All the usual suspects

As I have mentioned in a previous blog, we spent every Sunday for much of the 1980’s attending the Toronto Harbourfront Antique market.  It was a very lively market in those days, and you could rely on hundreds of people to attend.  Most of them serious buyers looking for a special decorative object, or piece of antique furniture to decorate their homes, as was popular at the time.   Also, it was a time when several Toronto people had already bought and furnished their house in the city, and they were all going out into the hinterland and buying up the low priced rural properties which would become their country week-end homes.  For these in particular, they were looking for antique country furniture, most often in refinished pine, or similar.  For an antique dealer these were heady times.

So eventually, within this continuous flow of humanity you would soon learn to recognize the specialty collectors or  dealers who would arrive every Sunday to scan the market for their select products.  Some smaller Toronto dealers would set up to sell, and to advertise their shop but there were several more dealers who had established shops in the city, and they would come by to add to their stock.  You got to know these people as regular buyers, and you would get to know what they are after, and try to supply it.

One fellow would buy any refinished pine chest of drawers I would bring, and at a price close to what I would get from the public.  Another dealer only wanted original paint pieces, and he would be there every week as you pulled in, hopping alongside the truck and pointing at anything of interest with the same question, “how much for this”, followed by a “ yes, I’ll take it, hold it for me and I’ll be back to settle up.  He would then run off to follow the next truck in.  Generally there would be five or six of these alfa type dealers to deal with right off the top so it made for an exciting first hour.  Although you had to be on your toes especially when you brought in something really good, and there was a frenzy to determine who of the group was the first to commit. Get this wrong and people got offended. Guys would get pretty mad at each other over lost treasure.

Then as the day wore on many other dealers and collectors would make their way to your booth, most often looking for specific items.  There was the pen guy.  At some point he would slide up beside you and say quietly “got any pens for me?” If the answer was no he would just keep walking.  However, if you did have something it wasn’t a certainty that he would be interested.  He was after top end Parkers, etc, so once in a while I would come across something he liked, but for the most part I gave up after a half dozen failed attempts.  Still he appeared like clock-work every week.

Then there was the defrocked priest couple who would always turn up seeking Catholic items. Extraordinary looking guys with extravagant wardrobe and hair down to their asses.   As I was so often in Quebec, I usually did have something to show them.  They really knew their stuff and would explain to me the symbolism and meanings of the pieces. They bought only occasionally, and I always looked forward to the little theology lesson in the middle of the day.

Later in the morning, preferring to get up at a civilized hour, along would come MonsieurTaschereau , a possible candidate for anything spectacular I might have.  He had wonderful taste, and a highly respected shop in the Four Seasons tour.  A relatively small space, but full of good things.  He was very dry and came across as haughty at first, but when you got to know him he was down to earth, and a good guy.  When he bought something from me, no matter how small he would always ask me to deliver.  Then he would grab a ride so he didn’t have to take the transit back.  I didn’t mind because we always had interesting conversation on the way, and I loved looking at his shop.

Another in this category was a lady named Susan Miller who had a wicker shop on Mount Pleasant for years.  She was an institution with all the upper crust for their supply of white wicker furniture.  All the rage for your patios and sun rooms, and Susan could be relied on for the best, and the whitest.  No matter how good I would think the white paint finish was on a piece she would always say, “well, off course I will have to have it repainted”.    It was part of her negotiation technique, but just the beginning.  She was a lovely, refined lady always decked out in top end white and beige clothes with highly coiffed white hair adorned with a beige, wicker looking, basket-weave hair band. To top it off. It was her costume.  Susan was lovely, but she was tough as nails. She had a special technique. For instance, if she liked a chair, but didn’t like the price she would simply sit in it, carry on pleasant conversation, ask for the occasional glass of water, and wait until you couldn’t stand it any longer and would say “O.K. you win Susan.  It’s yours for what you asked, and of course I am happy to deliver it today.  And of course she would always grab a ride.  Again, I really didn’t mind because the conversation was good.  I got to know a lot about Susan. How she took all her meals at Fran’s. How she couldn’t stand the smell of garlic and wouldn’t touch the stuff.  It is what she disliked most about taking the transit.  How she met her husband when she was a hairdresser at Eaton’s. Ah, so that’s the reason for the perfect hair all those years later.  How her husband was an accomplished accountant and had written the Canadian tax code.  Unfortunately he had died young, so she used some of her capital to set up the wicker store, and as it turned out she was really good at it, and enjoyed it, so it became her life until she retired (I think) at about age 70.

