March 6, 2013

Dolly Johnson Antique Show back with new name, renewed purpose

A venerable Fort Worth antiques show hits a milestone anniversary this year, but it's having no trouble keeping up with the times.

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The first thing you'll notice about the 50th anniversary of the Dolly Johnson Antique Show: It's not called the Dolly Johnson Antique Show anymore.

"It's time for a new name," says Jan Orr-Harter, show director of the annual two-day antiques extravaganza, happening this weekend at Will Rogers Memorial Center. "Fort Worth's star is rising and has been for quite some time. It's time to brand this as a Fort Worth show."

Introducing the Fort Worth Show of Antiques & Art. Along with a new name comes a new direction. Yes, there will still be 18th-century American primitive furniture. And dealers from across the area, state and country will, as usual, bring high-dollar assortments of antique and vintage artwork.

But ever heard of Adrienne Astrologo? She's the owner of Philadelphia-based Ladybag International, which, according to the antiques rumor mill, touts the world's largest collection of '60s-onward designer handbags and scarves. She'll be there.

How about Cheryl Long? No Georgian game tables or gothic sideboards shall be found in her space. Instead, the owner of Pure West/Pure Vintage of Bastrop will bring along her uniquely designed dresses, made of repurposed vintage crochet, all hand-dyed in splashy colors.

And gather 'round to see booths and booths jammed with the stuff that makes some old-school antiquers cringe but has been feverishly embraced by a younger generation of antique-lovers: midcentury modern.

Grieve not, aficionados of traditional antiques. This is not out with the old, in with the not-so-old. It's only the natural evolution of an antiques show.

"'Evolve' was the word I adopted as my business plan," says Orr-Harter, who has owned the show for four years, having purchased it from Dolly Johnson's daughter (DJ passed away in 1998). "I want to have every style of vintage and antique represented. When Dolly did her first show, it focused on American primitives, and over the years, it has slowly broadened its depth, as well as its price range. There will be investment pieces, as well as those that are more affordable."

It can be a challenge to keep things fresh in a business that specializes in the old. That's why Orr-Harter has sought out new-blood dealers who find or even create unique pieces that go beyond your standard barley twist end table.

"Antiques go through trends comparable to fashion, like hemlines in dresses," says Val Arnett, owner of JunkerVal antique shop in Fort Worth. "A lot of people want fresh and new ideas, and that's the bloodline of any antiques show these days. People still want antiques. They just want a fresh twist on them."

One such twist: repurposing, which consists of taking an antique or vintage object and turning it into something modern, decorative and/or practical. Examples: lamp bases transformed into bird baths, typewriter keys turned into thumbtacks, pallets turned into wine racks. (Note to writer: Turn all those pallets in garage into wine racks!)

Last year, repurposing was the big buzz word at the show, and also the show's theme; the trend has grown even more.

"Repurposing is getting to be very trendy right now," says professional repurposer Long, of Pure West/Pure Vintage. "Which is good. I hope people are going into their closets and finding new uses for their old clothes. Remember when Scarlett O'Hara took down her drapes to make a dress? I saw that and it was all over for me. That's what I wanted to do."

Long specializes in making dresses with old fabrics and purses from scrap pieces of leather. "I don't throw anything away," she says. "I like to think of my look as Downton Abbey meets Western chic."

Although quietly, repurposing has been going on for hundreds of years, says Dwight Greene, a longtime antiques auctioneer and dealer.

"I had this beautifully carved sideboard with two display cases made of heavily beveled glass on both the left and right sides of the top piece," he says. "The varnished patina was incredibly well preserved for its age. It was gorgeous. As I sat there admiring it one day, I began to realize it was, in actuality, two entirely different pieces that had been stuck together to make something original. I couldn't believe my eyes.

"I started looking at all the tiny details, and detail after detail proved to me that the top piece did not go with the bottom piece," he says. "The antique artist in London who married these two pieces did an impeccable job. Repurposing of spare furniture parts is actually a very old, traditional art form."

Antiquers who went to the old Dolly Johnson shows will also notice, Orr-Harter says, a newfound focus on quality merchandise; look elsewhere for Star Wars lunchboxes.

"The recession had a tremendous impact on the antiques industry. It forced a lot of hobbyists out of the business," she says. "The dealers who sell here make their livings at this, so you know they're going to find the best things. You won't find any Pez dispensers here."

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