Brimfield 2011

You really never know what you’re going to get when you approach the wares of an antique dealer at an outdoor market. My best line of defense is to deliver a sunny hello, good morning or, by day three, some weird introduction/acknowledgement of the person’s presence. Let’s face it, some dealers are crotchety, some are uppity and some are just down right mental but that’s part of the experience. If you buy antiques you know this and embrace the vibes, good and bad.

The vibe at this year’s show was all sorts of fantastic. Maybe it’s just because I’m cooped up with toddlers and preschoolers for 99.9% of my life but I had the pleasure of meeting some of the most engaging and friendly dealers in the three days I spent at Brimfield.

My first day there, I ran across the enormous tent of one of my favorite places to shop when we lived in New Hampshire called, Sage Farm Antiques. I spent a whole lot of money at Sage Farm Antiques as we renovated and furnished our 1860 house in Newfields, New Hampshire. Sage Farm is a market place where multiple dealers host a three day antique show on the first weekend of each month beginning in April and ending in December. I bought my yellow chest of drawers there, added to my ironstone collection, bought a corner cabinet for Joe’s room, mulberry (black transferware) and much, much more. Thankfully, those items slid right into place in our new house.

It was nice to see the dealers from Sage Farm again even though they have no clue who in the hell I am. As usual, I ask dealers if they mind me taking photographs which leads to inquiries like, “Are you a dealer/interior designer/buyer?”

No, I’m a writer and I have a blog…nothing you’d know…

Oh, what’s the name?

Narragansett Number 7? It’s not really…

You’re Narragansett No. 7? I read that blog!

For a moment my face must have registered that lady, you’re so full shit look because she quickly referred to a post and said she found me on a site that lists blogs by state. The next expression on my face was shock and awe. For a nanosecond I felt famous…I was the shit. Then I got over myself, bought some pottery, chatted about the origins of my Sea Bag and promised to give Sage Farm Antiques a shout out on my minutely famous blog. The next Sage Farm market is scheduled for June 3rd – 5th and the theme is Worn Whites. The trip from Boston is an easy one and you can combine it with a trip to Rye Beach and Exeter.

Glass Beads


My favorite field this year was J & J. First thing Friday morning my friend Grace and I hit the ground running and, right out of the gate, I spotted a fantastic white powder-coated industrial stool. I made an offer, but it turned out that J Crew had been there just moments earlier and bought it. J Crew and Ralph Lauren were snapping things up all over the place for use in their photo shoots, store displays or, in the case of Pottery Barn, to knock off and mark up 500%. Those chumps were one step ahead me for the entire trip. (Note to self: find out how to make a career out of shopping antique shoes for corporate giants.)

I’ll admit that it took me all of 2.2 seconds to get over the whole stool-thieving incident because, in the first aisle of tents that we walked through, I found an art dealer with antique oil paintings, watercolors and…wait for it…etchings! Here’s the one I bought.


I didn’t want to blow through my budget but I was tempted by one of the oil paintings. I’m pretty sure that the dealers were married. She was lovely, he was cranky and I scored one of my treasures after a good round of haggling and that’s all I care about.

This year I went with a list and vowed to stick to it. One of the items on my list was something large for the top of corner cabinet in our dining room. Of course, the vagueness of ‘something large’ left my options wide open so, when I stumbled upon a dealer with some large baskets I stopped for a look. Admittedly, I know very little about baskets. Baskets have a following and basket people know a good basket when they see one. I saw a big old basket with fantastic wooden handles and a very old, well-done repair on the bottom. I haggled my way down to $45, walked away with that basket and soon found myself being stopped by basket people who oohed and aahed over my find. They gasped at the price I paid and one woman nearly ran for the dealer’s tent when I told her there were a few more. Of course, they could have been secretly laughing at my stupidity but I’m going to stick to the idea that I bought a great basket for an outrageous bargain.

