Monday, December 5, 2011

Antiquing with Della - Stranded in South Texas

Save the dates Friday March 9 & Saturday March 10, 2012 for the 49th Annual Dolly Johnson Antique & Art Show in Fort Worth, Texas. We are busy signing up 75 fabulous dealers from coast to coast, with a few surprises in tow. Our 2012 blog starts soon after Christmas. 
Just for fun, see below for the true tale of an antiquing family, as told from the perspective of the youngest member. Enjoy the story and share it with a friend.

Stranded in South Texas 

An Occasional Column
by Della Orr-Harter (then age 2)
as Told to her Mother

So, we decided to take a vacation, whatever that is. Driving from the top of Texas to the very bottom at Padre Island, we had a few stops. Mom says that might be an understatement, whatever that is.

First we filled the Big Red van with our empty banana boxes and drove them to Austin so that my brother Jack could pack up his dorm room. Antiques dealers never throw away boxes. Daddy says our boxes have names. He calls one of them Methuselah. We drop off the empty boxes for Jack and promise to come back.

While we’re in Austin, we deliver a folk art basket woven from plastic Wonder Bread bags to Jane, who was Mother’s customer in New York and now lives in Texas. Jane loves the basket because it is an “over-the-edge antique,” which is the only kind she buys. Then we spend the night on the couch at Uncle Jim and Aunt Karen’s house. They have a fish on the wall where you push the button and it sings “Don’t worry, be happy.” Uncle Jim lets me push it over and over. It’s wonderful.

Early the next day, we go to San Antonio to the art studio of Mother’s customer Bettie and her assistant Loretta who is an interior designer. Mom has brought Loretta a bed, a standing Ranch Oak lamp, a cactus lamp, a big painting and other items to try out in a dude ranch that Loretta is decorating. We unload everything and then look at Bettie’s big colorful canvases. They are beautiful. And all around the studio and living area are the antique pillows that Bettie buys from my mom. They are full of color too. We promise to come back on our way home to pick up whatever pieces Loretta doesn’t want. Now, on to the ocean, whatever that is.

Before we get to the ocean, we have to visit all the antique stores in Corpus Christi that Mom and Dad went to years ago. Mom remembers buying her first Bauer dishes in Corpus. Once at a thrift shop there, they found a folk art landscape done during the 1920s. On the back it said, “Painted in exchange for lunch and overalls.” When we go back today most of those old stores are full of reproductions and new merchandise. Mom doesn’t like new stuff. (But she likes me.) We shopped all day long and bought a $3 painting and an old picture book for me, Honey Bunch Rides West. (I am a cowgirl.)

We get directions to one more store out in the country that is sort of on our way to pick up Daddy that night at the Harlingen airport and then on to the ocean.

But we don’t make it to Harlingen. Out near the edge of the King Ranch, which is near the edge of nowhere, the Big Red van goes plunck, plunck, plunck and we are stuck by the side of the road. Mom says “Oh, x!#x!” and I say “Don’t worry, be happy.”

A family stops. They are on the way to the high school baseball game and can drop us off at the Dairy Queen in the nearest town, which is Robstown, Texas. At the Dairy Queen Mom calls the auto club. The closest tow service in the club can get there in 4 hours. Mom says no dice and calls a local tow truck. A man named Raymond is just finishing his dinner and comes right away with the truck and takes us back to the van. I like sitting in his big truck.

While Raymond hauls our broken van onto the tow truck bed, Mom calls Dad to say, “Don’t fly to Harlingen. We’re stuck and going back to the Ford place in Corpus Christi.” Dad had just sat down on the airplane. They let him off so he can fly to us on another plane. See, don’t worry.

Raymond takes us first to the car rental place where Mom locates the smallest car on the planet. Out of the broken van Raymond and Mom pull my car seat, my diapers, my stroller, my food, my toys, beach towels, lotion, bug spray, books, clothes for 3 people, an ice chest and a few other things. Raymond just laughs as we stuff it all in the tiny car and follow him to the Ford place.

It is now dark and the Ford place is closed. We decide to leave Big Red outside the gate and call them in the morning. But Big Red won’t come off the tow truck. Raymond pushes and pulls, but the tires are locked. While I’m in the rent car watching, Mom gets out the gallon of water she always carries just in case. Raymond pours it on the tires and with a WOOSH, Big Red flies off the back of the trailer, rolling backwards down the street. This is not good. Mom’s on one side and Raymond’s on the other, running after it, digging their feet into the road to finally make Big Red stop. Don’t worry. Be Happy.

