In Praise Of Art Shows (Sort Of)—And A Look At What Our December Issue Has In Store
A few years ago, while spending vacation time in Cashiers, North Carolina, we brightened a weekend by driving over the mountain border to scope out an outdoor art show in Pickens, South Carolina. It was not an urban setting, on a fancy street lined with shops and restaurants, the kind of show we are used to in South Florida. It was just a large field with grass lanes between the seesaw rows of exhibitors.
It came to pass that on one of those rows we found a guy with a table full of Lenox china. As a Lenox fan for many years, we knew what that stuff cost at Macy’s, and we could not believe his prices. Five bucks for a tray that would go for ten times that at retail.
Asked where he had stolen this china, he explained that he had indeed stolen it, but not in a criminal sense. He bought it at estate sales. When somebody died, he visited the house and made an offer for everything in it, from jewels to tools. People barely cared about price. They just wanted the joint emptied. And over time he accumulated more expensive china than he could give away. Which he was almost doing.
In the course of our conversation he asked where we were from, and when we said Fort Lauderdale, he lit up. “That’s one of the best shows in the country,” he said. “Everybody loves to go to that one.”
He obviously meant that he and fellow vendors (they are sort of a clan) found Las Olas Boulevard a great place to sell their wares. That conversation was a bit of a game-changer for us. We live in the neighborhood that gets closed down several times a year to control traffic generated by the art fairs. Just last month, the first of the winter events occurred and we had to show identity just to drive past the barrier on our street.
The closings are designed to keep traffic off our quiet streets, and discourage show visitors from parking in our elite spaces. But they also make it hard to even get out of our neighborhood. Over the years we have learned to escape via unguarded parking lots, back alleys and secret underground tunnels. Thus inconvenienced, a few of us have even used unflattering names to describe the shows, but as our Carolina friend illustrates, that isn’t fair. At least the folks who travel around the country to work these shows would not endorse such slander.
We would guess that the mountain man’s high praise for the Fort Lauderdale shows would hold for the other venues mentioned in Allison Fox’s story. Boca Raton’s Mizner Park and Delray Beach’s Atlantic Avenue reek affluence and charm even without additional attractions. What obviously makes South Florida attractive for the vendors from afar is our two natural resources: great winter weather and money.
This month’s piece is hardly our first look at local festivals. The photo above was taken at a Las Olas Boulevard show for our May 1977 issue.