Being such divergent people I have to say we got along very well, and over the many trips up Mount Pleasant to deliver her and her wicker I got to know her.  “One day we were riding along when she looked over and said “You know Phil I’ve lived a long time, and I’ve worked hard, and you want to know what I can tell you about life?”  Pregnant pause while I imagined she was going to go on about family, or good friends or the like, but then she said “In the end Phil, you know who your best friend will be? “  Please tell me.  She looked at me squarely and said, “a couple of bucks in your pocket”.  When you get older and need some help, that’s what it comes down to.  A couple of bucks in your pocket.”   It surprised me, and puzzled me for a moment, but I could see from her expression that she was right.harbour1

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Looking into the private world of Fenton Dukeshire

d6Back in the 1990’s I would occasionally get a call from a friend, Marty Ahvenus, who owned and operated the Village Book Store on Queen St at the time.  He was a book seller by trade who also enjoyed folk art and making periodic trips to the East Coast.  When he returned from a trip he was in the habit of phoning me, and selling me the folk art which he had acquired enroute.  We would meet at a French restaurant on Baldwin Street which offered fish soup, a favourite of both of us, and I remember that the owner/chef would always come out to see who had ordered the soup as so few did.  But that’s another story.duke1

One day I met Marty and he had a dozen or so small and interesting fantasy buildings that he had just acquired from a very elderly gentleman from Wolfville Nova Scotia, who was living with his son in Toronto at the time.  I guess he had heard about him when he was out East and found out that he was living with his son who was teaching law in Toronto, so he arranged to go over and meet him.   Fenton Dukeshire’s son made it clear that Marty was welcome to come over and see the work, but that it was very unlikely that he would meet the artist. Fenton was a very private, and shy man who liked to keep to himself in a back bedroom of the house where he would spend hour after hour creating intricately detailed miniatures of buildings, bridges, locomotives, etc out of bits of found wood, matchsticks, and cardboard.  These all bore the mark of his individual imagination, and the patience required to bring such detailed pieces to realization.  Time was not a problem for Fenton.  He was in his element working, and he did so hour after hour, day after day.  Along with the individual sculptures of buildings, etc. he liked to create dioramas which involved people in dramatic situations.  Gunfighters facing each other down on the street.  A church scene with choir and unnoticed urchin with a sling shot about to hit the minister in the back of the head. Another church scene with a mother reaching out to save her baby who was teetering on the edge of the balcony banister.  All his people had a humorous, comic book aspect to them.  They are crowd pleasers. duke2

This intensely shy and unassuming man was born in Maitland Bridge, Annapolis County in 1917. He was a woodsman, sawmill worker, and farmer during his working life and only took up carving and model making in his 60’s.  His wife of 39 years died in 1985, and he has no other brothers, sisters, or other children.  He lived with his only son in Wolfville, then Toronto, and then back to Wolfville with his son when the work concluded in Toronto.  He lived there quietly producing his art until he died.  I cannot find the date of his death on-line but I know he was very old.

I like the fun of his dioramas with people, but I admire most the simple architectural elegance of his buildings. You can tell he created these to satisfy his own love and fascination with architecture, and had no commercial intentions.  duke5

So when Marty arrived at the house, he admired and agreed to purchase many recent works, but before he left he asked once again if he may at least meet the artist who was working away in his back room.  The son agreed to ask, and sure enough a few moments later a small grey man slid into the room.  Came up to Marty and put out his hand.  “how do you do?”.  They shook hands and Marty barely had time to say “what a pleasure it is to meet you” when Mr. Dukeshire spun on his heels and headed back into his room, closing the door behind him.duke4

Finding Lajeunesse

shadflyguy

“Chien Mechant”

You know how sometimes when you meet a person you feel a real connection to their inner spirit, and recognize in them something which represents basic goodness and beauty?  Something rare and special.  Well that’s the way I feel about having met Henri Lajeunesse, and I am grateful for having had the experience.

