Expecting the Unexpected – Wherever You Are

While I was in Peoria last week I had the opportunity to take some long, afternoon walks, one of which took me to the Illinois Antiques Center, an old brick warehouse on the Illinois River that has been converted into offices, an art gallery and a first floor antiques mall.

Peoria, while never a hotbed of Arts & Crafts, is one of those cities where the unexpected can happen. Back in the 1980s, a story started circulating about a horde of rare Gustav Stickley spindle furniture somewhere in Peoria. Turns out the story was true, but by the time the furniture finally was located, negotiated and transported back East, there were more people demanding their cut than Clint Eastwood and Telly Savalas had to deal with in Kelley’s Heroes.

My aunt once found a set of four Gustav Stickley chairs for me in Peoria and years before I made the seven-hour round trip from Iowa City to Peoria to check out what I had been promised was an unsigned Gustav Stickley china cabinet. Turned out the only thing promised was the fact that it was unsigned.

As I was leaving the shop empty-handed, I noticed a familiar form sitting on the floor beneath a stack of old Look magazines. “How much for the footstool?” I asked nonchalantly.

“Oh, that,” he scoffed. “Its nothing. You can have it for twenty-five dollars.”

A couple of blocks later, I pulled my old Ford van to the curb and walked the footstool out into the sunlight. Though the finish was worn, it was original, so I had a good feeling about it. After about five minutes of twisting, turning and catching the sun just right, I found what I was looking for – that faint, red decal bearing the name Gustav Stickley.

I had a familiar feeling last week as I was walking the aisles of the Illinois Antiques Center. A few minutes later I was standing in front of a pair of L. & J. G. Stickley rocking chairs. While priced right, both were too small for me, plus I knew we just didn’t have a place for them. And I still felt like there was something else to be found in the store.

A couple of booths later I spotted it: a 48″ Gustav Stickley ‘trestle’ library table. This is a form I have always admired, but never owned. In place of four legs it has ‘shoe’ feet at either end, plus a lower shelf held in place with large keyed tenons.

But it also had problems.

It had been stripped and refinished, but the wood had a funny cast to it. As soon as I got on my knees and took a closer look, I could see why. The table had once been painted white and thousands of tiny bits of white paint remained wedged deep in the pores of the wood.

The top must have been in rough shape, for the refinisher had taken a different approach to it. At first glance I thought the table had a new oak top, but that wasn’t the case. Instead, the refinisher had removed the screws holding the top in place, at which time, I suspect, the boards either came apart or he knocked them apart. He then proceeded to run each board through a planner, which skimmed off the top quarter-inch of paint-saturated wood.

He glued the boards back together, sanded it lightly and slapped on a coat of varnish. The resulting top was still original, but in addition to looking like new wood, it was now only five-eighths of an inch thick. That may not sound like much of a difference, but on a table with a massive base and thick lower shelf, that missing quarter-of-an-inch on the top immediately drew your attention.

And not for the right reason.

As expected, the price tag made no mention of the paint, the refinishing or the planed-down top. Only the fact that it was “signed Gustav Stickley.”

And at $1250, it was easy to leave behind in Peoria.

Until next Monday,

Bruce Johnson

PS – If you haven’t received your brochure for the February Grove Park Inn Arts & Crafts Conference, drop us an email with your address and we’ll send one to you. Thanks! – bj