My basket, on the top of the cabinet

 It was the basket that struck up a conversation in the booth of my favorite dealers in the J & J field. Doug and Diane McElwain of Sport & Spool Antiques were perhaps the kindest and most engaging sellers of the day. I was immediately drawn in to their carefully edited and artfully arranged tent of antique sports equipment. The black and white photographs of football teams from years long-passed, stately trophies and the aged leather of baseball gloves caught my eye amid tents brimming with chaotic tables full of glassware and tchotchkes. I spotted a wool pennant from Duke, then one from Iowa and thought of my husband’s Alma mater. I departed from my list and forayed into an area of antique collecting about which I know nothing.

Sport & Spool Antiques

“Do you have anything from Penn?” Doug paused then his face seemed to brighten as he recalled a piece. “I do, but it’s in the car.”

I waited for him to retrieve the mystery University of Pennsylvania item and, when he returned with the most handsome wool pennant from somewhere around 1912, I was thrilled. It was perfect and easily double the size of the others they had on display. The red and blue colors were vivid and the wool was in remarkably good condition.

Grace very nicely held up (hid behind) the banner while I took a photograph. For $100 the banner was David’s, but he’s always so damn practical. I had the bill in my hand, but couldn’t resist talking to him to gauge his interest. His grandfather, father and Uncle Roger all went to Penn. It’s a family legacy! I know, I know…I’m thoughtful and you didn’t think I had that sappy, sentimental side did you? Well, I do and I wanted him to want that banner. He wanted me to use my budget for me and for the rest of my weekend. He’s way more thoughtful than I am. Selfless even, but that’s why I love him.

Opium Bottles found during a Massachusetts home renovation. According to the dealer, there were 8,000 bottles found in the walls. Believe It or Not!

 The worst part about the pennant was telling Doug and Diane that I was going to take a pass. I really enjoyed talking with them and learning a bit about their pennants. Doug and Diane, if you’re reading and you didn’t sell that beauty I’m still interested. In fact, I just rose from my desk, walked through three rooms and informed my husband that the banner would have looked fantastic in his study.

What study?

The playroom…let’s finish the basement and make the playroom into your study.

So…you want to design a study for me so that we can hang a Penn banner up?


You’re demented.

Cushy leather chairs…cigars…the banner…your diplomas and law books…cigars…

We could just make a room in the basement for the kids to play in…

Did I mention cigars?

This is how things work in our house. A simple thing like a beautiful wool University of Pennsylvania banner gives birth to the design of a whole new room. He needs a space of his own and that pennant would have been the icing on his man-cave cake. Alas, I said goodbye to Doug, Diane and the banner and walked away. SIGH.

It was at J & J that I scored a vintage marquee number 7 from Bay City Cargo for $2. Vintage letters are huge right now and Bay City Cargo has a warehouse full of them in Belfast, Maine. As they pointed out, their letters once graced marquees in movie theaters and casinos. I love a random letter or number displayed on a shelf or a single word on an empty wall can become instant, inexpensive and personalized art. Here’s where I placed my 7 along with some of the white American pottery I found.

No. 7, top right shelf.

Having walked Brimfield from 8:00 in the morning until 5:00, Grace and I were wiped out. We had just about enough time to get back to our seedy motel, shower and make our dinner reservation at 7:00. I think I was sawing wood by 10:00 and, thanks to the television that I’d never turned off, I had dreams of Angelina Jolie applying mascara to my lashes via infomercial while we ran through dealer tents with Charlie Sheen in hot pursuit. My advice? Never fall asleep with E! on all night.

The next morning I was understandably tired but determined to give the rest of the fields a good look. Despite the fact that I’d completely run out of steam, I was determined to forge ahead to New England Motel and locate the tent of one of my favorite Maine haunts, My Sister’s Garage. I somehow stumbled upon them a few months back as they were opening a new space, which happens to be an entire house, in Windham, Maine. It was there that I found my Terrier burlap pillow and the two chairs that are being put to good use in my kitchen. The ladies of My Sister’s Garage are a talented bunch who re-work garage and estate sale finds into of-the-moment décor. They paint and distress many of their pieces, which range from shabby chic, Maine beach cottage, and Adirondack camp to French provincial and all at very reasonable prices. As far as visual displays go, their shop and their tent at Brimfield are perfection!