Over the ten plus years of regular buying trips to Quebec we would very occasionally run across a signed work of Mr. Lajeunesse,  and we began to covet them and seek them out because we really connected with his expressiveness and vision.  Although we asked everyone we knew, we could never find out much about him. Not in books or from other collectors. Then one day we bought the piece above, “Chien Mechant” or “mean dog” as it was titled in pencil along the base. I say “was” because unfortunately one day an overzealous housekeeper…

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Roger Raymond, Quebec carver of cigar store Indians

Jeanine’s brother and his wife arrive from France later today, and in our typical procrastinate until a couple of days before and then work like hell to try to clean the whole house style, we are still at it. Almost there, but still at it, so I have decided to reblog one of my earlier posts in the hope that if you haven’t read it, you will enjoy it; and if you have read it, you may have forgotten it anyway. Thank you for your patience.

shadflyguy

rr3By the mid 1980’s along with our antique business, we supplemented our income by  setting up a mail order business selling the carvings of Pierre and Claire Trudel, who we discovered had a workshop of about a dozen talented woodworkers making several lines of reproduction antique furniture, as well as copies of various decoys, and other Quebec folk art.  An average duck decoy would sell unfinished for about $15, and we would sell them finished for about $45. This commercial operation also carried a cigar store Indian which I knew was carved by a nearby artist.  I would come by every other week and buy about 50 or so carvings, including 4 or 5 Indians.

One day when I arrived Pierre said, “well I’m just going now to pick up the Indians, would you like to come along.”  “Well, of course I would”, and so off we went a few…

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For the Birds

As I have mentioned before in this blog, my wife Jeanine collects folk art carved birds.  Our kitchen is full of them.  I miss them when we are away.

Birds, for the most part are a pleasant and relaxing part of our natural environment.  Except of course when they are dive bombing you for being too close to their nest, and then they’re not so relaxing.  Otherwise, we enjoy watching them fly, and chirp, and hop around the back yard looking for bugs. They are entertaining.  I suggest that this is the reason that it is one of the most commonly carved species, and often the first carving an artist will undertake.  Birds makes for an interesting collection because there are so many approaches and attitudes to the subject.  Some strive for accuracy.  Others a stylized approach.  Some are abstracted, while others are barely recognizable.  I tend to admire skill and craftsmanship, but it’s the crazy and primitive ones that turn my crank.  After my morning coffee I took a look around the room and photographed a few of my favourites .   With some little notations attached.

I hope that you enjoy looking at them.  I do.  Every morning.

sparrows in flight

Jeanine is keen on finding more of these little carved sparrows.  We may because I have the feeling that these although hand carved, were commercially produced and sold in gift shops.  Perhaps a little cottage industry item from Eastern Canada, where we found them.  Or even possibly overseas. If so, I would think Europe or England as opposed to Asian.

Red-winged blackbird by Yvon Cote

a Cote decal. Not used on every carving.

This Cote red-winged blackbird is typical of the Gaspe artist.  I will make him the subject of a future blog, but for now suffice to say that his work is easy to recognize because he used pencil crayons for colour and then lacquered over top, and even when a piece doesn’t have his decal, you can tell it is him by the form, colour, and little wire legs.

Here’s a new addition to the family.  this friendly little Carolina Wren was created by C. Bodley of Toronto.  He was good enough to name and sign it on the bottom.  It’s a good example of a work that looks like the species, but also contains personality.  He also created this wonderful diminutive owl

Owl bu C. Bodley, Toronto

 

 

 

 

What follows is a bunch of little birds with different approaches, by different artists at different times.  Most of them are from Quebec.  You can see run the gamut in terms of approach.  Although it is perhaps the piece that looks the least like an actual bird, I love the little beige bird by Cadieux.  His name is stamped on the bottom.  I also love the little blue bird which looks almost like a cartoon.  it is made very carefully. Those wings are thin wood, not metal.

Which one of these do you like the most?

Someone even decided to make a little bird using wicker. This little fellow somehow comes across as looking quite mad.  And last but not least we have this hanging black and white bird on a perch.  Interesting construction, and can anyone figure out why his wings are on backwards?   Could this really be intentional?  Perhaps dyslectic?  Go figure.

