Focus on textiles, needlework at New York's Winter Antiques Show

Although antique buying and selling knows no seasons, one of the most prestigious events of the year does come in blustery January, when the Winter Antiques Show in New York enables 72 leading dealers to exhibit their choicest objects and to test the market for the cr`eme de la cr`eme of antiques of every period. This year the show opens on Jan. 26 and runs through Feb. 3 at the Seventh Regiment Armory on Park Avenue at 67th Street.

Potential customers will fly in from all parts of the world to view and to buy, to enjoy the sumptuous settings, and, by admission tickets and funds raised by the opening gala, to benefit the East Side House Settlement in the South Bronx.

This 31st annual version of the show will once again exhibit fine American, English, French, Russian, and Oriental antiques. The gleam of porcelain and silver, the rich patina of well-preserved wood, the decorative appeal of colorful prints and paintings -- indeed all the artifacts of past centuries that have been so carefully garnered for presentation here -- will present a visual feast of the old and beautiful.

Getting ready for the show has not been easy. Dealers interviewed recently all spoke of diminishing sources, difficulties in finding the finest examples, and upward spiraling prices for the best pieces. A common complaint: ``There is too little to buy now of top quality.'' Most admit they have to work much harder these days to locate their finds and that they squirrel away things all year to bring to this show.

This year, there will be increased focus on antique textiles and needlework, including rugs, quilts, tapestries, samplers, embroidered pictures, silk brocades, and other vintage fabrics. Although show manager Russell Carrell sees Americana in as strong a position as ever, he does cite the rising interest of young collectors in antique textiles and needlework.

``I've always used old fabrics in my decorating,'' says New York interior designer Mario Buatta, chairman of the show. ``Now more and more clients are demanding old brocades and chintzes for their homes. Old fabrics are part of the desire to romanticize interiors again and to break away from the sterile, minimalist look. I bought up dozens of late 19th-century chintz curtains in London recently. Sometimes I make new curtains from them, or cover a wall with them. They are mellow and marvelous. Old tapestries, too, are becoming very popular for use in contemporary settings. The whole late 19th century is coming very much into fashion, and I am now sensing a far more relaxed attitude about Victorian furniture.''

Marguerite Riordan, a Stonington, Conn., dealer, agrees that there is much new interest in good textiles. ``With paintings so expensive,'' she says, ``many people would rather hang something of higher quality in textiles. I tend toward samplers and silk embroideries, both of which are good value for their age and quality. Of course, condition is very important. If a piece is in poor condition, it hardly matters how early or rare it is. Buyers of fine needlework include collectors of American furniture and paintings who want an example of one more true American art form.''

Twenty-five years ago Miss Riordan was selling such pieces for $100 to $400; now she is showing just one piece under $5,000, a few under $10,000, and one at $14,000. ``When the condition, provenance, the subject, and the color all come together, these pieces now bring a lot of money. Auction prices for prime examples of such needlework have recently gone as high as $20,000 to $60,000.''

Patty Gargarin, a dealer from Fairfield, Conn., who deals in what she calls ``extraordinary high-style country'' antiques, including weathervanes, trade signs, paintings, and folk art, will be featuring a collection of hooked rugs, which she terms ``the biggest bargain around in the way of a graphic that you can hang on the wall.'' They are ``colorful, charming, and amusing,'' she says, ``and the patterns include geometrics, florals, and animals.'' The rugs were hooked between about 1880 and 1920, and their prices at the show will range from $300 to $l,000, or more. ``Where,'' she asks, ``could you buy a 3-by-5-foot painting to hang on the wall for $300?''

Elinor Merrell, a New York dealer who has been collecting antique textiles for more than 50 years, will this year exhibit 18th-century French woodblock prints and English printed fabrics, as well as a rare 18th-century East India Company tree-of-life cotton panel. Such panels, she explains, both painted and partly dyed, were the principal design influence for all the European printed chintzes that followed.

Museums, collectors, and interior designers are Miss Merrell's chief customers for old textiles, although she also sells historically important swatches to fabric houses for reproduction. A Japanese woman recently selected many of her things to be included in an exhibition of European textiles in Japan. Miss Merrell attributes the increasing interest in textiles to the fact that ``everybody flies all over the world today, and they can see where the fabrics originated and how they were used.''

Cora E. Ginsburg, a Madison Avenue dealer, will enhance the formal English furniture in her booth with a Queen Anne embroidered bedspread and a number of 17th- and 18th-century English needlework picture and samplers, plus some 18th-century silk brocades. The brocades come in small pieces, perhaps enough to cover a stool or a chair, and sell at $350 to $650 a yard, but she feels they are still undervalued for what they are. ``I have been in this business for 40 years,'' says the dealer, ``and I have always bought and sold needlework pictures, brocades, and costumes because they fascinate me. Now others are becoming more aware of their charm.''

Thomas K. Woodard, one of New York's leading quilt dealers, sees an ever-increasing interest and appreciation of value in quilts of exceptional quality. ``I have detected no waning of interest over my 12 years in business, although more people are now discriminating and selective,'' he says. ``Each year they learn more about quilts and become better-educated collectors.

``Our quilts, which date from 1800 to 1940, still sell generally in the $500 to $1,000 price range, although some go into the thousands. Two years ago we sold a Baltimore album quilt in perfect condition for $26,000, but that was because not more than 50 such quilts were made in Baltimore in the 1850s. Right now, we think collectors will find good values in those 20th-century quilts made in the 1920s and '30s, a period when there was a great quilting revival in this country and when many wonderful quilts were made.''

Peter Schaffer, of A La Vieille Russie, will also show some 18th- and 19th-century textiles, as well as some colorful fabric Russian wedding hats. ``The trend for decorating with Russian antiques and porcelains has really amazed us,'' he says. ``The Russian look is now far more accepted, including furniture, jewelry, porcelains, and pictures. There has been an amazing recent upsurge. We have well noted the `discovery' of Russian furniture and its quality in the antique world and think it is no longer a `second' or `third' cousin.' ''

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