My Sister's Garage

Yet again, I was surprised and thrilled to be “recognized” by the Garage Girls. If you are in Southern Maine, they are absolutely worth the trip to Windham. Don’t forget to tell them No. 7 sent you!

My Sister's Garage

 As my fatigue and thirst increased, my ‘appropriate filter’ began to shut down. In one tent, we spied lamps made from decapitated baby doll heads and cans ($150). It was that tent where I picked up a disembodied mannequin arm and feigned a hearty nose picking. The dealer wasn’t amused. I snapped this picture of her freaky wares before skedaddling. Her disapproving glare told me it was time to go.


Nearing noon, my back was aching and my feet were filthy because I’d forgotten my sneakers and was forced into flip flops for the weekend. I had begun to become indecisive and flighty, both dangerous traits in the antique world. Trying to keep my wits about me and make it to the end of New England Motel, I walked away from a French apothecary jar with intact labeling noon, my back was aching and my feet were filthy because I’d forgotten my sneakers and was forced into flip flops for the weekend. I had begun to become indecisive and flighty, both dangerous traits in the antique world. Trying to keep my wits about me and make it to the end of New England Motel, I walked away from a French apothecary jar with intact label ($45), then 3 very cool artist renderings that would have added to my collection of nudes and another french bottle. All combined that lot would have been $175. I’m kind of kicking myself over those because I’m all over artist renderings and nudes at the moment.

My last stop was at the tent of Duchess d where I met dealer Debbie Freeman. I was drawn in by the artwork in her tent, a wooden folk art carving of a woman and Debbie’s clean, fresh displays. Debbie had a portfolio filled with artist sketches, some from known artists and some anonymous, that enthralled me. I bought this one for $20 and I’m in love. As Debbie said, it has a Rubenesque quality. It was Debbie that sold me the petrified tree fungus. Don’t judge. It’s full of texture and nature provided an amazing piece of sculpture that resembles a sea shell. It spoke to me and found its home.

Duchess D

Duchess D


Duchess D

I’ve been home for just over 24 hours and, though I’m still exhausted, I’ve scattered my finds in their new home. I spent the day rearranging and relocating things to new rooms. I’ve stood back and, with a critical eye, carefully edited my own shelves. David has hung the fantastic and heavy oak architectural piece that I bought for $50 when the dealer was trying to get rid of his stock before leaving the show. We think it was part of a sideboard at one time.

 I’m already planning next year’s visit. Gracie, are you in?

Sport & Spool Antiques, Doug and Diane McElwain, Goldsboro, NC

Bay City Cargo, 93 Main Street, Belfast, ME

Sage Farm Antiques, 5 Exeter Road, North Hampton, NH

My Sister’s Garage, 610 Roosevelt Trail, Windham, ME

Duchess d,

Things we leave behind…

Well, hello!  It’s my pleasure to be visiting here today, doing a guest post, for Kelli.  My name is Patty from…Another cookie, please!    Actually, I’m quite honored to be in her Manolo blog-shoes today even though they pinch a little.    She has smaller feet than I do.

What a lovely place!  Beautifully decorated, very cozy as blogs go, I must say. There’s even an inviting bottle of Merlot sitting here…with my name on it.  How thoughtful!

Excuse me while I go and find a glass….

Kelli’s been at Brimfield, lucky lady.  I so would love to go there and step back in time, looking at all the treasures people leave behind.

Just to give you an idea of the vast expanse of Brimfield, take a look at this aerial photograph.  Isn’t it amazing?   For both antique dealers and lovers, this largest outdoor show in New England, takes place three times each year, for six days in May, July, and September.

