If it’s 1985 you’ll find us in the workshop – keeping the customers satisfied

Our workshop

Our workshop

As I sit here with my shoulders aching after just an hour of gardening, it is good to remember that there was a time when we were young, and healthy, and resilient, and happening on all cylinders.  From the mid 80’s to the start of the nineties more or less, we moved enough “product” that we employed from one to three people daily to keep up with the demand.  Both from sales at the Harbourfront Antique market in Toronto, and through our folk art mail order business.

Edith and Jeanine at work

Edith and Jeanine at work

Antiques brought back from Quebec needed to be cleaned, and/or stripped and refinished.  Now don’t get excited, we never stripped good paint, but the reality was that there was a lot more people looking for a nicely refinished pine piece than there was looking for good paint, and good paint was hard to find so we played to our market.  The kids understandingly wanted to eat, and for quite a while there you could count on selling any refinished pine, or butternut bonnet chest you would bring to the market.  The good thing in this was that the Americans didn’t like bonnet chests so they were always cheap and available in Quebec.  But I digress.  Besides the antiques, we discovered that there was a good market for a reproduction pine armoire we found in Quebec that was deep enough to house those giant honking t.v.’s that everybody had back then, and still look reasonably good among your other antiques. Of course very few old cupboards were of the proportion to do this, and there was a demand so it filled a niche.

A refinshed TTrudel entertainment unit

A refinished Trudel entertainment unit

At the peak we could expect up to a half dozen orders per week.  We bought them in the rough from Pierre and Claire Trudel, who had a small factory near the pickers barns in the Victoriaville area (future blog).  They also made the carved wooden ducks, birds, and animals that we sold at the market and on mail order.  So after picking the antiques from the region I would swing by Pierre and Claire, and fill the truck with our order of new cupboards and animals.

Once home, besides the work on the antiques we had to refinish or paint the repro cupboards as ordered, and similarly paint or varnish the wooden animals, so it very quickly became more than Jeanine and I could handle on our own.  Albert who I have mentioned before and will undoubtedly mention again came first, and then a neighbor lady named Edith joined us who felt lonely at home while her husband delivered the mail and who enjoyed the work and the extra income.  Then as was necessitated by increasing sales we would hire a local high school student or two to keep up.  The place was hoping from 8:30 until about 5:30 every weekday, and I would quite often go back in the evenings and work until late, especially if it was getting close to Sunday, and the Toronto market, or we had a large order to fill.

A load of Trudel animals

A load of Trudel animals

I know there are a lot of collectors who look down on selling reproductions along side antiques, but at Harbourfront in those days it was perfectly acceptable as long as they were sold as what they are, which is a reproduction.   There was a lot of people looking for entertainment units, and I’d much rather provide a new one that did the job and was well made, than cutting the middle post out of an actual antique cupboard or some other such none sense. It also really helped with the bottom line.



Similarly, the carved animals, were attractive to heaps of folks who didn’t necessarily want to spend much, or deal with a challenging piece of original folk art.  These folks were looking for a nicely carved and finished pine goose to go along with the rest of their “country pine” décor. I think back on this period as our “manufacturing” phase, and it was a lot of work,  but it was lucrative at the time, and it gave us and a few other people some relatively interesting and rewarding work. We played it until the demand died out, and when the “craze” subsided we quit reproductions, and focused entirely on original finish antiques and “real” folk art.  To everything there is a season.

Jeanine and I with ordered cupboards

Jeanine and I with ordered cupboards

My Afternoon with Eddie Mandaggio

EMandaggioEddie Mandaggio was born in Manitoba in 1927. He spent his early years working in Northern Manitoba and Ontario as a trapper, and as a hunting and fishing guide. He came to Nova Scotia in 1951 and settled in Camperdown, Queen’s Country, where he lived until his death in 2003.

He initially worked for the railroad for eight years, and then worked in the logging camps. Eddie started carving in 1974 out of a desire to make decorations for his cabin. He followed with painting in 1976. His subjects are geese, roosters, cows, horses and also some human heads. His carved pieces greatly outnumber his painted works.

Eddie's famous white goose

Eddie’s famous white goose

In the mid -nineties I had the occasion to meet Mr. Mandaggio, and although I was trying to take in as many artists as I could in a short stay, and had intended to just stay for an hour, we became so engaged in conversation that I ended up spending the entire afternoon.  I missed out on meeting a few others but my time with Eddie remains close to my heart.

