The Bowmanville Antiques and Folk Art Show

Spring has finally sprung! Spring brings Easter and for those of us who love Canadian antiques, Easter also brings the Bowmanville Antiques and Folk Art Show. Bowmanville is considered a top destination for early Canadian antiques. It’s a vetted show, meaning that all items for sale are checked for authenticity before the doors open. You can be sure you are seeing premiere Canadian country furniture, pottery, textiles and folk art at Bowmanville.

The Bowmanville show has been held on Easter weekend (Friday night and Saturday) for many years in Bowmanville, Ontario (a short drive from Toronto). My parents used to attend as dealers and even as a teenager I knew Bowmanville was special. People would line up to get in right at 6pm on Friday. When the doors opened the hall would suddenly be charged with voices and movement as collectors shot from booth to booth – sometimes making purchases in minutes.

This year we arrived ten minutes after doors opened but yes, people had still lined up, and when we entered the room was crowded and noisy. The crowd was mostly older, probably long time collectors, but I was encouraged to see a few younger faces as well. Bowmanville is a show that serious collectors who love this type of antique wait all year to attend. The dealers are top quality and they bring out their best.

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This year the show also featured a selection of (not for sale) antique Canadian trade signs, displayed in the entrance hallway near the washrooms and doors. It was a great use of the space, and a welcome addition. People often talk about educating buyers and I would love to see all the shows embrace more exhibition and guest speakers.

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We spent the first hour hustling from booth to booth, saying hello to friends (many of the dealers regularly post their stock on Collectivator), and seeing what we might be able to take home. The crowd made photography a bit difficult, but dealer Adrian Tinline kindly let me copy some of his pics taken right before the show started. These pics are from the popular Canadiana Facebook page, a great hub for Canadian antique enthusiasts. As you can see, the booths at Bowmanville looked amazing. The huge effort the dealers put into showcasing their stock is always a treat in itself.

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As with every year I’ve attended Bowmanville, there were a few missed buys. A few years ago it was a tobacco cutter. This year it was a small blanket box. In both cases we hesitated and walked away, and both times the item sold by the time we reconsidered. Let this be a lesson – don’t hesitate if you know you want something! This year we were able to quickly pull the trigger on a folky parrot shelf from Wendy Hamilton Antiques and a lovely green tramp art mirror from Croydon House. Our dining room has a “tropical” theme, with antique furniture and folk art mixed in. The shelf obviously fits and looks great on the yellow walls. I may use it to hold a selection of my vintage tiki mugs. The mirror is still looking for the perfect spot but this beautiful small object will compliment any room.

 

The Bowmanville show is expertly run and from what I saw there were healthy sales this year. Mostly smalls, as is the general trend, but some outstanding large pieces of farm country furniture were marked “Sold” in the first hour. I encourage anyone to attend Bowmanville, even if it’s just to see some museum worthy examples of our material heritage. Many items are priced reasonably, especially for the quality. You will find beautiful, interesting and rare objects in every booth, and that makes Bowmanville an exciting destination for any antique and folk art enthusiast.

Celebrate Canada with Canadian Antiques

It’s July 1st, and that means it’s Canada Day! This year Canada turns 148 and I wanted to mark the occasion by featuring a few pieces of Canada’s material heritage. On Collectivator the sellers regularly post fantastic pieces of antique Canadian furniture, smalls, and art. These unique items provide a glimpse into the lives and culture of early Canadians. There are so many items I could use, but these are four that caught my eye (links in title go to original posts on Collectivator). I think these items are beautiful as well as historically interesting, and perfect for a day when we celebrate our country’s past.

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Antique Cradle from Nova Scotia – It seems appropriate to celebrate a birthday with a cradle. We have a few on Collectivator (both for babies and for dolls) but this one is my pick because of the beautiful original green paint outside, and the robin’s egg blue interior. That is just a gorgeous colour combination, and reminds me of the ocean (fitting a maritime item). It actually predates confederation with the seller dating it to 1830. It is a simple piece but one that perfectly encapsulates the union of form and function in an item common to Canada’s early homes.

