My grandmother Nannie had good taste, especially in decorative arts (inherited antiques). She also had a habit of inspecting people as closely as she did furniture. Her eyes swept over any new acquaintance hauled home for a visit. After pleasantries, she would shift to Old South dowager mode and inquire, “Who ah yo-ah pipple?” Translation: “Who are your people?”
That phrase implied her expectation of a who-what-when-where-how-why verbal press release from the soul who had just crossed the threshold. Southerners live this concept. Strangers from Virginia to Arkansas immediately engage in the dance of who-you-know-and-why-and-where. Usually they end up tripping over a common connection.
This past Mardi Gras, I showed up at an Alliance Française de Lynchburg dinner, anxious about the garbled tenses that might fall out of my mouth. I plopped down at a table, expecting the subtle corrections of French natives. They somehow weave in a grammar lesson while graciously conversing. It is a great double-mental feat. Salut!
However, Bacchus and the Gallic grammar gods cut me a break. I ended up at the table of the Lynchburg Dante Alighieri Society. The French had politely invited this crew to their event. I froze about my non-operatic ability to speak Italian. “Mamma-mia”—that’s about it. Worse, I had picked up that short vocab from the cheesy song by the Swedish pop group ABBA.
Then a kind woman assured me that a lot of the group did not speak Italian but relished the movies and the wine. Wow. I was ready to plunk down $35 annual dues just to hang out with these relaxed folks.
So what does this have to do with Nannie’s “Who ah yo-ah pipple?”
To my right sat a low-key gentleman—Raymond Stokes. We knocked out our southern name-game connection in about five sentences. We had both known the late but oh-so-fab Emyl Jenkins (celebrated senior appraiser of decorative arts and author from Richmond). We immediately jumped on love of antiques, and the conversation was off and running. The parmigiana di melanzane went cold on my plate.
Since landing in the Old Dominion—”down where the South begins”—I have tricky-trotted from one little antiques joint to another in seek of budget busters. But Raymond raised my decorative arts taste meter.
In 1986, he and his wife Martha and friends Sanford and Mary Ferguson hit on a brilliant idea: stage a regional antiques show with topnotch antiques at reasonable prices. Thus were born Heritage Promotions and the Shenandoah Antiques Expo held every May and October in Fishersville, Virginia (I-64, Exit 91). Raymond invited me to the upcoming event on May 9 and 10. It is antiques paradise at heavenly prices.
This super-show is a sprawling indoor/outdoor event. “Our expo has grown into one of the most highly anticipated antiques shows in the Mid-Atlantic,” Raymond said. “Thousands of folks return to Fishersville because they scooped up cherished collectibles or antique furniture on their last trip.”
Serious and novice collectors as well as weekend travel buffs head for the gathering of 300+ expert dealers who set up indoors, with hundreds more outdoors. The extravaganza attracts antiques aficionados from Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Tennessee, and North Carolina.
“Collectors show up by sunrise on Friday to wait for the gates to open at nine o’clock,” Raymond said. “They comb exhibition halls, barns, tents, and stalls—and hit gold—even off trucks in the parking lot. The most avid collectors will hunt from dawn to dusk.”
Just my thing. I’ve hit some Paris markets, even in mid-winter, for gloriously galore shopping.
The Shenandoah Antiques Expo has a reputation for fine 18th- and 19th-century American and English period antiques. Polished Chippendale furniture turns the heads of discerning clients who prefer traditional design.
Visitors also uncover a trove of jewelry, silver, glassware, primitives, rugs, and better collectibles such as doorstops, decorated stoneware, art, decoys, toys and Civil War memorabilia. Tastemakers of another sort snap up country Americana, such as early 19th-century painted furniture, and mid-century modern that tuck into eclectic interiors.
The show offers triple value, Raymond said. He quickly ticked them off. “First, attendees find authentic pieces at fair prices. Why go to New York or even D.C. and spend more?
“Second, we draw the most reputable dealers from Florida to Maine. It’s not just about the sale. They take time to share curatorial expertise with anybody who has a question.”
Then Raymond grinned: “Third, the expo is sheer entertainment for anybody bitten by the antiques bug or somebody looking for a fun weekend. For a two-day $10 pass and free parking, you can search for a special piece that jumps out, and you know it’s a keeper.”
Done deal. I have $10 and sharp eyeballs. Time to load up the charge card.
My first spring weekend getaway is on the calendar: May 9 and 10.
Although my parmigiana di melanzane went untouched on Mardi Gras because of the ever so charming Mr. Stokes, I will visually feast on the good stuff at the 54th Shenandoah Antiques Expo. And I will count on meeting some of “my pipple” while wandering the grounds.
What: The 54th Shenandoah Antiques Expo sponsored by Heritage Promotions
Who: 300+ expert dealers from Florida to Maine who offer quality pieces at fair prices
When: May 9, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and May 10, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Where: The Augusta Expo, 277 Expo Road, Fishersville, VA 22939
La Divina Commedia di Dante (shot by Jastro)
Southern Map. Nick Roux. Source: Map-USA-South Ol.svg
ABBA 2008, 7, 30. Reprint from Flikr Administrator Martin H. Uploaded by Japan Maik. Author: Bengt Nyman
Antiques and collectibles courtesy of Heritage Promotions and the 54th Shenandoah Antiques Expo