Certain areas in the Northeast are generally regarded as nirvana for antique collectors: Hudson, New York; Lambertville, New Jersey; Adamstown, Pennsylvania; Brimfield, Massachusetts. Red Hook, Brooklyn, isn’t one of them. But that’s where 29-year-old Russell Whitmore decided to set up shop three years ago, on a corner just a few blocks from the East River wharfs. His much-loved store, Erie Basin, specializes in Victorian- and Georgian-era jewelry, furniture, and curiosities, with a dash of 20th century thrown in — think cameo rings, hair combs, snuff boxes, old mourning jewelry, ephemera recovered from the headquarters of fraternal orders, snowy porcelain wares by Ted Muehling, and vintage-inspired engagement rings by the Brooklyn duo Conroy & Wilcox. “I actually started out thinking I would do furniture and decorative arts, but that means you need a lot of space, and the problem in New York is real estate,” Whitmore says. “Besides, 19th-century jewelry has the same motifs and styles as the furniture and architecture of that time, so it wasn’t a big leap.”
Whitmore caught the antiquarian bug early. Growing up outside Chicago, his parents were antique hobbyists, and he had little else to do while studying studio art at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, a town of “maybe 100 people without the college,” he says. These days, he makes about a trip per week, traveling up and down the Northeast corridor and occasionally into the Midwest to check in with around 30 dealers who clear estates, buy from auctions, or have collections themselves. His taste in jewelry runs to the darkly romantic, and in furniture to the slightly battered. Like any collector, he can be sentimental about some finds, and once in a while, things somehow find their way to the Brooklyn Heights home he shares with his girlfriend, Sara. We asked Whitmore to share some recent buys, for the shop and for himself. Here are his selections.
“I grew up going to pow-wows and stuff” isn’t the first thing you expect Annie Lenon to say as she’s puttering around the garden apartment and studio she shares with her boyfriend in a brownstone in Brooklyn’s Fort Greene. But then you recall that the 25-year-old jewelry-maker and Pratt grad hails from Bozeman, a city of 27,000 located in the southwestern corner of Montana — a state that with its prairies and badlands and Indian reservations seems downright exotic to most New Yorkers — and you realize she’s working from an entirely different reference point.
Once or twice a year, Brooklyn furniture designer Paul Loebach gets out his straw hat and bandana, ties on a pair of crappy old sneakers, drags out his huge canvas tote, and drives up to Massachussetts, where dealers from all over the Northeast gather every spring, summer, and fall for the Brimfield Antique Show.