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Fraktur by Mennonite Folk Artist Anna Weber – This beautiful piece of artwork is a Fraktur; a Pennsylvania German art form that combines calligraphic and pictorial elements to decorate religious and family documents. Frakturs were often made as gifts for friends and family in Mennonite households. This particular Fraktur is by artist Anna Weber from Waterloo County, Ontario. Anna Weber was known for her strong visual elements and use of motifs like the tree of life, birds and flowers. This Fraktur is dated 1873, and is signed by the artist.

Mi’kmaq Fishing Creel – This antique fishing creel made by the Mi’kmaq people of Eastern Canada is a good example of traditional methods and developed technique. Aboriginal antiques come in many forms, but I wanted to highlight this utilitarian item specifically because it is also a work of art. I admire useful items that are finely made with such aesthetic consideration. Although not as decorated as many Aboriginal antiques, this 100 year old fishing creel nonetheless reflects the distinct culture and life of its makers.

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Wall Box Dated 1908 – Wall shelves or boxes are somewhat common in Canadian antiques. Much like the square versions of today, these boxes would hang on the wall and serve to display special items or keep little things organized. No matter how small the house, a homeowner could always find room for a wall box. What makes this one so great is the hand carved “1908” date, and the photograph of two stylish young men. It’s not a selfie, but the photograph proves that even people at the turn of the century wanted to look cool.

History is often best understood through the lives of everyday people. One of my favourite things about working on Collectivator is learning about Canadian history through the items that people post. I’m always being introduced to something new (ironically, with something old). I hope you enjoyed a little bit of Canadian history today and Happy Canada Day!

Happy Canada Day from Collectivator

The Leslieville Flea

Last Sunday was a lovely early fall day – perfect for shunning indoor chores and going for a stroll. We decided to check out a small vintage show near where we live – the Leslieville Flea. Leslieville is a hip neighbourhood along Queen street in Toronto, full of funky businesses and some of our favourite restaurants. The Leslieville Flea is open 10am – 4pm, on the 3rd Sunday of every month from June to October.

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The Leslieville Flea operates behind The Duke.

I was curious about “the flea” (not sure if that’s the official nickname but it sounds cool) because it represents a growing movement in the whole antiques industry – what I call the melting pot vintage space. In these usually urban spaces the emphasis is on a style rather than traditional definitions of antiques or vintage. It’s a place where mass produced mid century design is sold alongside rustic antiques, and salvaged items can be mixed with brand new artisan crafts. There are clothing dealers and nostalgia items. There is glorious glorious kitsch. It’s a place I think many new collectors feel comfortable in because it’s reasonably priced ($15 – $50 for many items) and the sellers are friendly. It is in variety similar to a normal flea market but taken up many notches on the “ratio of stuff I actually want to buy” scale. You will probably not find early painted 19th century furniture, but you also won’t see boxes of random tupperware lids.

We had a great time touring the three rows of booths and looking at the stock.  Although not a large show, we saw everything from classic Canadiana like antique snowshoes, to 1980s toys, to large pieces of furniture like vintage Canada Post mail sorters (displayed as a possible wine rack). You could spend a lot of money on high quality collectibles or a little money on something easy to carry home. Some of it felt like it had a “hipster markup” on the price, but most things were very reasonable. The dealers were happy to tell you about the items, and honest enough to admit when they didn’t know something. Most importantly, we found a bunch of stuff to buy! The trip was a complete success and I would gladly visit again.

The dealers were also very social media savvy and encouraged me to take photographs, so here be a bunch of pictures!

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Anson is about to grab that vintage fan from Coco & Bear. It still works! I love how the design makes absolutely no attempt to stop wayward fingers from whirling blades.

Bakelite

A gorgeous selection of Bakelite from Lucky Patina. They also sell vintage brass jewelry.

Chinese Checkers Board

Anson finds a 1950s Chinese Checkers board. Is this the start of a new collection?

