Rococo's twirls and swirls take center stage in this year's Maryland Antiques Show

November 01, 1992|By Karol V. Menzie | Karol V. Menzie,Staff Writer

When folks in Maryland find a style they like, they stick with it. We all know about Formstone, the enduring stucco coating that has marched across house after house, block after block, for five decades. And while the fashion world is just discovering baseball jackets, Baltimoreans have been honoring their Orioles in that garb since the '50s. But do you have any idea how long important Marylanders clung to the rococo style?

Almost a hundred years, that's how long. While the rest of the fashionable world went neoclassical with Hepplewhite and Sheraton, Colonial consumers continued to order silver and porcelain decorated in the elaborate, scrolly, swirly motifs that characterized rococo, an 18th century French style that took Paris, then London, then the Colonies by storm in the 1730s.

"The Colonists, who bought all their silver in England, got the latest style," says Richard Randall, head of the gallery committee for the Maryland Historical Society, and the man who arranged the exhibit, "Rococo in Maryland: Early Beginnings, Late Survival," that is a centerpiece of this year's Maryland Antiques Show. This will be the 15th year for the show, which gathers dealers from all over the country and includes, besides the rococo exhibit, a gala, silent auctions, and guided "show walks." The show takes place Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the Fifth Regiment Armory.

It's the fact that in 1795 Samuel Chase was ordering porcelain with his rococo-style coat of arms that shows the enduring popularity of the style in this area, Mr. Randall says.

"In Western Maryland," Mr. Randall says, "gunsmiths fell in love with rococo ornamentation and were using it all the way into the middle of the 19th century."

The exhibit, which will display rococo objects from the historical society's collection and from private collectors, includes three Kentucky-style flintlock rifles made between 1810 and 1835. Descriptive text written for the show catalog notes that Nathaniel Rowe, an apprentice of John Armstrong of Emmitsburg, was still working in the rococo style as late as 1880.

The show will also include a graceful Maryland-made walnut and walnut veneer dressing table that Gregory Weidman, historical society curator, says is "the very best" example of a very rare item.

But it is probably the silver that will most dazzle show visitors. It is astonishing what forms its creators wrought: a coffeepot ordered by Charles Carroll in 1765 from the London firm of Wright and Whipham ("the Tiffany of its day," says chief curator Jennifer Goldsborough) is engraved with Carroll's family crest and coat of arms, surrounded by vines and leaves and scrollwork; the top is adorned with an intricately molded pineapple, the 18th century symbol of hospitality. A silver cake basket, crafted in the London shops of Samuel Herbert in 1764, is so elaborately pierced and swirled it seems made of silver lace. The delicate basket, lined with a linen cloth, would have been used to serve tea sandwiches or cake. The curators don white cotton gloves to handle the basket and other items, and they, too, are struck by the beauty of these objects, which got day-to-day use when they were new.

"There's almost nothing silver won't do," Ms. Goldsborough says. "That's why it became so popular. The fact that it's white and shiny is just icing on the cake."

The antique show, managed by N. Pendergast "Penny" Jones, a noted show manager from Connecticut, will also offer lots of silver, as well as furniture, ceramics, glass, rugs, paintings, jewelry, maps and prints, and folk art.

"We never know for sure," what will turn up until dealers arrive and begin setting out objects in their booths, Ms. Goldsborough said. Then, "It's sort of like watching Aladdin in his magic cave.

VTC "It's a very eclectic show," she says. "It's not the kind of a show where you find 20th century material like comic books or baseball cards. It's pretty much pre-1850.

"The range is generally from the 18th to the mid-19th century," Ms. Weidman says. "A lot of our dealers will bring special Maryland materials to the show."

Prices range from very expensive to quite affordable, the curators say. "It's a show that's very much aimed at furnishing a home and wanting very attractive and useful things," Ms. Goldsborough says. "We always encourage people who aren't in a position to buy right now to come to the show" to see what is available, and to learn more.

Unlike a museum, where objects are encased or fenced off or labeled "Do not touch," a show offers people a chance to handle things -- to take out a drawer and turn it over, or to study the details on a piece of silver. It is a great way to train the eye, and

to learn your own taste, Ms. Weidman says. And "dealers love to talk about objects."

"The dealers are in the business because they love the objects and they want to share them," Ms. Goldsborough says. "They beg people to ask questions."

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