Brimfield becomes a summer haven for antique lovers
At first glance, Brimfield appears to be just another picturesque New England town. There is a common in the center. The old town hall is a distinctive, salmon-painted structure. The venerable Hitchcock Free Academy is no longer a school but serves the town as community center. It has the usual Cumbies and that outlet of Hellenic culture, a House of Pizza. Other than the usual, not much to see here.
That is until spring and summer, when the circus comes to town, metaphorically speaking. There are not three rings under a big top, but tents as far as the eye can see. Each one has inventory from the sublime to the ridiculous. Never have the words “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” had more meaning.
You are not in another dimension. You are at the Brimfield Antique Shows. Prepare to be jostled within an inch of your life.
Normally, Route 20 between Sturbridge and Palmer would never be mistaken for the Indie 500. Three weeks out of the year, traffic becomes a blood sport, and parking is at a premium.
Leo’s Parking has been our family’s starting point for longer than we can remember. Leo is a pleasant fellow and reasonable, such that we are happy to hand over the stipend.
Walking down Route 19, it is only a short trek to the entrance for the first lot of dealers. Dawdling along, gawking at the wares, I truly know the show has started when a voice calls out, “Gonna take it all home with you?” Tom Cummings, of Taunton, wants to engage with me. If you have taken a vow to avoid eye contact, this is not your place. Tom does cleanouts of attics and storage units. What has potential ends up at Brimfield.
Be careful with all the temptations here. Like most Americans, I have more than enough stuff.
The commitment of the sellers is matched by the fervor of the buyers. I met two friends who have been attending for more than 20 years. Cristina and Jay Dee were attired in identical T-shirts bearing the legend, “Peace Love Junk.” That says it all.
Continuing the pilgrimage, still in the area known as Shelton Field, we came upon the Vintage Retriever. Yeah, the owners have a dog of that breed. Impresario Julie McNamara, like many other dealers, did not directly start out in antiques. When she and her husband built their house in Holden, they searched for unique furnishings. The two found they enjoyed the hunt, and their pleasure turned into a business.
McNamara described the stock as country-industrial. They find much of their inventory, such as old tables and benches, in mills around New England.
The sun is beating down, but no one in the crowd was wilting, maybe as a reaction to the brutal winter or the single-minded pursuit of treasure. In the field known as Quaker Acres, we came across a rarity in these parts, dealers who actually are Brimfield residents.
Doug and Melinda Kirkpatrick are both Massachusetts natives who returned home after years of working in entertainment law in California. They were involved in legal work for a start-up studio here in the Bay State when the recession hit. An association with an antique dealer from Sturbridge’s historic Blackington Building led to the law office turning into an antique store. The office is closed, but the antique business lives on.
Their shop was awash in color, with artifacts ranging from beautiful to weird. As we bantered, a woman came up to the table to inquire about a painting. It turned out Ann was not only a customer but a part of Cleveland Antiques, which has been coming to Brimfield for 20 years from Ohio. After a short haggle, she had her painting.
All too often, it is impossible to say where the buyer ends and the dealer begins. Beware, you could come to browse and end up in the business.
This year’s remaining shows are July 14-19 and Sept. 8-13. For more information, visit brimfieldshow.com.
By Richard Morchoe