I flew to Nova Scotia to view and consider purchasing a major folk art collection which belonged to a friend of a friend named Iris Newman.  Iris is a lovely person. who got bit early by the folk art bug,and had the means, space,  and desire to build a major collection, purchasing major works directly from the artists.  She is featured in the NFB film “folk art found me”, and she is generally acknowledged as one of the main promotors and supporters of the Nova Scotia folk art community. We had a lovely lunch and fell into talking like old friends for a couple of hours before she took me around her large home and showed me the extent of the collection. Although amazing in quality and scope It turned out to be too many massive pieces which I knew would be hard to place, and she was strictly committed to an “all or nothing” deal so it didn’t work out, but I learned a lot from her and we did remain friends.  Of this vast collection, one of the most impressive things for me was two very large paintings of tiny cows in a big field by Eddie Mandaggio.  It was the first Mandaggio paintings I had seen and there is something about those giant fields with those tiny cows that hit all my buttons. She was keeping them and I completely understand why.  So after an afternoon of talking, and documenting the collection it was time for me to go.  As I was leaving I told Iris that the following day before I had to catch the evening flight home, I was going to go to the Lunenburg area to meet the Naugler brothers, Garnet Macphail, and Eddie Mandaggio who was already one of my favourite Nova Scotia folk artists.   “Oh that’s great Phil. You’ll have a wonderful time, but I must ask one thing of you.”  O.K.?  “When you get to Eddie’s you will see that he has recently carved a very large moose head trophy, and I have decided to buy it, so don’t you go and buy it.”  Ouch.  I hated to agree but Iris is a lovely and determined person, and I was still considering her collection so I reluctantly agreed.

One of Eddie's cow paintings

One of Eddie’s cow paintings

After a delightful morning with the Nauglers which will be the subject of another blog, and after a delicious bowl of chowder at a roadside restaurant, I got to Eddie’s place.  Immediately we hit it off. Eddie was very kind and open, and wonderfully generous in his description of his past careers.  He was particularly articulate about his love of carving, and stated that although he had been painting for the past few years, most of these paintings remained in the basement of the Houston gallery in nearby Lunenburg, and not many had sold, so he reckoned that he must not be a very good painter.  “Au contraire, mon Ami” “I think you are a fabulous painter. I was knocked out by the paintings in Iris’ living room.”  “Really.  Well thank you for telling me.  I don’t get much feed- back and most people just want me to keep making my “hits” like the big white geese.  It’s not much fun doing the same thing over and over again, and actually not why I started carving in the first place. I’ve started to refuse the large orders that have kept me doing the same thing for the past few years.  For me carving is a wonderful therapy to counter my jumpy nerves, but I have to be free to experiment or it becomes too much like a regular job.”  “I absolutely agree with you Eddie.  You must be free to let your imagination roam. Have fun with it, and whatever you do, don’t give up painting.”  Eddie smiled that winning smile of his. “Thanks for saying.”

Of course there in the background the entire time we are talking hung the extraordinarily beautiful massive moose head on a red heart shaped crest which Iris had forbidden me to buy.  Tagged $750.  I would have given him the cash in a second if I was not bound to my word.  What can you do?

That was the one and only time I met Eddie, and he became quite ill and stopped carving soon after.  I never did get on to see Garnet MacPhail, but I don’t regret a minute of the time I spent there with Eddie in Camperdown. A few months later I received the following polaroid of Eddie with a new cows in the field painting.  Unfortunately I didn’t move quickly enough and missed it.  If you would like to know more about Eddie, the Black Sheep Gallery has posted a wonderful series of You tube videos you can look up.Scaned

Born to be Wild – Friday 13th in Pt. Dover

fridayI was going to write on another subject, but here it is 3 p.m. in Port Dover, Ontario on a sometimes sunny, sometimes raining Friday the 13th of May, 2016, and there are over 100,000 bikers in town.  The air is a rich mixture of gasoline fumes, rock and roll, and Harley grunts, and well, it’s damn near impossible to think about anything else.

I don’t own a motorcycle.  Have never had any inclination even to ride one, other than dirt bike fun as a kid, but I can see that it is a great pleasure for those who are so inclined.  After living here for 13 years we have experienced a half dozen or so of these events.  The other times we would just get out of Dodge, but occasionally we have friends who want to experience it, or we just don’t feel like clearing out, so we stay put.  The experience is always much the same.  The crowd has gotten bigger each year and the management of said crowd has gotten smoother, but basically it’s the same routine.  A few hundred come in on Thursday and keep the Norfolk Hotel (our neighbor) hoppin’ until about 2 a.m.  It was a little earlier last night because a thunderstorm arrived about 1 am and drove everyone to their tents or hotel rooms.  This morning starting about 8:30 am the police direct the throngs that arrive, up St Andrew Street past our house, through town until they hit Chapman Street where they go left past the Main Street which is reserved for walking traffic, to St. George Street, where they descend back down to Harbor St.  Here, they hang a left and head out the way they came in.  During this procedure most stop and park somewhere along the way, buy a coffee and doughnut, or later a beer and pulled pork sandwich, buy the t-shirt and perhaps some dope paraphernalia or leather goods.  They walk around checking out each others bikes and outfits, and then about now 80% of them  get back on their bikes and go home.  Some will stay over and rock the night away, but by noon tomorrow there will just be a handful of bikes, things will be cleaned up, and you will have trouble finding evidence that anything out of the ordinary has occurred.fri13h

Other than a chance to see bikes and chat with those with similar interests Friday the 13th is fundamentally a fashion parade.  It strikes me that in spite of the bad ass, counterculture persona of the bike culture, the end result is that everyone dresses in some version of the same components; black t-shirts and jeans, black leather everything, spooky jewelry that would not be out of place at a Mexican day of the dead celebration, and other death and rock imagery which when put together has the effect of making everyone look like they are members of the same tribe.  What’s with that?  I suppose there is comfort in those numbers.


