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Back when "Flying Was Fun" Alexandra Smythe and Cate Clarke were Flight Attendants with a Major International Carrier. Prior to Private Jets coming into vogue, Alexandra and Cate traveled in the First Class World, meeting and greeting the top celebrities, politicians who would become Presidents, nouveau riche, and yes the occasional Headline Grabbing Criminal in Handcuffs!

What the two ladies viewed and experienced became fodder for the School of Flaunt, so much money, such bad taste and oh those terrible manners. Something had to be done! Hence, The School of Flaunt Handbook was born. Read More

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CUSTODIANS OF HISTORY by Mary Helen McCoy

Category: Guest Writers  |  Permalink

Published: Tuesday, November 13, 2012

 

 

CUSTODIANS OF HISTORY by Mary Helen McCoy 

The last couple of days, I have been pulling photos of wonderful pieces of French furniture and decorative arts for a lecture I am preparing to give on Friday, October 19 in Cashiers, North Carolina. The Cashiers Historical Society is holding their second antiques show which draws people from the Carolinas, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky and Virginia. This antique show event will not have the famous dealers we read about in most trade magazines nor will they belong to the prestigious organizations many of us do. They will be dealers whose inventories will reflect more decorative items. They are exhibiting to a crowd of people not likely to jet to New York to view The Fall International Fine Arts and Antiques Fair or The Winter Antique Show although their pocketbooks could stand the test of any show. The people for the most part will be a collection of part time residents who enjoy the area during the summer and the fall. Their expensive homes are decorated casually and rustic. As I go through my photographs I keep thinking what I sell is a far cry from what will exhibited on the floor. I ask myself why the show committee chose to bring a high level antique dealer to speak instead of an acclaimed interior designer. My thoughts are quickly dismissed because this is a community of luxury second homes and I need to remember that not all people who have the finances want to live with "the best antique" furniture in all or any of their homes. Their interests may be Antique Automobiles, Guns, Wines and other collectors items. My goal is to impress on them to be aware of the pitfalls but for the most part encourage the joys of collecting, as they are the temporary stewards of whatever they collect for a short time in history.

CONSERVATION IS PERMITTED

 

Those of us in the antique furniture and decorative arts trade just cannot "get over" the fact that everyone does not want to live with "our things". We have heard so many various "excuses" why we are out of "style". My challenge is to address the 30 and 40 year old crowd in the room by illustrating to them that these pieces I present on the screen, need or were in need of "adopting" and are able to live among their children, which seems to be the most popular reason not to buy. We all know that "disposable furnishings" seem to be what is popular today even among the most affluent. By presenting the facts that this furniture was built to withstand the elements of a chateau; the household cleaning of the chateau as well as the use for which the piece was built should eliminate the idea that all antiques are too fragile to live with. Also, I mean to correct the rumor the public has fallen for, that the word restoration or conservation is a bad word. The restoration or conservation of French antiques is allowed. A dealer in French Renaissance furniture is surely going to repair the inside of a beautifully carved drawer, which has been attacked by nasty bugs, as opposed to allowing the sides to crumble into dust. If all the gilded wood on mirrors, seating, consoles was truly original and never cleaned or re-gilded in some or all areas then no one would want them. The treasured Chateaux in France are constantly being conserved and large amounts of money are solicited in order to accomplish this.

THE UNDERSTANDING AND APPRECIATION OF OUR HISTORY

Educating the public is another purpose now as a person in the antiques trade. There is so much ignorance and the ignorance begins with the common lack of understanding and appreciation of history. I plan to "talk straight" and give them a happy insight into how the people lived in the previous 2, 3 or 4 centuries. There will be no flowery language with the French terms, just plain spoken English, so that I may dispel the notion that those of us who trade at the highest levels are not a circle of elitists. I will also use my design skills to show and tell them how to mix various styles. We as furniture dealers need to accept the fact that the days of the public wanting period rooms has been waning for years now.

 

Last but now least I will do my best to convince this crowd that the auction houses, who even we as dealers depend on from time to time, are not the presumed avenue to build the best collections or find that one or two special pieces. This audience needs to understand the purpose of a good dealer, the passion of a good dealer and the plus from working with a good dealer. They need to understand the true value of working one on one with a dealer and understand that when they buy from us, as dealers, we have more purpose for our inventories than the revolving door of an auction house. We will be there for them after the sale has finalized.

All these things I will try to do as I speak about my passion, the French decorative arts, primarily of the eighteenth century. They will see photos of examples of my inventory, many sold long ago, as I try to give them a vision of incorporating these furnishings into the Twenty first century. I will show them photos of my own design work for a couple of client/collectors which include pieces from my inventory and share remarks about editing the room now to fit a less formal lifestyle. The plan is to offer other alternatives before the remarks "that is so formal" can enter their heads. As the speaker, I must open the minds of those in the room. They will hear stories of learning from my mentors; the deliberate pursuit of acquiring; working with the best restorers; and the interesting tid bits of exhibiting at an International Art and Antiques Fair.

When I walk the floor Thursday night at the opening event I will take the time to look carefully at the stock in each dealer's booth and reveal to the luncheon crowd several items I spot on the floor, which could be wonderful examples with which to start a collection or have in their home. That could be anything as long as it is an example of good form, originality, condition and represents a fair price. The purpose is to get the public more interested again in buying antiques and collectors items so that as this economy improves however slowly we are all not a dying breed. We have had a tough several years and this may be the new norm, however, if the opportunity arises we need to share our experiences and ideas to the public as a commitment to this trade we love.

THINKING OUTSIDE THE BOX

As you look at a few of the pieces I will include in my presentation you can see how they relate to what I am going to say. The shape and form of a Louis XIV Period marquetry commode stylistically can fit in any room whether surrounded by contemporary furnishings and modern art or other like kind pieces. The powerful presence of the armoire from Lyon is strong enough to carry a room and take the abuse from the worst behaved children. The storage capacity would be wonderful in any room even in a large kitchen this magnificent piece could serve wonderful pantry. The console with the strong legs and marble top which takes four men to move, can adjust it's presence in any room with modern lighting on the surface and a contemporary painting above. New ideas and thinking outside the box are what is going to help jump start this business. I look forward to my lecture now and I shall look forward to sharing the outcome with those of you who share the passion for the Fine Decorative Arts.

All my best,

Mary-Helen McCoy

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