Deerfield, New Hampshire
Spirits hung over the Deerfield Fairgrounds in Deerfield, New Hampshire, on Sunday, August 2.
The first was the spirit of the past and the familiar. Gurley Antique Shows mounted a live one-day open-air antiques show, an event that was ubiquitous BC—Before COVID. The traditional, throwback antiques show, one easily taken for granted before, was akin to a happy memory of better days gone by.
The show, typically the kickoff event for Antiques Week in New Hampshire, was the only New Hampshire Antiques Week show to be held live this year. The New Hampshire Antiques Week shows are renowned for crowds and cramped quarters, both no-nos during a global pandemic. The Gurleys, sister and brother Rachel and Joshua, had always held the show at the fairgrounds, a 200-acre complex with more than enough space to hold an antiques show, even if a virulent disease required social distancing and a large footprint.
The Gurleys tweaked the one-day show a little. First, they opted to hold it on a Sunday, rather than its traditional Monday date, in order to attract a more retail following. They also tripled their local advertising.
Rachel Gurley checking in dealers during the blazing-hot Saturday setup.
“Our gate was up about 100 to 150 people,” said Rachel Gurley. “I couldn’t tell you if it was retail or wholesale.”
There was also the spirit of fellowship and camaraderie. The last in-person show for many of the dealers was the Gurleys’ Boxborough, Massachusetts, event in March. Spring and summer—usually a crowded calendar of shows—went slowly by with no shows, which not only put a crimp on dealers’ pocketbooks but also provided no chance to catch up with each other in person, to gossip, to enjoy dinner and drinks, and to buy and sell from each other.
“This is my extended family,” said Bruce Emond of Village Braider of the dealers who were set up. Joshua Steenburgh echoed the sentiment. “This is our tribe. It’s a chance to touch base with each other. It’s what we do. We love it.”
Rachel Gurley said, “It was so wonderful to see people, and the sales were good.” She continued, “My biggest lament of the Deerfield antiques show—and Joshua agrees—is that we didn’t get to see everyone and all of the antiques. We were so busy running this amazing, fabulous, huge festival that we didn’t get to see all the antiques and all of our friends. We were too busy keeping them safe.”
There was the indomitable New England spirit of can-do. The Gurleys, who had to get approval from several bureaucracies, never wavered in their determination to hold the show. They are old hands; in normal times, they run about 20 shows a year. Making Deerfield happen was crucial. They had to figure out a way to accommodate more dealers than ever before while being prohibited from utilizing the barns, where a majority of their dealers used to set up.
The opening line at 8:36—all masked up and ready to go.
The show has usually numbered about 75 dealers. The 2020 Socially Distant Deerfield Antique Show nearly doubled the number of vendors. “We certainly doubled the land mass,” Gurley said. “I usually have fifty in the building and twenty-five outside. Now I had 135-plus, all outside. It was a lot of bodies. We spread it out intentionally. We made it huge on purpose. We wanted people to have space.”
“We wanted the show to be quaint and meandering with the thought that we could keep some of it in the trees to provide shade. We could have brought it down to the big field, but I thought we would be lizards in the heat with no reprieve. It would have been a miserable setup and a miserable show,” Rachel Gurley said.
Dealers braved the pandemic to support the show industry, which has been gutted by COVID-19. “This show is wildly important. To have people put eyes on stuff and create positive momentum,” said Jeff Noordsy of Cornwall, Vermont. Connecticut dealer Derik Pulito said, “It’s important to get the market going.”
There was a spirit of cooperation. The Gurleys required face masks—of the dealers and of the public. As far as we witnessed, their edict was well followed, with only a few exceptions.
Bruce Emond of Village Braider, Plymouth, Massachusetts, asked $1200 for the cast stone over steel armature polar bear from the early 20th century. “We had a good time there,” Emond said. “We sold. It was a decent show. Rachel and Josh did a great job. The show ran really well.”
