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Chicago Botanic Garden Antiques & Garden Fair

Danielle Arnet | April 18th, 2013


By the time we arrived, Trace Mayer’s eye-catching “tree” fashioned of details from picture frames looked rather spotty. Thanks to Mayer, we have this cell phone image taken before viewers bought off portions of the design.


Artisan Ben Caldwell of Nashville, Tennessee, has repeat buyers who return for his unique copper and antler utensils. Price, he told us, depends on the part of the antler used. The array here ranges from $250 to $300. Note the artwork on the butt end of the horn.


Five landscape designers contributed floral views. This long gallery in a main building featured William Heffernan’s “waterscapes,” with mirrors representing water. Signs on the glass read “do not sit.”


Peter and Shirley Pijnappels of Casnovia, Michigan, brought an array of clock faces. “Clarks” is $475; the square face is $1250, as is the large round one; and the zinc horse heads are $1950 (at left) and $1495 (at right). Three apothecary jars in a metal rack are $495.


Kimball & Bean always occupy a center spot, and buyers make a beeline to see what’s new. Note the many sold tags. The pair of colored urns in the foreground sold for $2400. Another pair is $2800. The tall pillar-like ornament with swags is a recast for $875. The shop has the original.


Visitors negotiate a tented hallway to admire hand-painted and silkscreened scarves and fabric panels by Chicago area artist Meg of Meg Fine Arts. We spotted beauties ranging from $98 to $275.


We struggled to squeeze the whole of the Hollywood Regency period gazebo into a shot, but because it was 15' high, we just couldn’t. Made of copper with a domed roof, it sold to a show dealer on Saturday. As a result, we could not pry a price from the seller, Brenner Valdez Antiques.


Philip Chasen of East Norwich, New York, catches up on line. Note the sold tag on the $15,000 Tiffany turtleback swivel desk lamp. The Pairpoint desk lamp with a floral, yellow-painted Marlborough shade was $9500.

Glencoe, Illinois

When show promoters and antiques event directors gather in the afterlife to discuss the most hair-raising events at work during their earthly lives, our bet is on Harriet Resnick, vice president of visitor experience at the Chicago Botanic Garden (CBG). Hands down, she’ll have the best story.

“In thirteen years of having the annual Antiques and Garden Fair,” she told us, “we’ve never had anything like this.”

Imagine a total of 8½" of rain falling on Tuesday and Wednesday, the dealer load-in day before the April 18-21 show. Adjacent suburbs reported from 4" to 7" of rain on Wednesday plus 2" to 3" that fell the day before. We’re talking sheets of rain and concussions of thunder; unrelenting, endless storms. Northern Illinois rivers overflowed. Streets were under water. Basements flooded. The rain event pushed this April to the wettest on record for the Chicago area.

Expect more details later, but we can tell you this, by Sunday nearby flood waters receded, and the fair had remarkable crowds.

For 13 years the Antiques & Garden Fair has been a floral intro to spring. Set on 385 acres, owned by the Forest Preserve District of Cook County and managed by the Chicago Horticultural Society, the CBG is a regional jewel located in Glencoe, a high-income suburb 25 miles north of Chicago. Opened in 1972 and open every day but Christmas, the CBG offers 26 display gardens and four native habitats situated on nine islands surrounded by lakes. Each year nearly a million people visit its gardens, waterways, islands, and prairie. Involved in education and research, the CBG maintains an extensive library and a plant information service.

Winter-weary Chicagoans know that the show specializing in garden antiques and all things botanical marks an unofficial gateway to warmer weather. April weather in the area can be unpredictable, but by fair time the garden’s daffodils and tulips herald better days.

This year over 120 sellers signed up for the show. All arrived and managed to set up despite the deluge on load-in day. Twelve vendors were new this year.

Regulars tend to be loyal. Nancy Kimball of Kimball & Bean told us, “This is the only show we do.” Buyers count on seeing their favorites there.

Weather made load-in day slower, added Resnick. That’s some understatement, considering that the CBG emergency plan stipulates that buildings must be evacuated in the event of multiple close lightning strikes. Accordingly, all buildings and heated tents housing the show were evacuated twice on Wednesday.

On Thursday, entrance roads at the front were under several feet of water, so plan B went into effect. Decisions had to be made on the split second. Out came the pumps, and the garden’s exit road became a two-way entry/exit. The mantra became “The show must go on.”

Resnick had a preview party to deal with; 772 partygoers were preregistered, having purchased tickets at $5000 (to admit four) to $250 (to admit one). Traffic was rerouted, and all ticket holders were notified of such by e-mail and/or phone calls. Since access to a loading zone was waterlogged, large items bought that night were delivered later. Valet parking was moved to the back of the building.

And still they came. Over 550 showed up for the preview, plus almost two dozen walk-ins who bought tickets at the door.

“It was fabulous,” said Resnick. “People were so happy we could pull it off. They were so glad to be in a festive place. Some had flooded basements, but they came.”

Show entries on Friday through Sunday were down by almost 900 from last year, yet over 7500 attended. That’s not including the preview. By Sunday when we attended, the sun was shining and the garden was crowded. All access roads and entry points were open. The only signs of flooding remaining were large puddles in outlying parking lots.

Designer Michael S. Smith’s presentation on Friday sold out. We hear that he was “hilarious.” Tickets for Virginia landscape designer Charles Stick also sold out. Admission to hear both plus a three-day entry was $100 for garden members and $105 for nonmembers.

A talk on organic gardening was presented by Jeanne Pinsof Nolan. Young attendees flocked to “Living with Color: Style Bloggers’ Musings on Super-Chic Living,” a panel discussion by three young female style bloggers. In addition, local landscapers set up five display gardens.

Flowers weren’t the only bloomers; we saw more serious cameras with astounding lenses than we’ve ever seen before at an antiques event. If visitors armed with phone cameras or mega SLRs liked it, they snapped it.

When asked about the many artisans selling at the fair, Resnick replied, “We like to have a mix [of merchandise] in order to have a range of prices to service people at all levels.” Goods must be botanically themed, and merchants are screened to assure that products fit the theme of the CBG.

One of our favorites from this show was a crossover. Seller Douglas Wyant of Cassopolis, Michigan, has made stools fashioned from vintage wooden baseball bats for years. For this event, he made two club chairs made of bats. Each chair involved 70 bats selected for size. Seats and backs were bases.

“The hardest thing was finding bats in tapering lengths,” he told us. The chairs with tapered backs and arms were $1500 each and irresistible to viewers.

For more information, check the Web site (www.chicagobotanic.org).


Originally published in the July 2013 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2013 Maine Antique Digest

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