Inside the art and antique fair
Jewels, paintings, books and more
NAPLES — A crowd stood at the door, and everyone waited to be first to see the highly-touted Naples International Art & Antique Fair on Thursday night.
Some tried to sneak in a little too early, only to be pushed back out and told by a security officer, “We’re not open yet.” Carpets were still getting a fresh vacuum and burnt-out bulbs were being replaced.
Just after 6 p.m., the doors swung open for the inaugural fair, an opening night preview that drew an estimated 1,500 people. Tickets cost $125 apiece, with proceeds benefiting the Patty & Jay Baker Naples Museum of Art at the Philharmonic Center.
The fair didn’t disappoint the Naples crowd, who seemed awed by the fine art and glittering jewels, including a collection of Renoir paintings and oversized diamonds by Graff.
As the first visitors walked into the fair they ‘ooh-ed’ and ‘aah-ed’ over what they saw.
“This is a theatrical business,” said David Lester, who organized the fair with his wife, Lee Ann. “By any standards this is a world-class show. And that is what Naples needs.”
The Lesters own International Fine Art Expositions, headquartered in Bonita Springs. They’ve held fairs like the one previewed Thursday in Palm Beach, Miami and London. For years they’ve wanted to do something in their own backyard.
The Naples fair is being held at the new Naples International Pavilion and runs through March 1.
It was hard to imagine the building off Immokalee Road, east of Livingston Road, was once an Albertsons. In less than two weeks, the abandoned grocery store was transformed. Thursday night it looked like a museum, with everything for sale. There are nearly 50 vendors in the fair, and only a few are local.
The only complaint seemed to be about the parking. Valet parking was available, but limited, leaving most patrons to park at the North Collier Regional Park off Livingston Road, where they could catch one of two charter buses to the event.
At one point, traffic was backed up for blocks on Immokalee and Livingston roads, as fair-goers tried to get to the gala, which lasted until 10 p.m.
“There is traffic backed up,” Lee Ann Lester acknowledged. “That’s a good thing.”
The purpose of the gala was to draw out the serious collectors, giving them more time to meet with vendors and learn more about what they offer. Serious buyers were present Thursday, including one young woman who tried on a sparkling yellow diamond ring at Graff. The event also drew those curious to see what the fuss was about.
Matt Nichols, 43, of Naples, brought his daughter Rory, 7, and girlfriend, Christina Grüm, 44, a local mosaic artist, to the fair. Asked why he came, he pointed to Grüm and said, “I was trying to impress her,” as he pointed at Grüm.
His daughter, a budding artist, pointed at the jewels she liked in one of Graff’s brightly lit display windows.
“I love to see some important art in Naples,” said Grüm. “After all, we don’t have that much in Naples. It’s great. It’s exciting.”
Andrew Barksdale, 48, of Marco Island, stopped in the Potterton Books booth to see if they had something to add to his wife’s cookbook collection. After looking at a few books, he decided to wait for his wife’s input. She plans a visit on Saturday.
At the Marilyn Garrow-Fine Textile Art booth, Deborah Hammond, director of development for the Golisano Childrens Museum of Naples, eyed children’s clothing that she hoped the vendor might donate for a future display at her museum, due to open later this year. She wants to display children’s clothing from around the world.
For her, the visit was about building relationships with vendors. She was impressed by what she saw.
Lydia Garrow, a director for Marilyn Garrow-Fine Textile Art, said her company has participated in the Lesters’ Palm Beach show for 15 years.
“We thought we’d give it a go,” she said of the Naples run. “I think there is a good buzz here tonight.”
Susan Pullin, a manager for a Graff store at Bal Harbour Shops in Miami-Dade County, was manning the jeweler’s booth. Graff already has established clients in Naples. she said, making the fair a good fit.
“We’ve just had lots of people say ‘Thank you for coming,’” she said. “It’s very nice, a very warm reception.”
Bill Meek, owner and director of the Harmon-Meek Gallery in Naples and one of few local vendors in the show, manned a booth near the front. He displayed paintings by Adolf Dehn, whose work portrays his hometown of New York City.
Meek, who has known David Lester for years and participated in some of the couple’s other shows, said he was immediately interested in the Naples show.
“All it does is bring more people here,” he said. “There’s a bigger pie. Our individual slice might be smaller, but the pie will be bigger.”