Thong man prepares

And I would like to state that although I don’t “get it”, I ’m not judging or putting anyone down.  It’s good for the economy of our little town and I have no problem with people having fun. Enjoy yourselves and live the dream.  I recognize it’s the restrictions of my perspective that excludes this as really good fun. In spite of trying, I just can’t find anything to be interested in.  Admittedly some of the bikes are interesting as sculptural form, and some of the people very photogenic, but it only goes so far when balanced against the discomfort of being in a dense crowd, listening to bad cover versions of songs you were quite happy to leave in the 70’s, and waiting forever in line to overpay for a greasy pulled pork sandwich.

thong man poses

thong man poses


There’s a guy who has become a genuine Friday 13th celebrity which best illustrates the cultural depth of the pond in which we are swimming.  He comes to every one of these and for some reason has chosen the boulevard beside our house in which to change wardrobe three or four times over the day.  Meet “thong man”. Pleasant enough fellow who seems delighted to show us his aged bum in a variety of thong based costumes. Today he had a Police officer based costume with police badge patch covering his genitals, and fuzzy pink handcuffs.  Then he changed into a pink bunny outfit with white pompom tail; then it was a fluorescent green number which may have had something to do with leprechauns.    As you watch, older and younger women approach to have their picture taken with this star.  Quite often, with their full acceptance and encouragement he is photographed grabbing the subjects breast and looking lecherous.   Boyfriend or husband nearby, grinning behind their cell phone as they click for posterity.  Thong man’s wife looking bored and disinterested, wondering when he will have had enough and they can just go home.  And so it goes.

Ahh, I hear that the rock and roll has started again.  Time to go and get myself a greasy pulled pork sandwich.  Happy Friday the 13th from Port Dover.fri13a

The Toronto Harbourfront Market in its Heyday

Our Harbourfront offerings circa 1983

Our Harbourfront offerings circa 1983

Every Sunday morning from the early 80’s to the late 90’s, the alarm would go off at our house at 4 a.m. The truck would be packed and the load tied down the day before, the lunch would be made and ready in the fridge, and our cloths would be set out. We would hop out of bed, get dressed, grab a coffee and get underway. An hour and a half later we would be pulling in to the Toronto Harbourfront Market, ready for another day of buying and selling. Rain or shine, we would make the journey, full of hope that the furniture and small items that we were offering would meet the approval of someone there.

When we started in the early 80’s the market would be held on about an acre of parkland near the terminal building, with the 100 or so vendors being set up in parking lots and green spaces right alongside the water. In the winter we would go across the road and inside an old one story warehouse. These were the glory days. It’s hard to imagine now just how “hot” the market was. The boomers in general had done well enough that their Toronto houses were paid for and they were madly buying up all the charming little farms and cottages within about a three-hour drive of Toronto. These rural places demanded antiques of course, being sympathetic to the rural environment, and a refreshing contrast to the city digs.

A loaded truck ready to go.

A loaded truck ready to go.

So in these days there was a large number of motivated collectors and dealers arriving about 6 a.m. vying to pick the best of what was being offered as it arrived. It was a thrill to arrive in our open pick-up truck, and have people run along beside us, racing up to the window to ask the price of the pieces they could see tied to the load. Often they would just say “yes, I’ll take it” even before it was unloaded, because they knew the competition was right behind them. It would happen occasionally that by the time we arrived at our spot, most of the furniture which could be seen was sold. Sometimes we had completely sold out by noon, but would still have to stay until five as to not create a disruption. We had our regular dealers whom we got to know would buy certain items without hesitation if the price was reasonable. You had to pay close attention. Sometimes two or three dealers would be right there as a piece was coming off and you had to be very conscious of who asked about the piece first, and who was next in line. It was easy with two people selling, under this kind of pressure to even sell the same piece to two different people. Tempers would flare. It was not always easy to sort out, and have everyone be happy with the results. It didn’t happen often, but it was difficult to avoid altogether.

Then by the mid-nineties, the Harbourfront development had other plans for the summertime parkland, and the wintertime warehouse, and so they built a brand new market at 390 Queen’s Quay W. As so often is the case, these new quarters under new management meant higher rents and lower sales. It continued to deteriorate until it was not profitable for us by the late nineties, and it eventually closed in early 2003.

Our friend, and avid collector Rod Brook used to say that he wanted to produce a book which presented exclusively all the incredible pieces that had been bought by collectors at the Harbourfront market during those glory years. Sadly, he died before he could accomplish this, but I’ll bet if someone took up the cause it would be an amazing document. For a while there it felt like it would never end, but then like everything else in life, it did.


loading the truck for another Harbourfront Sunday.