Vintage Pennants

Vintage felt pennants from Bragg & Bee. I had to buy that one on top.

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Put a bird on it. A bowlful of cute and kitschy buttons!

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A good selection of vintage clothes for the vintage clothes horse (or human) from MaPtiteChouette

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I’m not sure what that wheel does, but it looks exciting.

Custom signs

Signs made out of reclaimed lumber and licence plates available from Fair Judy’s.

Terrariums

Beautiful terrariums from crown flora studio

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With all my purchases and ready to head home.

Special “not so fast!” coda: We bought a few things I didn’t photograph until later:

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A bit of beach in a bottle. Blue tinted Crown jars for a friend.

Kitschy mushroom needlepoint

My kitschy toadstool needlepoint. The frame is good, and the mushrooms are very mushroomy. A small piece to inject some cozy into a corner of the house.

Arcade marquees

Plexiglass Marquees from old “Growl” and “Circus Charlie” arcade machines. Cool things to put on a wall and way easier to collect and display than the actual machines.

Growl Marquee

I picked out this Growl marquee based purely on the image. The lions and text are great. Apparently the game’s plot is about a man saving wild animals from evil poachers. A very special added bonus is that it looks like the hero isn’t wearing pants.

Until next time, Leslieville!

Canadian Folk Art to 1950 Book Launch

Last weekend I had the pleasure to attend the book launch of Canadian Folk Art to 1950 and accompanying folk art exhibit at the Ingram Gallery in downtown Toronto. The gallery was a lovely space (they also exhibit an impressive selection of contemporary Canadian art) and the staff were very welcoming. It was a great chance to catch up a bit with Collectivator sellers, old family friends, and folk art enthusiasts alike. There was a small but inspiring selection of high quality Canadian folk art on exhibit and for sale, including substantial works from Ewald Rentz, Joe Norris, Leo Fournier and Gilbert Desrochers. Some of the pieces were sold by the time we left (and we only stayed an hour!) but the show will continue until the end of December 2012. If you are a collector in Toronto you will want to check it out.

The small gallery space was packed to the gills with people, so it was hard to take photographs, but here are some impressions of the event:

Book launch crowd

Two large figures by Ewald Rentz

Painting by Joe Norris and Woman with Child by Ewald Rentz

Phillip Ross & gallery owner John Ingram

While the folk art was great to see, it was also a fitting backdrop for a launch of the book Canadian Folk Art to 1950. It was a pleasure to meet the authors John Fleming and Michael Rowan, as well as photographer James Chambers. I haven’t had a chance to read the book cover to cover yet, but I am impressed by the scope of work featured. Everything from purely decorative folk art like paintings and carvings are covered, as well as utilitarian pieces like hooked rugs, plant stands, trade signs and pharmacies. There are just under 500 large beautifully photographed images with careful examination of each piece. The book is organized into seventeen sections that focus on a particular type of folk art and its importance to the folk art tradition, as well as the cultural history of Canada.

Michael Rowan, James Chambers and John Fleming

Author Michael Rowan, Photographer James Chambers, and Author John Fleming (photograph courtesy of Ingram Gallery)

When I spoke to photographer James Chambers he said it took over five years to put the book together and I can believe it. From what I have read so far, I think this is a book many Canadian history and folk art enthusiasts would enjoy. It also serves as a useful introduction to folk art for those just starting to appreciate this wonderful artistic tradition.

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“Canadian Folk Art to 1950” book cover

There is more information about Canadian Folk art to 1950 in this PDF (canadian_folk_art), as well as on the Ingram Gallery website. You can buy the book from the Ingram Gallery, through the publishers at the University of Alberta press, or in bookstores. The holidays are coming and this would make a great gift for the folk art fan on your list! It is truly a major contribution to the Canadian folk art legacy. I know I am very happy to have a copy and will enjoy it for years to come.