We thank Raymond, who says it has been a heck of a ride, and we drive in the rent car to the Corpus airport. We could have gone to find a motel, but Mom is still shaking a little and thinks we better just sit and wait for Daddy. There he is! We manage to fit us all in the car and Daddy takes us to a motel. We could have driven on to Padre Island, but we decide to take it easy. It is almost midnight. Will I ever see the ocean? The next morning, we go by the Ford place. They will call us soon, they say. And a couple of hours later, we are at the ocean.

In South Padre Island there are no antiques stores. It’s great. We are really on vacation. We go to the beach, we eat shrimp every day, we wash off the sand with bubble baths and Daddy talks to the Ford place. Several times a day Daddy talks to the Ford place. Finally, they say they can fix it in a week. Don’t worry. On our last night of vacation, we eat at a restaurant on the water and I wear my new sunglasses during the whole meal.

The next day, we take Daddy to the airport and head back toward Corpus to wait for the van. We’ll just have to shop for antiques all week. Our first stop is Kingsville. Remember the King Ranch? At the Opera House Antiques, in an old opera hall, we buy a Ranch Oak lamp with a hand-painted shade. Feeling lucky, Mom plunks down $67 for her own Mother’s Day present (Dad and I had forgot). It’s a big yellow Bauer mixing bowl with no cracks, a treat. At the Kingsville Goodwill I tried on a straw sombrero hat and got 3 dresses for 99 cents each. This is the life!

On the way out of town, Mom hits the brakes of the tiny car and circles back for a junkyard. We like junkyards. This one has a little house in the middle. Anybody home? Out comes Tony Taco, a gentleman who had lived here with his wife for 40 years. Her nickname had been Enchilada and the whole junkyard had started by selling a $4 basket of corn. From there it had grown to include old restaurant tables and benches, old playground stuff, old computers, car parts, big plastic formerly neon letters from stores out of business and plaster figures that look ancient because of the ocean air.

Mom looks through everything and sets aside a plaster Jesus. She digs through the piles of old store sign letters, piling up an S and an R and a P. “Do we have a potential snake problem here?” she asked. “Well, sort of,” said Tony Taco and Mom started being more careful. She sees a big board in the garage and tugs and tugs and pulls out an 8-foot long sign that says “Chalupas” painted in big blue letters. She is happy. Hot Tamale Antiques (that’s us) buys a chalupa sign from Tony Taco whose wife was Enchilada. While Tony and mom laugh about this, I knock over the plaster Jesus and off comes his head. “At least it’s a clean break,” says Tony, “You can fix it. Don’t worry.” Isn’t that what I always say? We pay Tony and agree to come back and pick up the letters, the sign and the headless Jesus as soon as we get our van back.

Over the next few days, we try to hit every antique store in south Texas. In Corpus at Patsy’s Forget Me Not Shop, a cast iron bathtub sits on a 25-foot pole above the store. Inside are jukeboxes, fancy enamel letters, and an elephant ride from an old grocery store. Next door we visited If Wishes Were Dishes, room after room of neatly organized second-hand dishes. We never found a person, just rooms stacked with dishes. Across the street at Betty’s Trash and Treasures we liked a 6 foot yellow ruler which had been a prop in a photography studio and an old blue painted pool cue wall rack from a Mexican bar for $40. We should have bought that, but the tiny rent car said, no way. We almost bought a Bauer olive green #10 massive bowl for $135 with a note taped to it that said, “This is what you shop in these kind of stores for.”

Next door at the Wild Goose Chase, a name that made mother laugh for some reason, I got a big tin spinning top just like Mom used to have. She found a small antique Saltillo weaving in a dust pile under a broom. Jerry, the owner, said, “I was going to give that to the first person who showed an interest and you’re it.” This has been our lucky trip. We even went to a junk auction one night where we sat next to another dealer who might actually be Santa Claus, beard and all. At the auction we bought a folk art terrarium, maybe the only one out there. We did not buy the 1940’s dress patterns, the chippy painted folding stools, the broken Roseville or the old green paint wooden ice cream bucket, which we should have bought.