“I think it went smashingly,” said Gurley. “We had pretty great compliance on our COVID safety policies. I feel we all made an effort—in the heat—to wear our masks, and I feel like people were sanitizing.” Sanitizing stations, artfully placed on tall plant stands, peppered the show. “The sanitizing stations were my brother’s idea. I owned all those plant stands. I was just going to put up tables, and we thought to put the plant stands around. It was like a warning zone. It’s those little touches that make the show less stuffy and more fun. We’re all too stressed out anyway.”
“In true fashion, some dealers did amazing, some did not so amazing. If they didn’t do well, they bought their way out,” Gurley said. “If we had done nothing on Sunday, I would have been fine with my Saturday [setup].”
There was also the spirit of the late Nan Gurley, mother of Joshua and Rachel, who passed away in 2016. Nan Gurley, a longtime dealer and show promoter, was part of the backbone of the antiques business. Newcastle, Maine, dealer Butch Berdan of Jewett-Berdan said it best. “Nan was a real dealer. This is the best tribute to Nan Gurley that can be.” Tom Jewett added, “Nan would have been very proud. I know she was smiling down on us all.”
“We lucked out that our mother taught us how to do this,” said Rachel. Nan not only provided hands-on instruction but also passed along a spirit of determination to her children. In a time when it would have been easy to fold up the tents and wait until next year, the Gurleys persevered. In doing so, they threw the business a much-needed lifeline.
Finally, it was the spirit of the business that was the strongest. Dealers and collectors could, for one brief day, indulge in their passion. “Pandemic or not,” said Steve Sherhag of Early American Antiques, Canfield, Ohio, “People still have an appetite for antiques.”
The South Paris, Maine, chest, 1830s-40s, was offered for $3450 by Bill Kelly of Limington, Maine. It didn’t sell at the show, but Kelly said he has interest in it. Asked about sales, Kelly said he did “terrible. I just couldn’t get anything done, but I have had follow-up since. The crowd was decent, and the right people were there. I just couldn’t get them to pull the trigger.”
Punta Gorda, Florida, dealer Michael Whittemore with a setup find.
Don Heller of Heller Washam Antiques with his $7800 Hudson Valley stepback cupboard.
A table built for social distancing. The 12' long table constructed with square nails from a schoolhouse in Vermont was $800 from Greg Hamilton of Stone Block Antiques, Vergennes, Vermont. Hamilton hosted a dinner party on the table the night before the show. The repainted C.W. Parker Carry-Us-All carousel horse was $1800. The C.W. Parker Amusement Company was located in Abilene, Kansas. Charles Wallace Parker manufactured his first Carry-Us-All ride in 1898.
The miniature mocha shaker was $2650 from Jeff and Holly Noordsy of Cornwall, Vermont. Although it looks as though it has a lid, it’s one piece. Jeff Noordsy commented via e-mail, “Show was quite good—better than I had expected and not quite as I had hoped. It was great to ‘see’ people again and did make some really nice sales.... The patrons were very mask compliant, as were most of the dealers. A few not so unexpected folks refused to wear masks, but it was easy enough to steer clear of them. Buying was quite good during setup, but most of the selling occurred when open to the public. Josh and Rachel did a great job, especially with the time constraints. If we have to do this again next year—fingers crossed, no—it would help to have a map showing where each dealer was located. I would like to give a public shout out to Josh Steenburgh, who generously set up a tent and included Brian Bittner and us. It was a fun event overall.”
The folk art carousel is from the 1920s and has had light sockets installed so it will light up. Catamount Auctions, Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts, asked $2500 for it.
Ted and Jennifer Fuehr of American Spirit Antiques, Shawnee Mission, Kansas, asked $9500 for the 1890-1900 stag weathervane. The Fuehrs’ last antiques show was the second week in March. Ted e-mailed comments: “We were impressed with both the number of attendees as well as the precautions everyone took for safety. We had a decent show considering our cost was $425 and we had revenue 20 times that number. We sold a unique Westervelt weathervane, a tiger maple drop-leaf table, a country single drop-leaf seed sorting table in red paint, a blue painted cricket stool, and two sales of Native American jewelry. Three of the six sales were to new customers.”