 

A Ludwig Black Beauty happens to be a very special snare drum

I guess everybody gets lucky once in a while if they open themselves to the possibility.  I think antique dealers wake up every morning believing that this will be their lucky day.  And most nights they go to sleep thinking “maybe tomorrow’.  But occasionally we do find ourselves in the right place at the right time and we get lucky.  It happened to me one morning in mid-90’s.

When we would go into London  to visit my sister, we liked to stop en route at a little antique mall situated in a strip mall right off the 401 and Wellington St.  Although not large, it had a few good dealers and quickly changing stock so it was worth a look.

One sunny, summer morning we were arriving in good time so decided to pop in and do a quick tour.  Jeanine went one way and I went another.  We tend to spread out and then call the other one over when we see something of interest. We are usually quite casual about it, and relaxed.  And so it was on this morning with lots of things to look at but nothing of interest jumping forward.  I looked in all the booths where I would regularly find something, and it was all “sorry, not this time.”  I wandered around for another ten minutes or so and decided it was time to find Jeanine and barring her having found something of interest suggesting we split.  Then I looked down at the floor in a booth otherwise filled with china figurines and tea cups and there on a little box sat a really interesting old snare drum. I don’t have a lot of knowledge of musical instruments, but I know that a good one can be worth a lot of money, and also that this is particularly the case in some handmade instruments such as violins, and in classic guitars and drums associated with rock and roll.  Also, as you continue in the trade if you are paying attention you continue to develop an instinct for age are rarity.

When I laid eyes on this drum, it immediately hit all my buttons.  Obviously early and in untouched but good condition, it was made of pattern engraved chrome.  There on the side above the air hole was an early Ludwig drum logo.  The heads were ripped and the springs were hanging loose but I could see that everything that mattered was there.  I anxiously turned over the price tag already calculating how many hundreds I would be willing to risk on this venture.  $28.  I  was elated.  And below it written old chrome snare drum, and the venders number, so I knew it was legit.  I clung that thing to me like a beloved baby and scurried over to Jeanine.

“Have you found anything?” I asked.  “Nope. What’s that you’re holding?”  I could barely contain myself. It’s a really cool, old snare drum, and it’s only $28.”  “But is it worth anything?  Look the top is all ripped and torn, and besides are we buying drums now?”  Well there are times when you can be patient and have a meaningful discussion, and then there are times when you just want to buy something and get the hell out of there before someone clues in, so I was a tad abrupt.  “Yes, today we are.  I know what I’m doing and we are buying this drum. Trust me”.   Jeanine could sense my excitement,  and so even though she did not share in it, she tossed me one of her famous Gallic shrugs and said “whatever”.

The guy at the checkout was suspicious.  “Where did you get this?  I didn’t see this come in.”  In that booth over there I gestured, and it is clearly priced at $28 with a description, and booth number, so I would like to buy it now please.”  He rung it up registering his reluctance, and as soon as he handed me the receipt, jeanine and I were out of there as fast as we could go. Reminds me of that great Ikea commercial that comes on around Christmas where the woman shouts “Start the car.”  No ne followed us.  So the drum came home.

Without doing any research I knew that we would at least get a few hundred dollars for the drum based on aesthetic value alone.  Then research revealed that it was a very special drum made  by Ludwig from the 1920’s until the mid-1930’s called the “Black Beauty”. It was made from a single sheet of brass that is machine drawn into a seamless beaded shell, and has a specific and revered tone.  We still didn’t know what this might mean in terms of dollar value,  but we realized that we needed to reach the widest range of  drum aficionados possible so we listed it on E-Bay.  Jeanine was listing a lot of French pottery at the time so this was not for her typical buyers, but by putting Ludwig Black Beauty in the listing we were sure to catch anyone doing a search.

I think we started it at $100 thinking that if the worst came to worst we’d be fine with that, and then we went about our business and didn’t check until the next morning.  Holy moly, it’s up to $600 already!  We were pretty happy right there.  Then over the next four days we had the great fun of checking in on advancements.  Watching it creep up and up until the hammer finally came down at $2,800 U.S.  Not enough to retire on, but enough for us to go to France for a family visit and picking trip. What we felt can only be described as ecstatic, tainted only slightly with a nagging suspicion that it was not at all likely to happen again.  At least not soon.  Lightening striking twice, and all that.  Still, I’m a big believer in counting my blessings, and celebrating the little victories.

