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Chicago Botanic Garden Antiques & Garden Fair

Danielle Arnet | April 11th, 2014

On a gorgeous crisp early spring Friday, purposeful crowds thronged to large show tents flanking indoor displays.

Tagged at $12,000, the carved stone Four Seasons statues, 1830s, Venice, were bought for a North Shore home during preview. The $795 sun and moon carved wooden plaque is mid-20th-century French. All were from Schorr & Dobinsky Antiques, Bridgehampton, New York, and Reading, Pennsylvania.

Louisville, Kentucky, seller Lana Smith offered this $1550 1930s-50s Salterini wrought-iron and glass table from her personal collection. It is in the Mt. Vernon pattern. Topping it is part of a running horse vane by Harris & Co., Boston. Tagged $2300, it still has flecks of original gilt.

More & More, New York City, had several booths at the show; at this one, items were tagged. At her outpost in an entry, Jess Bauer stands behind tables of $425 to $650 faux bois planters filled with topiary boxwoods and other plants. One small boxwood had a $28 tag. Bauer told us that stock had been replenished three times between the show opening at 10 a.m. and 11:15 a.m., when we arrived. Not seen is a $200 pair of French six-sided planters that sold. The Addison Mizner lamps were $5500; the French wall plaque was $1800.

We were astounded by the sheer volume of Chinese export ceramics that Nantucket, Massachusetts, seller Lynda Willauer crammed into her booth. Sections featured famille rose, blue and white, majolica, Staffordshire, and more. Asked how long it took to set up, she told us, “Six people, two and a half days.”

The last time we spotted Greenwald Antiques from the Cleveland area, its busy booth was at the Merchandise Mart show. Ronald Greenwald told us that Mart customers knew to find him here. On one wall a $3500 early 20th-century Venetian mirror hangs above a $2500 19th-century console with shell carving. The 19th-century French bronze doré electrified candlesticks were $2250 the pair, and the trio of Samson ceramic rabbits were $7500. The pair of patinated spelter urns showing Dionysian revels was $5000, and the 19th-century French signed doré and crystal bowl was $6875.

Glencoe, Illinois

To know the impact of this year’s Antiques & Garden Fair at the Chicago Botanic Garden (CBG), held April 11-13, you need to understand that it happened on three fine—and very rare—days following a winter when Chicago suffered through the coldest three months on record. The relentless cold, ice, and snow are the stuff that seeps into pores and messes with your DNA.

No wonder visitors tumbled wild-eyed into the CBG on opening day. We were huddled masses, rushing like gerbils toward the solace of green and a promise of spring. The show’s opening is kind of like that every year, but this one, the 14th annual show, was something else.

As Harriet Resnick, the CBG’s VP of visitor experience and business development put it, “The show is our way of saying Welcome Spring!” The three-day gate hit almost 8000. Early on opening day, we idled in a line of cars waiting to enter; it took 20 minutes to advance two-tenths of a mile.

Need we tell you that this is, perennially, an anticipated show? We hear that Saturday’s crowd was even greater than the mob on opening day.

Set on 385 acres owned by the Forest Preserves of Cook County and managed by the Chicago Horticultural Society, the CBG is a regional jewel located in Glencoe, a tony suburb 25 miles north of Chicago. Opened in 1972 and open every day of the year, it offers 26 display gardens and four native habitats situated on nine islands surrounded by lakes. In 2013, one million people visited its gardens, waterways, islands, and prairie. Involved in education and research, the CBG maintains an extensive library that includes rare botanical books.

The longtime affiliation with Stella Show Management Co. ensures top-tier dealers with quality merchandise. Plus, location on Chicago’s North Shore with proximity to upscale suburbs means that the Antiques & Garden Fair draws from a population heavily into the design trade and trends.

The show’s mission is to bring a nature theme to home and gardens, and, added Resnick, “Unique is best.” That goes a long way to explaining the constant click of phone cameras and SLRs. With smartphones, anyone can create a wish book. You like a look? Shoot it. And snap they did. When sellers objected, they said so. No hard feelings.

