Treasure hunting …. with the Art & Antiques Home Show

by Britt Aamodt, Contributing writer

If you watch PBS, then you’ve probably caught the tail end of an episode of “Antiques Roadshow,” or even devoted a whole hour to the peculiarly addictive program.

The show is a public television success story. Still, who would’ve thought anyone would tune in to watch Dick and Jane trot out granny’s old tea service?

The American version of “Antiques Roadshow” premiered in 1997 and is still going strong. And what keeps viewers coming back are the stories. In one episode, the owners of Civil War memorabilia might talk about a great-great-uncle who wore that saber at Gettysburg.

Vesley picked up a Santo Domingo Pueblo chili bowl on her annual trip to the Southwest. Artist Alice Vidal left a gap (bottom), called the spirit line, a portal through which the spirit of the bowl can come and go.

In another, an appraiser might gab about toy soldier collectibles and then offhandedly mention that the set displayed here is the same make once owned by a young Winston Churchill.

And you never know when someone’s going to pop up with a real treasure. This summer, a collector brought five Chinese cups to the “Antiques Roadshow” taping in Oklahoma. The cups were valued at over $1 million, a record for the show.

If you have an antique or treasured family heirloom squirreled away in the house or garage, then you may want to check out the Art & Antiques Home Show coming to Elk River’s Handke Center. Art historian and antiques generalist Catherine Vesley of Columbia Heights will host the two-day event, which will be held from 10 a.m. to noon on Saturday, Oct. 29 and Saturday, Nov. 12, in Room 111 of the Handke Family Center. The cost is $39 an individual or $75 couple. For more information, call ISD 728 Community Education at 763-241-3520 or visit

The latest program in Community Education’s ongoing Third Age Society lecture series, the Arts & Antiques Home Show provides the expert, Vesley, and you provide the objects for consideration and discussion. Vesley’s areas of expertise are paintings, prints, small antiques, Native American items and other objets d’art.

She came by her knowledge through degrees in art history and anthropology, and through 28 years’ experience teaching art and art history at the college level. But she’s also an avid lover of all things storied and beautiful.

Closeup of carving the Chinese cinnabar lacquer vases date from the 1930s, in Vesley’s personal collection.

“Many objects from the past had a purely functional purpose,” she says. “People had fewer belongings back then. So they’d take their plain walking stick and carve animals into it. Or they’d piece together a quilt and create something that was not just useful but also beautiful to look at.”

Vesley originally developed the Arts & Antiques Home Show for the Adult Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of Minnesota.

“Once, a woman brought in a Papago Indian basket,” she remembers. “It was of museum quality, but she’d been using it as a wastepaper basket.”

Other antiques debuted at Vesley’s workshops have run the gamut from Chinese fish scales and dueling pistols to timepieces and cigar cutters.

One individual brought Vesley a painting. The appraiser discovered, after intense research, that the painting was done by a moderately well-known artist of the early 20th century. But more important, she located a gallery on the East Coast that represented the artist’s work and valued the painting at a considerable sum.

Not everyone has a priceless set of Chinese cups gathering dust in the broom closet. But Vesley says that’s not the point of collecting antiques or of sharing heirlooms and flea market finds at the Home Show.

Innuit sculpture from Cape Dorset at the southern tip of Baffin Island.

“The best part,” she says, “is just hearing someone talk about their object, how it’s been passed down through the generations. They tell the story, and I try to add the history and context.”

Like the chili bowl, this Navajo spirit rug has a spirit line. Vesley points to it.