By Mark Oldfield
Saturday, July 6th, 2019 – I’m in my Mazda headed west on Highway 43. The Perth Antique Show and Sale opens in about an hour. There are photos to be taken and tales to be told. I have just one goal for this assignment: Avoid the ordinary!
It’s a steamy morning in Loyalist country. Big clouds are piling up on the horizon as images fly by my window — lush fields of young corn bound by tidy fences … grey barns with good roofs … long tree-lined driveways. Stately homes built of local limestone rise up and fade away as I roll along. It occurs to me that antiquing is a great excuse for a summer cruise.
The parking lot of the Perth Civitan Centre is packed. The show has recently been acquired from Bill Dobson and Linda Hynes by Jim Winton, a collector (and occasional vendor) who has decided to give show management a try. Says Jim,’My hope for the Perth antique show is to maintain the standards that Bill and Linda have set, while possibly adding vendors (who adhere to those standards). The Civitan site offers much additional area for growth. “ It appears that he is doing just that. Cars are cheek to jowl. People are milling around a cluster of white-topped tents out on the front law. Inside, more of the same. People milling. Tables tastefully laid out with precious things made of metal and stone, wood and leather, porcelain and glass. Toys, jewellery, historical artifacts and objets d’art. All lovely.
As I stroll through the show, I get chatting with Nick Previsich, a dealer from Merrickville, about the concept of provenance. What it is and how it adds value to an object. Simple put, provenance is “backstory” — how a particular item was made, who’s owned it, where it’s travelled.
Nick Previsich, a dealer from Merrickville, with a great assortment of offerings at the Perth Show including the items; paddles, gorgeous cast iron fence etc., Japanese Shinto Buddhist priest mask that would have been part of a family shrine and one-of-a-kind art (below) by renowned Canadian sculptor Antonio Grediaga
Previsich picks up a piece of sculpture, rectangular in shape, about a foot tall and ten inches wide. It’s made with some sort of brownish-gold metal, deeply engraved on both sides, faces interlocking with other faces. It’s strangely compelling. Previsich says he didn’t know much about the piece when he bought it. In fact, it was mislabelled. Attributed to the wrong artist. But he liked the look of it, the surprising weight, the weirdness of the images, and bought it on a hunch.
A little research revealed that creator of this Picassian oddity was none other than the renowned Canadian sculptor Antonio Grediaga, Grediaga was the son of a Spanish cabinet-maker born in Madrid in 1936. He served as an apprentice in his father’s shop and eventually rose to become an internationally-renowned artisan. Greidaga settled in Montreal in the ‘70s and began producing sculptures, mostly in bronze, many of them huge public works. Perhaps this little fellow was a rehearsal for something bigger.
A one-of-a-kind work of art is alway a little out of the ordinary, especially when there’s a good provenance story. Asking price $450.
The day began with a simple mission: Avoid the ordinary. So far, I think I’m doing pretty well … but the story doesn’t feel quite finished yet. On my second lap around the show I meet Kyla Ubbink, Book and Paper Conservator. She has a warm smile and intelligence eyes. I ask her to tell me a bit about her work: “So I take old book that are falling apart and put them back together. I give them a whole new life … while still respecting their integrity. I also do the same thing for works on paper. It could be a watercolour, a sketch, a drawing, an old maps, a manuscript. Where they’ve been ripped, torn, soiled, stained … I can get rid of those issues. But it’s also about preserving that piece. You want to make sure you’re not removing its history and its authenticity. When something tells a story with dirt, you need to keep that.”
I ask her for an example.
“I did a map for a client, it was a World War l map Vimy Ridge. Her grandfather had that map with him on the battlefield and he had made notes throughout. Where he was, what date he was there. He even put in things like what he ate for lunch. it was folded so it was ripped through. it was soiled. It had stains. We realized the fold lines matched exactly where his armpit would have been, so we knew he carried the map in his breast pocket. The client wanted to take this map back to Vimy Ridge and trace her grandfather’s footsteps.”
Kyla Ubbink, Book and Paper Conservator, examines a “Dominion of Canada” atlas, circa 1870 brought in by Doug Bowes. In her booth Kyla demonstrated some of her techniques and how she restores family heirlooms like Doug’s and other historical items.The family atlas, below, would be a daunting task for most people, but Kyla is highly skilled and can perform restorations even on a project of this nature.
Nice idea, but wasn’t possible with the map in such rough shape. So Kyla took it to her lab and used the paper conservator’s took kit — a wizard’s collection of erasers, tweezers and micro-spatulas, solvents, dyes, glues and much more — to carefully clean and reinforce the fragile bit of paper just enough to give it a second life without going overboard.
“All of his writing was still there. You still had the visible aspect of the creases, the tears, the stains. You still had the story all that dirt and damage tells, what his life was like. Yet she can still take it with her and walk in her grandfather’s foot steps.”
Kyla’s prices are negotiated on a job-by-job basis.
It’s still sweltering as I leave the Civitan Centre. The Mazda’s a thousand degrees inside. I roll down the windows for the drive home. A little more time to enjoy the Loyalist landscape. A little time to think about my not-so-ordinary day in Perth.