The artist’s mannequin, circa 1910, was $9500 from Oliver Garland of Falmouth, Massachusetts. Mr. Bojangles, Garland’s dog, was also enjoying the shade. “The show ended up being good for me. I had some post-show sales and sold most of the items I had bought at the show,” said Garland. “It was enjoyable seeing all of the usual suspects after what has felt like such a long time. I think Rachel and the team did a great job of making the show safe and compliant to the rules. The venue certainly had the luxury of space.”
Married couple Phyllis Sommer and Dennis Raleigh represent 100 years of dealing in antiques. It’s her 45th year in the business and his 55th.
The two-part secretary, dated 1818, is solid sycamore, not grain painted. Martin Ferrick of Lincolnville, Maine, asked $3400 for it. It has a concealed compartment, a step-down desk interior, and a slide-top well that still contained objects, including photographs and a powder horn. It possibly may have belonged to Dr. Horatio Arnold Hamilton of Enfield, Connecticut (1788-1850). It sold late in the day. Ferrick said, “It truly was ‘the’ show. I thought Rachel, Josh, and company did a fine job pulling it together under challenging circumstances, and the crowd respected the mask mandate and kept their social distance. There was a lot of good quality antiques at the show, though I wish I had had more time to check out the other dealers’ wares.”
John Sideli of Westport, Massachusetts, asked $4500 for the Graduate Optician painted glass sign. Sideli remarked, “I had expected a lot of activity on setup day, and there was very little. I guess I had underestimated the effects of COVID on dealers. I don’t think people were really in the mood to buy. I’m talking about dealers. Then there was the heat. It was pretty brutal on setup day, only adding to the lethargic feel of the day.
“I thought the crowd was decent considering COVID and the heat. The show seemed to draw the usual suspects you would expect to see from the surrounding area. But there was little or no crowd of out-of-towners as one usually sees at any of the August shows, which is understandable. I don’t think people sold very well, myself included. It was nicer on Sunday and pleasant to see old friends. The food truck near my booth served unusually good food, which was a welcome bonus.”
The goose decoy was $1250, and the painted box was $650 from Jef Steingrebe of New London, New Hampshire. Steingrebe’s last show was Barn Star’s Antiques at Rhinebeck in October 2019. “I did fine—I guess a little better than I expected. It was nice to get to do a show again. I hadn’t done one since Barn Star’s Rhinebeck last fall.... Rachel and Josh did a great job putting it together this year inside the new strict social and physical parameters. It’s probably hard enough herding a bunch of dealers into a field in the best of times.”
The Liberty Forge Labrador puppy andirons from the 1940s were $350 from Sandy Doig of Karen Alexander Antiques, Enfield, Connecticut.
Hooked rug by the so-called “Gagetown Hookers”—Lydia and Raymond Scott of Gagetown, New Brunswick, Canada—priced at $850 by Firehouse Antiques, Galena, Maryland. It has the earliest Gagetown signature. To learn more, find the 1998 book The Gagetown Hookers by Larry E. Dubord.
The circa 1870 still life by Robert Wylie (1839-1877) was $7500 from David Smernoff of New Haven, Connecticut, and Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Philadelphia dealer Elle Shushan (right) gets a treat from Betsey Leslie (left), the ex-antiques dealer known as the Pie Lady, a fixture at the Deerfield show. (The apple pie was fantastic.)
The tiger maple six-drawer chest, circa 1780, Rhode Island, was $9500 from Derik Pulito of Kensington, Connecticut. The turned red-painted bowl on top was $1200. Pulito said, “Setup was organized and easy, with all dealers complying with social distancing and wearing of masks. Dealers were actively shopping and buying from one another during setup. Dealers and buyers manifested a positive outlook for the future fine arts and antiques market. There was a long line of buyers waiting for the show to open, and once inside they were buying, especially smalls.”
Originally published in the October 2020 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2020 Maine Antique Digest