With a little help from our friends – Closing Shadfly

last day sale

last day sale

Today, September 30th marks the one year anniversary of the sale of the Shadfly Antiques building, and as it happens the 11th anniversary of our purchasing the building in 2005.  We had a great run of it, and loved having what we considered to be a great little antique shop, but the upkeep of the building and dealing with tenants had taken it’s tole on our enthusiasm, not to mention the downturn in the antique business.

last day sale

last day sale

As planned, we did a review of operations at the end of 9 years of operation, as well as hiring a professional building inspector to look over what needed to be done to the building, and when we looked at the figures we decided we it was time.  We bought the building reasonably and did not have to invest much money to set up two upstairs apartments and the main floor shop.  Not much money, but a lot of time and effort, and the building had been “good to us” for nine years, not requiring any major repairs, but it was getting harder to find good, reliable tenants, and when a blocked sewer pipe cost us $1,200 to repair with a warning from the plumber that it might soon need to be totally replaced at an estimated cost of $12,000, we started to get nervous.  Then the building inspection presented many more problems like an impending roof replacement, etc., so we took the practical step to get out before a large investment would be necessary.  We priced it reasonably and it sold within two weeks.

last day sale

last day sale

We were able to establish a four-month period before the deal closing, which allowed us time to clear the larger stock, and move the smalls and folk art which we would continue with on-line into the basement of our house next door.  It was a very busy four months I can tell you.  My side-kick Albert and I had a lot of cleaning up and painting to get the basement presentable, and there was all that furniture to move.  We held a big clearing sale for the month of August with a last day celebration and sale the weekend of September 6/7 which was a great successful in terms of sales and saying goodbye to our many local friends and customers.   I can attest that nothing improves sales like closing shop.  We were motivated sellers, and many realized that it would be their last, best chance to score a few items that they had been eyeing over the years. It was a great last day. A mixture of joy, celebration, and a little sadness; and when it was over we closed the door for the last time and started to take apart the shop in earnest the very next day.

last day sale

last day sale

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Paul moving books

We chose Tuesday September, 22 as the day to move the remaining stock from Shadfly to our basement, planning to take the remaining stock the following day to a storage unit which we decided we would need for a couple of months to deal with the surplus.  We were surprised and delighted when hearing of our plan, some friends offered to help.  People can be so wonderful, can’t they? It’s one thing to have a couple of buddies help you move to your college digs.  It’s quite another at our age to be slogging heavy boxes. Many hands do indeed make for light work.  Jeanine and I spent many days packing so that on that fateful morning when 6 friends, as it turns out, arrived all we had to do was get everything from point a to b.  We thought this might take until about 1p.m. and then it would be pizza and beer, and thank you folks, but we were so efficient that when 11 o’clock rolled around everything was moved over, and instead of quitting, our friends decided that they would continue and would help move the three truck-loads of items to the storage unit.  What a team.

Carma and her new friend

Carma and her new friend

There was a natural and relaxed order to things. A person received the boxes in each of the basement storage rooms, Albert got everything down the stairs, Jeanine and I loaded people from the Shadfly end and the rest of just carried things over.  We had considered a “human chain” passing the boxes from hand to hand but it was rejected as a concept being too hard to keep the timing right, and with too much passing of things from hand to hand.  The difference between theory, and practice.  It was a beautiful morning.  The crew remained cheerful; and by 2 p.m we were sitting down to pizza and beer with a warm glow of gratitude and relief filling the room.

Jan passes to Jeanine

Jan passes to Jeanine

If that wasn’t enough, another friend who coudn’t make it on the moving day, came a couple of days later to help Albert and I move the final things to our garage and clean up the place.

Jan passes to Cindy

Jan passes to Cindy

orangesign

Mission accomplished.  Many thanks and deep gratitude to those involved.  You know who you are.  It is a wonderful fact that in our hour of need, our friends came forward and made what seemed an unsurmountable task, a piece of cake.  We’ll get by with a little help from our friends, with a little help from our friends.