Imagine following behind Kelli’s glorious days in Massachusetts, watching her stop to look at antique mirrors which hold ghostly images of their former owners.  Locked deep inside each mirror are sad reflections, staring back at time so quickly passing them by.


Walking through the maze of tents, Kelli gently touches a set of fine china that long ago graced family tables for holidays and other special occasions.  In the distance, she can hear the timeless laughter of warm family gatherings and visualizes everyone joining hands in prayer before the start of each meal.

The gleam of delicate glassware suddenly catches Kelli’s eye and she stops for a moment to lift a goblet.  Holding it up to the light, she thinks of occasions and celebratory toasts.  With a soft ping of her finger, the glass echoes back with a soulful, tender chime.

Displayed everywhere are old rocking chairs where a young mother once sat, cuddling and nursing her baby while singing soft lullabies.   As the years passed, this same woman would slowly rock back and forth, gazing out a window as the seasons changed; so much older and nearing the end of her life with each creak of the chair.


Photographs, paintings and exquisite etchings, Kelli’s favorite works of art, long to be admired, waiting to again grace the walls of a home as potential buyers glance.. then quickly walk away.



What will any of us leave behind, apart from words or actions, that someone will cherish and pass on for generations to follow?  Possessions, our personal treasures, which held such meaning and joy in our lifetime, packed away in the corner of an attic or one day put on display at a place like Brimfield…to become trapped ghosts of our past. 

Until…someone like Kelli comes along…and sets them free, once again.


Slumps and Old Stuff

Maybe I’m totally over thinking things but I think that when I slid my manuscripts into that manila envelope a few weeks ago, a bit of my inspiration slid inside and took a ride courtesy of a good ol’ United States Postal Service truck. I’m riding a nasty slump. In my defense, the past two weeks have been just slightly busy with pediatrician appointments and preschool functions. My duties as a mommy officially got in the way of my duty to write, and read the pile of books that are on the required reading list.

What to do?

Well…I’m going to ride it out. I’m going to move through this next week and try not worry about it. I’m going to get up tomorrow morning, drive the kids to school,  maybe clean a toilet or two and attempt to bang out some words. I’m not going to worry about whether they suck or not. This week, I’m going to spend 20-25 hours writing and get myself back into the groove.

On Thursday I’m heading to the Brimfield Antiques Show. Without children. For nearly three days.

I have a feeling I’ll be coming back slightly refreshed and with a few new treasures. If I’m really lucky I’ll have a story or two in my back pocket. Seriously, if you collect antiques, you know that there is no better place to have a run-in with crazy than an antique show.

Photo Courtesy Country Living

In case you haven’t heard about it before, Brimfield is a fantastic antique show in Massachusetts. I haven’t been able to get there for about five years and I am beginning to count the hours. My budget for the show took a hit thanks to the deposit we placed on grad school, so I’ll be limited in my purchases this year. No matter, I’m just thrilled to go and soak it all in.

Wish me luck…on the slump thing and the treasures!