The bar on standards and aesthetics is high, and that does not come cheap. Buyers apparently recognize that, and mighty big sales happened on preview night. When we marveled at the number of sold tags dotting his booth at show open on Friday, R. Kennard Baker of Poverty
Hollow, Connecticut, told us that all had sold at Thursday night’s preview, and that “preview is when to buy.” Must be the early bird syndrome.

Over 700 attended the preview on April 10, benefiting the garden’s conservation, education, and research programs. Tickets for the event, billed as “priority shopping and elegant fare,” were $250 for a 6 p.m. entry.
To achieve Garden-ian Angel status, with entry at 1 p.m., plus a plethora of perks
including VIP parking, cost $5000 for four tickets. There were intermediate steps, including one at $2500. The principal show sponsor was BMO Harris Bank. One hundred twenty sellers participated.

Regular day show tickets were $15; again, varied rates were available. Parking was $20. Advance tickets for a presentation by designer Miles Redd were $85. For style expert Danielle Rollins, advance was $75.

Judging from all the red sold tags we saw early Friday, preview must have been a heck of a night sales-wise.

In a bid to attract more couples to preview—perhaps husbands/partners with fat wallets?—garden management tried a new tack. New for 2014, a men’s lounge by Isle of Man America, a Chicago store billed as “purveyor of cool,” filled with custom furniture, a TV airing the Master’s Tournament, vintage motorcycles, and a vintage bar with manly drinks, welcomed both men and women.

The event, certainly opening day, tends to be highly estrogenic, though we spotted a handful of men, possibly husbands, in tow.

“Last night was quite the party,” Mr. Modern’s Don Colclough told us. “They don’t hold back,” he remarked about the event, where he sold a $2000 circa 1920 bronze garden table topped with Vitrolite glass.

Ronald Greenwald of Woodmere Village, Ohio, sold a 30-carat diamond riviere necklace to a North Shore customer for $80,000 and a Daum Nancy miniature lamp with a winter cameo glass scene tagged $25,000.

A first-timer at the show, Greenwald was a regular at the Merchandise Mart International Antiques Fair, an event that lasted 16 shows before declaring a break this year. We’ve covered reasons in M.A.D. previously, including that on April 19, 2013, the Palm Beach Show Group announced that it would launch a new show at the Navy Pier in 2014, on the same dates already announced by the Mart.

Dealers were torn, but not Greenwald, and several Mart regulars that we spotted were selling gangbusters at the CBG show. When we noted that his booth was as crowded as (if not more than) at the Mart, he replied, “My customers knew that I would be here.” Having spent years building a customer base in the area, Greenwald was gratified that regulars followed him to a new spot. And he raved about the show and crowd.

Shoppers with simpler tastes or budgets flocked to rows of artisan sellers offering nature/garden/green goods. One particular favorite, said Resnick, was garden rakes.

U.K. seller Stuart Cropper had a great line on his business/booth card: “Make it yours! You won’t be sorry if you love it…but you might regret it if you leave without it.”

Next year’s show is April 17-19, 2015, with the preview on April 16. For more information, check the Web site (

While the object of this show is to sell, most dealers knock themselves out to create beautiful floral-filled booths. Poverty Hollow from Connecticut appropriated prime tabletop real estate for a spectacular show of live poppies. That’s élan. Note the ceramic bunnies.

Viewers could not resist the 1950s-60s British ceramic cats, dogs, and bunnies from Connecticut seller Poverty Hollow. Seller R. Kennard Baker told us that he seeks whole collections during buying trips to England. “I pick up all I can,” he added. Here, a viewer admires a $165 bulldog. Note the sold staddle stone tagged $2200 and topped with a $165 cat. The $4500 plinth with armillary sphere sold at preview.

Originally published in the June 2014 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2014 Maine Antique Digest

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