To the casual observer, antique show openings can seem staid affairs, hardly celebrations at all if it weren't for the food and drink.
"Sure it's quiet," admitted one young woman at the preview party (for the weekend-long Laguna Art Museum Antiques Show) Thursday evening in the Mercantile Building of South Coast Village. "This is an elegant antique show."
"Still," her companion asked, "do you think maybe antique shows attract antique people?"
Perish the thought: Under that unruffled veneer, internal excitement at the patron affair ran high. Museum president Tom Tierney, for instance, went so far as to liken his enthusiasm for quality antiques to the din "of a nice subway."
The show, which generated $25,000 for the museum, attracted more than 50 West Coast dealers--that's 20 more than had been possible in past years at the museum's coastal site, currently under renovation--and 4,000 visitors over the weekend.
Patrons at the preview affair perused items ranging from Japanese kimonos to Russian icons to all manner of Continental timepieces while enjoying the soothing strains of a string quartet.
Cuisine M. provided an international buffet including dim sum, tortellini and mini-enchiladas, but the item with the greatest impact on the party was undeniably raclette on the wheel--a rather pungent, dense, Swiss-type cheese.
"It tastes good," said Jack Caldwell, who had just purchased a portrait of the young Bacchus. "But it does permeate the whole building, doesn't it?"
The young woman serving the cheese wasn't worried about the building. "I'm going out tonight," she said. "I hope I don't smell like this."
Hal Rosoff from Cuisine M. talked about raclette :
"It's used sort of apres -ski," he explained. "According to tradition, you put a wheel of it next to the fireplace, and as it melts, you scrape it with a paddle. You put it on potatoes or onions or broccoli or little pickles. . . . It's like Camembert--I don't know anybody who'd eat it if they just smelled it."
A popular booth at the show was that of Ronald Atwood of Los Gatos; he featured antique telescopes and other scientific paraphernalia. Atwood said Halley's Comet wasn't the only reason for the interest.
"These were the instruments of society," he explained, "of the privileged class. A properly educated, enlightened English gentleman had his instruments to take into the field, his aquatic microscope to look at the water in the pond, his telescope du salon for the library--notice the extra decorative detail--his opera glasses. . . .
"In their day, and they date back to 1730, these instruments were quite expensive. Now, at under $2,000, I'd say they're quite collectible, wouldn't you?"
Museum curator Bill Otton gave an update on renovation at the Laguna site.
"They topped off the roof today," said Otton. "We didn't have a party, but we will."
Linda Frost, marketing director of South Coast Village--she's something of an expert on building topping-out ceremonies--wanted details.
Did they put a tree on the last steel beam? she wanted to know.
"No," said Otton.
Did they sign the last steel beam, she asked.
"Um, no, not yet," he answered.
Many of the guests commented on the cover of the show catalogue, which at first glance seemed to depict Tierney and his wife, Elizabeth, in a mink, sipping champagne by candlelight amid the comforts of a warm living room.
"The photo was actually taken outside the museum," Otton recalled. "It was 5 o'clock at night, a storm was blowing in, the candles were blowing out. . . . It took about 40 takes."
Elizabeth Tierney remembered the chilly session well.
"The champagne we were drinking was room-temperature," she said, "and it was wonderful."
Show co-chairmen were Pat Atha and Tom Stansbury; Catherine Kiester assisted. Honorary chairman was Costa Mesa Mayor Norma Hertzog, who didn't stay long.