One Person’s Trash…

Anyone who knows me well knows of my compulsion to stop at any random building sporting a sign that says “Antiques”. It doesn’t matter what my final destination is, I’ll try to hit a shop or two on the way and once there, I’m definitely planning to squeeze in at least one afternoon of treasure hunting. I don’t discriminate based on location. I’ve been in shops with price tags completely out of my realm of monetary possibility and I’ve been in scary road side shacks with chickens roaming freely amongst the junk.  You just never know what random, out of the way places will offer up some fabulous treasure waiting be added to my well-edited collections of…well, stuff. Now, before you assume that you have stumbled upon the blog of some poor soul just waiting for a camera crew to show and begin taping her own personal Hoarder’s episode, I will clarify by saying I am a lover of antiques. I’ve gone through several phases and obsessions, some of which I have outgrown and some that have hung on a bit.
Our recent trip to the Finger Lakes and my favorite shop, the Ontario Antique Mall, reminded me that I have been a lover of hunting for and locating old but beautiful treasures since I was a child. As I stood in line waiting to pay for my latest acquisition, a little girl came and stood behind me. As I watched, she secretively opened her small hand to examine her new-found treasures. I saw that she was holding a handful of Wade animals. Exactly the first kind of “antiques” that I collected as a girl…and the first that I could afford with my own allowance or birthday money. She wore an expression of satisfaction as we chatted about her new/old Wade creatures. As I told her of my own Wade collection, she sensed a fellow aficionado and proudly held out her hand to show me the lion, squirrel and horse that would be added to her shelf. I congratulated her on a successful mission.
In my 20’s I scoured antique shops and flea markets for pottery, blue glass and antique bottles. Sometimes, I even hiked into the woods to an old gully and dug them out myself. Let me tell you, there is something very exciting about finding a perfectly intact and corked bottle of whiskey, halfway gone and carelessly thrown into a garbage pit decades before I was born. I loved sifting through that dark, damp dirt on the forest floor and finding shards of old pottery. Ornate bits of someone’s good china that had shattered and been sent to the family trash heap. That’s how they did it years ago when there was still no plastic or tin cans.
At our house in New Hampshire I did some digging in the backyard, right outside of the barn and found beautiful bits of purple and brown transferware dishes and ironstone. I wondered why they were thrown away and what had caused that dish to break? Was it simply a casualty in a washing accident or did someone get really angry at her husband? One of the coolest things I found in the soil at our New Hampshire house was this:

What is it? Why, that’s a very talented seal balancing a ball on his nose. He also served as a swizzle stick at some kind of party for the former inhabitants of our house. I don’t really know anything else about this little found treasure. I like to imagine that he was part of an extraordinarily happy day. Perhaps he held an hors d’oeurve or sat proudly holding the cherries in a Shirley Temple as children squealed with delight at a circus themed birthday party. Whatever he did, he’s my souvenir from a happy house.
I also found these in my yard:
My found bottles were the result of a new garden bed on an old piece of land. I just happen to think that’s cool. They’ve been added to my collection.
Despite some enjoyable finds while foraging in dirt, I’m more likely to be found in an antique shop, thrift store or architectural salvage building. In recent years, I’ve been on the lookout for antique engravings and transferware. Black transferware…LOVE it! I have to have it but it’s a rare day when I stumble upon an affordable piece of black transferware (which is where the “well-edited” part comes in). Brown transferware…also love it and have had great luck finding it at incredible prices, thus have a sizeable collection. I started this collection during one of my visits to Brimfield about six years ago. Brimfield has been good to me.

