The late Dolly Johnson, the founder of our show, was a mid-twentieth century character in Fort Worth, Texas. Though tiny and with a soft voice, she had a big Texas personality. Instead of big hair, she had a big heart. Together with her husband Rip Johnson, Dolly and Rip brought energy, excitement and passion to everything they touched. They loved Fort Worth and Fort Worth loved them.
Rip was the General Manager of Will Rogers Memorial Coliseum for many years. He brought fresh new entertainment to Fort Worth—the Harlem Globetrotters, the Ice Capades, major musical acts and more. Perhaps you have driven on Rip Johnson Way, the road named for him at Will Rogers Memorial Center today. Rip brought ice hockey to Fort Worth, including my Yankee hockey player, Tom Harter.
I call Dolly “a character” because people of all ages, from many places have told me that they knew Dolly Johnson and that they have never known anyone else like her. Their very first words about her tend to recount a late night event or phone call. Apparently Dolly had a light-hearted view of time. The middle of the night was fair game for friendship, visits and phone calls. She was a character and she had character. I wish that I had known her.
Just this week, I heard two new Dolly Johnson stories. When illustrator Louis Daniel retired after 25 years with Fort Worth's Witherspoon advertising agency, he started taking on printing projects on his own. One of his clients was Dolly Johnson, for whom he printed antique show programs for many years. "Dolly was so enthusiastic about antiques herself," says Louis, "that it just rubbed off on everybody else."
Louis told me about Dolly's station wagon, "Uncle Sam," in which she would excitedly set off on buying trips near and far. "She would come back with things tied to the top of Uncle Sam that you would not believe. She went to Pennsylvania and came back with a row of three folding seats from a Red Goose Shoe Store tied up top." Most of you will not remember the Red Goose Shoe Stores, but I do, including the rows of seats. What a cool thing for a Fort Worth character to drive across the US to buy!
Louis goes on: "Dolly kept the row of seats for a while and then Rip made her have a yard sale to get rid of some things. She sold me the row of seats. As an advertising man, I kept them for many years and then eventually sold them to an advertising friend. Every Christmas we go to her house and visit Dolly Johnson's Red Goose seats."
The other story involved another trip "back east" to the mother-load of American antiques in New England. At this week's rug-hooking group, one of "the hookers," Sue Vanderford, told me about Dolly organizing her friends to attend the estate auction of top-notch antiques dealer Roger Bacon in 1982. (Stay tuned for more stories about the Hookers...) The Dolly Johnson Antique Show in Fort Worth was by then nearly twenty years old and well-known "back East." Sue says that "when we got to the auction in New Hampshire, the auctioneer had saved all the front row seats for us." Maybe he had heard about Dolly's interest in buying seats!
In the show archives I found a yellowed newspaper, the very first volume of Antique News & Views. It had eight pages and two of them told the story of Dolly Johnson taking a group of Texas friends to the very first Heart of Country Antiques Show in Nashville in 1982. The article begins: “Dolly Johnson is a petite, fun-loving 19 year veteran Antique Show manager from Ft. Worth, Texas.”
Nineteen years? A photo with the article shows Dolly with antiques author Mary Emmerling who is described by the reporter as “shockingly youthful.” When Mary Emmerling was just starting out and when Heart of Country was born, Dolly Johnson had already been producing her show in Fort Worth for 19 years. Emma Lee Turney came to do one of Dolly’s shows in order to learn how to start her own show in Round Top, Texas in 1968.
Dolly Johnson never met an estate sale where she couldn’t find some treasure. The collections mounted and filled her new Tanglewood home in Fort Worth. There were quilts and coverlets, found locally and on trips back east. There was plain, primitive, bench-made furniture, very unlike the furniture that most people wanted in post-war America. There was a collection of tiny graniteware child and doll pots and pans and dishes. On and on, the list of well-loved antiques grew each year of Dolly’s life.
In the early 60s, Rip, ever the promoter, dared Dolly to start an antique show. She took him up on it and produced her first show in the spring of 1963. Her focus was American antiques. This was before women’s lib and years before the 1976 Bi-Centennial would light the Americana market aflame.
Influenced by the Dolly Johnson Antique Show, an active group of collectors began to emerge in Fort Worth and to spread across Texas. It was a time when people named shows after themselves, so naturally Dolly named the new show after herself. It was actually known as “Dolly Johnson’s Antique Show.” Today we don’t name shows after an individual’s full name---it’s just that Dolly’s show is one that has survived and evolved and is still going strong. For many, it is simply called “The Dolly Show.”
You can imagine the excitement that must have surrounded Dolly Johnson’s Antique Show when the American Bi-Centennial finally arrived.
I digress here…Does anyone out there remember the celebration of the Bi-Centennial in Fort Worth? Many events were planned, including a huge gathering to hear the symphony at the old Leonard’s M & O Subway parking lot. Well, on the 4th of July, 1976 it poured rain in Fort Worth. Not sprinkles, it rained and rained and rained. And we all went downtown anyway. In the pouring rain, the citizens sat on soaked bales of hay that had been set up like mountains to get us out of the water. I remember eating thoroughly drowned fried chicken.
And with that Bi-Centennial came the new-found craze for antiques. Dolly Johnson had helped to usher it in. Suddenly, abandoned small towns sprouted antique shops and collectors clubs began to form and flourish. Helen Pringle, one of the group that went with Dolly to that first Nashville antique show, writes on our show website about “the long line of shoppers” who began to eagerly await the opening of the Dolly Johnson Show each year. See www.dollyjohnsonantiqueandartshow.com under “Show History.”
At a recent Marburger Farm Antique Show in Round Top, I sold an enormous Minnesota stepback cupboard to a woman about my age from Houston. I told her about the Dolly Johnson Antique and Art Show in Fort Worth in March. She looked at me and said, “I knew Dolly Johnson.” Well, it turned out that they were in fact old family friends.
The next day, when Dolly’s friend came back with a truck big enough to carry her cupboard, she handed me a bag. It was a gift. Inside was a marvelous geometric American hooked rug, with all the signs of being well-used. “When I was a young girl, Dolly and I went to an antique show together,” she said. “Dolly picked this rug out for me to have in my future home. I want you to have it now.” The spirit of Dolly endures
Blog Photos by Krista Luter