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A new owner is revamping the Dolly Johnson antique show

The Dolly Johnson antiques show has outgrown its usual room, and organizers and dealers aim to make it big on modern style and fun, too

03/10/2010 10:03 AM

03/10/2010 11:31 AM

Good golly, Miss Dolly! After nearly five decades of peddling early Americana, the venerable Dolly Johnson Antique & Art Show is letting its hair down.

"We're having a party. There will be cash bars," said owner Jan Orr-Harter, an antique dealer and former Presbyterian minister who last year bought what she calls the oldest antique show in the American West from the founder's daughter. "Antiques are meant to be fun."

The show, slated for Friday and Saturday, will still be based at Will Rogers Memorial Center, where it has been since cars had fins. It is moving, however, to the Central Texas Room, which, at 25,000 square feet, dwarfs the former site across the hall in the Round Up Inn.

But a new room and proprietor aren't the only changes: Orr-Harter has lined up an expanded 75-dealer group to tap into a generation of younger collectors and decorators that she hopes will be eager to take home a trendy industrial relic, or for the first time, something French instead of the rustic look that dominated past years. Visualize the eclectic mix seen in magazines such as Dwell instead.

"This is new for Fort Worth," Orr-Harter said. "I've got great people coming. This is cutting edge.

"Every 47 years or so things need to evolve," said Orr-Harter, who's also bringing a pair of celebrity bloggers and live music. "I am trying to make it into a regional blockbuster."

Dealers are eager to find buyers who'll say hello to Dolly's revitalized lineup.

Only about 25, for example, are returning dealers.

"What we have now is a young group of energetic dealers," Orr-Harter said. "They make everything in the booth look new."

First-time Johnson show dealer Ray Veazey of San Antonio plans to pack his 15-passenger van with a 4-foot-wide pre-Civil War cast-iron eagle that once topped the Imperial Sugar factory in South Texas, and so much outsider art and textiles that his wife may find it hard to squeeze in.

"One reason I haven't done Dolly Johnson in the past was it felt a little stilted," Veazey said. "This'll probably be the most interesting Dolly Johnson ever.

"You won't go from one booth of Americana to another booth of Americana. I think anybody who comes to this show and isn't 80 or 90 will find it invigorating."

That's because, Orr-Harter said, "this is what Pottery Barn copies. We have the originals."

Bringing the funk

If January's Winter Antiques Show in Manhattan was any indication, the weekend will bring buyers and bargains to the Dolly Johnson show.

In February, The New York Times reported that even though 2009 was "disastrous" for dealers, a strengthening market saw attendance increase by about 20 percent. The Times also reported that show prices were down 20 to 30 percent from two years ago.

Orr-Harter projected total sales in the $500,000 range, despite the fact that the economy remains a concern in the Fort Worth-Arlington area.

Jennifer Brock of Houston plans to say au revoir to a load of 19th-century French country furniture.

"I've had a great January and February," Brock said. "I think it's going to be a big show."

The sentiment is shared by Andrew Church, a San Antonio antique wholesaler who's making his first Dolly Johnson appearance.

"I've had a wonderful winter," he said. "People are not going to stop making themselves happy."

Church plans to feature refurbished sheet-metal industrial furniture, fine art and Texas photographs

Orr-Harter is particularly pumped up about funky items like the 3-foot-tall pair or fiberglass hands one dealer has, or industrial antiques from the era when domestic manufacturing was still widespread: wooden forms, for example, once used to make molds for metal gears and other machine parts.

"I told her I was gonna be off the wall," said Bulverde dealer Shelley Weidner, who's bringing a group of big aluminum tubes once used in silk-screening fabric at the now-closed Mission Valley Textile Mill in New Braunfels. "They're just a great industrial focal point. They're really, really cool."

There will also be "magical marble machines," standing 5 to 6 feet tall, by California sculptor Stan Bennett. The machines are powered by small electrical motors and run on a household current. Weidner expects the kinetic sculptures -- welded steel, rotating stained-glass wheels -- to fetch $4,000 to $10,000.

"When people walk in, I think they're going to be in awe," Weidner said. "So many times when you go into a show, you have the same stuff: 10 booths of glass that is all the same. Our whole industry needs a breath of fresh air."

Underscoring the fact that art is now part of the show's title, high-end paintings as well as more modestly priced works by the likes of Fort Worth midcentury modernist Josephine Mahaffey will be offered.

Along with still lifes, the Mahaffeys will include a Fort Worth skyline from Weidner.

There's also a special flower-power exhibit with squash blossom Native American jewelry, pop art-era floral paintings, textiles and a midcentury Italian metal purse that Orr-Harter likes to imagine came from Neiman Marcus in the days when the local store was on Camp Bowie Boulevard.

As far as the show's organizer is concerned, there's just one shortcoming.

"I wish I had a bigger room," Orr-Harter said. "This show is the one that has the chance to take off."

JOHN AUSTIN, 817-390-7874

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