The antique engravings and etchings are even harder to find because I’m really picky about them. My first engraving was this one that I stumbled across on EBay. It was love at first sight and there was no way I was leaving without it. As I recall, the seller was a rather religious gal and I was involved in several rather lengthy chats about being a good Christian before I obtained my sheep etching at a reasonable price. She was a nice lady.
The only bad thing about etchings is that they are so difficult to photograph well with my mediocre digital camera. In person, the detail is incredible.
My next find was really special to me because it shows a mother and her son on a beach. I later discovered that the artist is listed and well-known for his engraving and paintings of Montauk, Long Island beaches.
There is something about this engraving that speaks to me. Maybe on some level it reminds me of Joe and our shared love of the ocean. I think I’ll never grow tired admiring it.
Lately, I haven’t been hitting antique shops with any real regularity. My children are just too small to come along, but on the odd day that I have just one of them in tow, I have been known to firmly grab them by the hand and do a quick lap around a shop with my eyes peeled for etchings and transferware. On more than one occasion, Dave has been kind enough to pull into a shop that wasn’t on our itinerary and patiently sat in the car with the kids while I have a quick look. Have I mentioned how cool my husband is? He just “gets” me and I love him so. 
So last week, my mom was watching the girls while I drove to my nearest nightmare…um, grocery store. On the way, there is this little shop called The Mustard House that I’ve been dying to get into. I was about to do yet another wistful drive by when suddenly, my steering wheel yanked to the right! Before I knew what was happening, my minivan had parked itself right smack in front of The Mustard House. Alright, I thought, how long could this take? I’ll just do one of my signature quickie laps, scan the joint and go on my merry way.
Every once in a while, you walk through the door of an antique shop and get the sense that the gods of all things old and collectible are with you. The atmosphere is right and you know that today, serendipity is in your corner. As I crossed the threshold of The Mustard House I was enveloped in the cozy darkness of a 200 year old saltbox that whispered of the great possibilities within. Yes, I felt that I was destined to be there on that day and in that moment. But isn’t that always the way on the day that you stumble upon an unexpected treasure?
Despite the intense feeling that a treasure was waiting to be discovered, I was business as usual. I did my efficient “walk and scan” through the maze of rooms, checking the inventory of antiques and newer decor. Right away, my eyes came to rest on a brown transferware dish. A decent little score, it was in my hand before anyone else could reach for it…not that anyone was even in the vicinity but I’m very territorial when it comes to my collections. Dish in hand, I still got the sense that it wasn’t “the” treasure that was calling to me. I did another lap and truthfully, there wasn’t much else that I was dying to have. I try not to add too many random old objects d’art to our homes; otherwise the beautiful pieces that we have carefully collected just become clutter.
I resigned myself to the fact that my pretty transferware plate was the treasure of the day and made my way to the cash register. As I stood waiting behind a chatty woman purchasing two fake stuffed Halloween ravens, my eyes were drawn to the wall behind the desk. There, in an area not accessible to patrons, was the most fantastic and enormous etching I could ever have imagined. My pulse skipped a beat and my breath quickened. I was skeptical. While The Mustard House does have a great selection of antiques and vintage goods, they also offer reproductions. This thing of beauty that caught my attention simply had to be a reproduction. It was too good to be true! I tried to be patient, but the bird lady started yapping about flickering candles and how real they look on her fake fireplace. Outwardly I was the picture of patience, but on the inside I was screaming at her to take her dumb stuffed birds and move on already! Finally, she said her goodbyes and with some restraint, I was able to flash a pleasant “so long” smile in her direction. 
As I placed my dish on the counter, I asked if the engraving was for sale and was promptly invited behind the desk to inspect it. 
There I stood, salivating over this piece and raving about how fantastic it is, but as I glanced at the price I knew it wasn’t going to happen. Three kids and a mortgage tend to put a real damper on investing in antiques. I was having difficulty tearing myself away from the engraving because I knew that it would be a sad goodbye. That’s when the shop owner said, “I have another etching in the back that is also framed. It’s about the same size. Would you like to see it?” Whoever was in control of my mouth in that moment said, “Yes, please. I’d love to!” She came back minutes later with another enormous beauty.

Why, for the love of all things holy was this happening? The very last subject I could put on the table at dinner tonight was the fact that I had stumbled upon to two huge etchings and, “By the way, I simply must have them.” Dave would laugh himself silly.

The shop owner and I began discussing design styles and collecting. We talked about what we collected, magazines we love and it turns out that we have a lot in common. I asked her if she does all of the buying for her shop, which clearly she does. That’s when she said that she might be open to trading for one of the engravings. Uh….Done!
On Saturday morning I hit the basement and began unpacking boxes in frenzy. After all, those boxes have been sitting for almost a whole year. They hold collections that I’ve forgotten, so no longer feel compelled to possess. I took digital photos of furniture, transferware, tole, paintings, fabric remnants…you name it. She liked what she saw. She thinks we might be able to trade for both engravings.
So I say, out with the old and in with the new-old! Keep your fingers crossed that she’s ready to trade and that those engravings can be permanent fixtures rather than two beautiful, short-lived visitors. She certainly has a sizeable lot to choose from, my pictures only scratch the surface of what I have ready to go!