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Fishersville Antiques Expo draws local, international dealers

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Randi B. Hagi
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Outside the event center, antiques dealers pulled up flatbed trailers and set up tents to display their wares.

Vendors from as close as Charlottesville and as far away as France converged at the Fishersville Antiques Expo over the weekend. WMRA's Randi B. Hagi reports.

[sound of people talking, milling about]

It was a sunny, breezy day outside the Augusta Expo Event Center on Friday. Vehicles lined the parking lot and surrounding fields, bearing license plates from North Carolina, Delaware, Ohio, and Wisconsin. Two hundred and fifty antiques dealers had set up canopies outside and booths in multiple buildings and barns.

DEALER: You know, even in the '30's, they were buying hooked rugs and putting them all over the place …

The sheer variety of stuff available was fascinating. A carved trunk from colonial Spain. A biography of Steve McQueen. Slides from a pelvis X-ray. An Italian cane with a bulldog head, and a photo of someone's great-grandma looking very cute in a satin dress and curls.

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Randi B. Hagi
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Shawn Nesbit with a piece of late 19th century 'tramp art.'

SHAWN NESBIT: The focus of this show is Americana, folk art, traditional country. Probably find some of the best country furniture at this show that you'll find in Virginia.

Shawn Nesbit, from Charlottesville, and his family have been selling antiques at this show for about 25 years.

NESBIT: And a lot of the dealers save their best stuff all year to bring to this show. … We kind of have a specialized niche because we do glass, china, pottery.

I asked Nesbit to show me the most interesting item he had. He gestured towards a piece that looked like a giant trinket box whose craftsman had been inspired by a ziggurat.

NESBIT: This piece of tramp art that was made in the late 19th century, so like 1860's, 1870's, maybe. And it's got the original mustard paint. And they were just made out of old cigar boxes, just scrap wood that was then cut into that kind of geometric shape. They're just whimsies, primarily, but like anything else in country Americana, if it's got paint on it, it's original paint, then people love it!

A few other items of note that I saw: signs for every kind of beer, tobacco, and cola product. Baby doll heads without their bodies. A miniature floral-patterned tophat for a thousand bucks. A brass bell from a tugboat, and ID cards for 1930s railroad workers.

One shopper, Carol Martin, drove about two hours from Rock Camp, West Virginia in search of home decor and things to sell in her own antique store.

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Randi B. Hagi
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Carol Martin pushes a buggy with her antique finds, including a soil sifter resting on top of a barrel.

CAROL MARTIN: Well, I have an oval cast iron pot, and a soil sifter, and a wooden barrel, and an old funnel, and two wire baskets my husband makes into lights. … We have a variety in our shop, so I look for a little bit of everything. It's amazing what people will collect.

Patricia Herman came from Berwick, Pennsylvania with her wares. She does a lot of her shopping in New England, where she said there are older and less expensive artifacts available.

PATRICIA HERMAN: I sell a lot of primitives. I do shows all across the country. This is one of my favorite shows to do. I specialize in pretty much 1800's buckets, barrels, bowls, dough boards, anything that's wood.

HAGI: If you had to pick one piece that you have today that you think is the most interesting, what would you pi –

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Randi B. Hagi
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Patricia Herman with the hand-carved horse.

HERMAN: The horse.

HAGI: Okay, tell me about the horse!

HERMAN: I just love him. I – he's one piece. He's all hand carved and all hand painted, and I usually buy horses on rockers, but I saw him – he's actually from Virginia … and I just fell in love with him, so I had to buy him. … A lot of times, you'll buy that "wow" factor piece, that piece that draws people into your booth, and that's what you look for at every show.

Some other notable finds were: a child's ride-in car with a child-size Garfield riding shotgun. Victorian lockets with people's hair in them. An unsettlingly cheerful clown marionette. A sea of cast iron dutch ovens. A flintlock pistol. And – this surprised me – a few booths with what appeared to be artifacts from Nazi Germany, including a swastika armband.

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Dominic Ponton demonstrates how the milk jugs would be carried on top of someone's head.

I asked organizer Lesley Stokes about that, and she said that, yes, there are history buffs who collect these things, but it doesn't mean that she or anyone involved with the expo condone the Nazi regime. She said, [quote] "If you don't know about history, you're doomed to repeat it."

In a totally different vein of European collectibles, Dominic Ponton was peddling antiques from France that he shipped here by boat – including an iron foot warmer.

DOMINIC PONTON: So, you take, you put ash, from the fireplace, [snaps lid shut] you go to the church and keep your foot warm.

He's four months into a year-long stateside excursion, hitting major antique shows from Boston on down to Florida and Texas. He said that religious items, like crucifixes, are popular here, as well as –

PONTON: … copper pots … people love copper here. Copper, brass, like this – [stoops to pick up a big pot] – that is what you call un canne à lait. Canne à lait is to carry your milk. In 1890, you carry on your head, like that.

So, if you're in the market for a French milk jug, an art nouveau tapestry, or perhaps a taxidermied raccoon, the Fishersville Antiques Expo comes around twice a year. The next one is scheduled for May 19th and 20th.

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Randi B. Hagi first joined the WMRA team in 2019 as a freelance reporter. Her writing and photography have been featured in The Harrisonburg Citizen, where she previously served as the assistant editor; as well as The Mennonite; Mennonite World Review; and Eastern Mennonite University's Crossroads magazine.