Vintage Mounties

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A few of the vintage Mounties in my collection

As a Canadian, not to mention a general fan of square-jawed, stoic men in uniform, I’ve always been fond of the classic RCMP officer. Red coats, Stetson hats, a hair cut you can set your watch to, and a noble steed to ride. The classic RCMP  (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) or “Mountie” has it all. The Mountie is an icon of Canadian culture. When you say “Canadian” in other parts of the world, the Mountie is probably an image that comes to mind (maybe along with a hockey player, snow and the general idea of trees). He might be a cliché and not at all representative of the diverse people who comprise the modern RCMP force, but the image endures thanks in large part to the plethora of items made in his image. Some of these items are souvenirs and some are advertising to capitalize on a Canadian association with certain products. As a kid, for instance, I remember being in France and seeing Canada Dry commercials featuring a friendly, fully uniformed Mountie sitting in a bar pushing ginger ale. It was silly, but darned if it didn’t make me feel patriotic.

Since the RCMP formed in 1920, the image of the “Red Serge” or “Review Order” uniformed Mountie became so popular it actually became a problem. By 1995 there were so many shoddy, illegal copies of  the RCMP image running rampant on everything from pro wrestlers to cartoons that they famously struck a deal with the Walt Disney corporation to help control their copyright. In 2000 the RCMP decided  not to renew their Disney contract, saying they now had enough knowledge and experience with commercial licensing to protect the image on their own. Today the RCMP sell their own lines of souvenirs with reproduction images.

While new RCMP merchandise is actually really nice, there’s nothing stopping you from collecting the real vintage stuff. By and large, because there was so much made with Mounties, you can pick and choose different types of objects to collect depending on your space and budget. Let’s take a look at some of my items to give you an idea:

Reliable Plastic Mountie

This handsome fellow makes sure the plants are well protected.

This is one of my plastic Mountie figures. These were made in Toronto, Canada by the Reliable Plastic Company. The Reliable Company made, well, pretty reliable toys and these figures have held up well over the years. They have varying degrees of ware and tear. Some of them still say “R.C.M.P Canada” on the base, but on mine the letters have worn off. The back of the base is stamped with the words “RELIABLE MADE IN CANADA”. They are 8″ tall, and sell for around $15 – $30 depending on condition. These figures were made between the 1950s and 1960s, and can be quite easily found today in antique shops and online.

The following two plaster figures are vintage advertisements for Drewrys beer featuring RCMP officers and real glass beer bottles. The Redwood brewery (not the Drewry brewery for reasons one can only assume had to do with alliteration), was founded in Winnipeg, Manitoba in 1877. The company also opened a brewery in South Bend, Indiana in the 1930s following the end of prohibition. By 1936 all actual beer production took place on US soil.

Even when the beer was made in the USA, the Mountie was still used to advertise Drewrys beer. The figures that feature the trio of a Mountie, horse and beer bottle are especially sought after by collectors. Most of these figures were made in the 1940s and sell for $100 – $200 dollars today. I bought both my Drewry Mounties at the same time from the same dealer, and made a deal for both. The first one is smaller and has a miniature glass bottle. The second figure (with horse) has a full size bottle and a flat back for easy mounting on a wall. It’s a great item for a kitchen or bar area.  The Drewry Mounties are a collectible that straddles two fairly large areas of collecting: RCMP and beer. For that reason they are a good investment for the money.

Drewrys Mountie #1Drewrys Mountie #2

Mountie Salt & Pepper shakers

Finally, I’d like to show off two little men who make salt and pepper a charming addition to any table. I don’t know what company made these salt and pepper shakers. I can guess that they are from the 1950s but I’m not sure. They have small chips and discolourations. These are not prize pieces but I like them and they probably cost less than $20.

My point is that even if you don’t pay much, or expect to recoup your investment, vintage RCMP pieces can add charm and interest to your home. Plus who can resist a man in uniform? I’ll show you more items from my vintage Mountie collection later. If you have any comments I’d love to hear them!

Oh, and remember that deal the RCMP made with Disney to stop fraudulent but perhaps hilarious use of their image? Thank goodness it didn’t take effect until after Monty Python gave us this: