years ago), the Bowmanville show also provides a great opportunity for collectors to examine antiques, to learn about their specific area of interest, and to network with other collectors and dealers.”
Kingston, Ontario, collectors, Moe and Janice Johnson also look forward to the Bowmanville show. “Janice and I have always enjoyed Bowmanville’s narrow mandate to present some of the best of Canada’s country and country formal antiques and folk art,” said money manager Moe. “While we would not want to see that changed, we do recognize that dealers are finding it harder to acquire high-quality pieces and then ensure that what they do bring matches the interests of the market.
“Adding twentieth-century design is a possible solution as a way to bring more material to the show and to appeal to a wider crowd. There is a risk in this, however, as the spirit of the nineteenth-century high-quality material could be unwound [if the show began] carrying content not associated with past shows. More broadly speaking, to the extent there is a perceived need to refresh the show, (I say ‘if’ and am not qualified to offer specific suggestions) or keep it moving ahead, the best source of input would be from the participating dealers.
“Ben Lennox, in the most recent issue of the Upper Canadian, showed that he, along with many other dealers, is well qualified to address the issue in a meeting with the Bowmanville organizers. Those who are familiar with electronic social media could also add valuable input in terms of new marketing ideas.
“We continue to enjoy Bowmanville, and it has thrived over a long period of time. Sensitivities to the market and to the original mandate of the show are paramount in maintaining its reputation, enhancing the buying experience, and ensuring the dealer community participating in the show continue to find it a positive experience.”
Indeed, sales before and during the show’s opening night on Friday, March 29, reflect a continuing “positive interest” in purchasing Canadiana and folk art. Participating dealers are allowed to buy from other dealers during setup, but they must then reoffer that item to the public after 6 p.m. Ben Lennox sold folk art before the show to Jamie Stalker of Montreal and to Audrey Sandford and Bob Robinson of Black Sheep Gallery, West Jeddore Village, Nova Scotia.
Sandford and Robinson discovered suddenly they couldn’t access their storage unit of stock, because it was closed for Good Friday. Thus they were desperate for items besides the few pieces they’d set aside in their home. Accordingly, from Lennox they bought a desirable Edmond Chatigny small, polka-dotted lawn sculpture from Quebec of varied animals and birds on a platform. They then priced it at $900 for the show, where it kept company with other desirable unique carvings by people such as Gilbert Desrochers, who was represented by an elegant brown deer with white antlers at $1300, and by a striking large, polka-dotted peacock by Alcide St. Germain at $2250. (See Phil Tilney’s This Other Eden: Canadian Folk Art Outdoors, 1999, p. 113.)
Ben Lennox sold a small black standing wooden horse to a young woman for $350. Ecstatically, she bought the popular item and hugged it to her chest as she threaded her way through the elbow-to-elbow crowd. Barry Ezrin of Moffat, Ontario, sold a 19th-century Tlingit carved ladle, painted black, for a fair $180 and a Cree medium-size wall pouch for only $125.
Beside him, David and Mary Jo Field of Croydon House Antiques, Enterprise, Ontario, sold a windmill model (depicted in Michael Rowan and John Fleming’s 2012 book, Canadian Folk Art to 1950), a Quebec H-stretcher table, a lodge painting, a canoe model, a chest of drawers, and a wall box.
Beside them, Clay and Carol Benson of Port Hope, Ontario, fared well. They sold a circa 1830 tall-case clock in its original paint by Balleray & Co., Longueil, Quebec, for $6500, a circa 1840 open-top dish dresser from Nova Scotia for $8500, and a burl bowl for $4800; the bowl had been bought from the third auction of the Vi and Rob Lambert collection at Tim Potter Auction Service on March 23, 2013.
Collectors/dealers Gerry Fagan and Brian Reid shared a booth. Fagan sold his circa 1925 multicolored hooked mat of a pheasant from Ayton, Ontario, to collector/dealer Nick Cameron for $1575. He also sold other smalls.
Cathy Consentino was happy with her sales of hooked rugs, quilts (one to Moe Johnson, who also bought one from Carol Telfer) for around $450, a black-and-white checkerboard from Truro, Nova Scotia, circa 1900, at $295, and a relief carving of an osprey with talons outstretched menacingly for $395.
Jamie Stalker and his sister, Allison, of Ruth Stalker Antiques, Montreal, offered a mix of furniture and smalls. They displayed decoys in a cupboard with shelves—a merganser drake by Carroll Gardiner of Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, at $975 and a blue bill by renowned carver Ken Anger at $950. Atop the cupboard stood a remnant of a gate or architectural ironwork from the Château de Ramezay in Montreal. The gate sold for $575, perhaps to an interior designer. An ornately carved decorative item with loops that intersected and ran the eye up and over and down like a roller coaster, it was sure to sell.
Peter Baker of Elgin, Quebec, offered a Native Canadian carved maple effigy ladle with beaver, maple leaf, and raven head profiles, made in Quebec, circa 1825. Illustrated in Baker’s Upper Canadian ad for the Bowmanville show as “iconic,” it sold within seconds to collector Jim Stewart for $5500. A collector who said she had attended the show only to buy the ladle was second into Baker’s booth, because she’d turned in the wrong direction once the doors had opened at 6 p.m.
American dealers were noticeable by their absence; five years ago, at 1 p.m. on the Friday, a number of them would have been lined up waiting to be first in line to buy. Then the difference between the Canadian and American dollars was substantial—not so now. Luckily, dealers and collectors who do attend the Bowmanville show can look forward to shopping on the Saturday as well.
For more information, see the Web site (www.bowmanvilleantiquesshow.com).
Originally published in the July 2013 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2013 Maine Antique Digest