Now all this time that we are shopping in the world’s smallest car, we are also staying at the world’s cheapest motel. Mom found a real winner this time. On the last day of the week we drive down to the New England-style seaport village of Rockport. If you are ever stuck in South Texas, shop here first. At B & P Resale we found a Beacon blanket and a vintage red vest for me with horses on it. At the Piddlers and Peddlers Resale shop we found a 1953 Airstream trailer decorated with real longhorns for $6,000. We really should have bought that, but you won’t believe what came next. At Red Man Trading Co., they have a whole wall of fish that sing “Don’t worry, be happy.” It’s incredible!

But, even with the fish, Mom’s favorite store was Mary Anne’s Antiques, full of Art Nouveau and Arts and Crafts furniture. For $185 we could buy the best 6 foot tall Mission Oak hat stand in South Texas from the c. 1910 Bishop Elliot Lodge, an old Camp Fire Girl retreat along the coast. We measured and unloaded and re-loaded and managed to squeeze part of the hat rack in the tiny car, part hanging out of the window, tied in. It just fit, so we bought it. Mother is an old Camp Fire Girl herself.

Our last stop was Carolyn’s Antiques where Carolyn was sitting on the floor covering a bird-bath with shards of beautiful Fiesta pottery. It turns out that there’s a 1910-1950 old garbage dump where Carolyn goes to dig for pieces of old dishes to make into new things. It also turns out that Carolyn, sitting here on the floor in front of us, is the reigning oyster eating champion of Rockport, Texas. This year she ate 132, but her record is 159. She’s starting to slow down, she says. I like Carolyn.

Now it’s time to call the Ford place and tell them we’re on the way. Well, they say, we’re not finished---maybe Monday. Monday!!! Mom calls Dad. “I’ve been in a flea bag motel with a baby for a week. I can’t make it to Monday!” She is so disgusted that we go into the Big Fisherman restaurant at 3 pm where she orders all-you-can-eat fried oysters for herself and a steak dinner for me. Meanwhile, Daddy calls our Ford place at home. That Ford place calls the Ford place in Corpus. And the Ford place in Corpus calls Mom and says, “It’ll be ready when you get here.”

And it was. And for some reason, the Ford people just stand there and stare at us while Mom pulls from the rent car and loads into the Big Red van my car-seat, my stroller, my diapers, my food, my toys, clothes for 3 people, an ice chest, books, bug spray, beach towels, about 10 bags of our purchases, a few other things and a 6 foot tall Mission Oak hat rack.

Tony Taco & Big Red
Glad to be in our own Big Red van, we drive straight to Tony Taco’s to pick up the pile of plastic letters, the 8 foot chalupa sign and the headless Jesus. All in all, a terrific vacation. And did I mention the ocean?

For some reason, Mom is still laughing. Maybe she just remembered that we still have to go back to Loretta and the dude ranch in San Antonio and then to pick up Jack’s banana boxes in Austin! But you know what? That’s a whole other story. So until then, happy trails--- and keep looking for the big one. Your friend, Della

Copyright Jan Orr-Harter, 2002
See you at the show this March 9-10, 2012. Don't worry, be happy--and happy holidays to all.

Happy Birthday, Dolly Johnson!

Save the dates March 9-10, 2012 for the show!
This week marks Dolly Johnson's birthday.
Who the heck was Dolly Johnson?

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.

But at sunset, amid all the soaking flags and banners, the rains parted and the most beautiful light flooded the city with a long summer sundown. Everything reflected a pinkish golden glow and the world seemed clean and new. In our wet clothes, the citizens of Fort Worth finally heard the music and saw the fireworks that had been planned all along. When Fort Worth gets its Trinity River Vision in place with a new town lake, many people will remember that at the bottom of that lake is the place where we sat on wet bales of hay and celebrated our country, rain or shine.

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 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

Dolly’s daughter, JJ Frambes, who is a whole story of her own, took over running the show for the last 20  years or so. Her daughter, Krista Luter, and JJ’s grandchildren, Haley and Josh Luter, helped from an early age. In fact, you can probably find Dolly and Rip Johnson’s great-grandchildren at this year’s show, helping still.

 So, Happy Birthday, Dolly! Your show must go on!

Blog Photos by Krista Luter