A small crowd at the Clark County Antique & Collectible Show gathered around Charles Tovar as he used a paintbrush to swirl clear liquid onto an old oil painting.
The Forest Grove, Ore., art restorer was removing dirt and even insect poop from the work of art. Most of the paintings he restores from the late 1800s or early 1900s, however, are covered in something else, too.
“Coal dust,” he said. Many homes during that era used coal-burning stoves, which over time blanketed household items, including art, with a dingy coating.
Those darkened paintings are less attractive to modern-day collectors, meaning Tovar is able to grab them up, restore them and resell them. He had restored paintings, drawings and sculptures on display Sunday at the collectibles show, and they were priced from a couple of hundred dollars to thousands of dollars.
Organizers of the annual antique and collectibles show said the event offered more fine art and higher-end items than usual among its 250 booths this year. It was the 12th year for the show, which was at the Clark County Event Center at the Fairgrounds over the weekend.
It was the second time at the event for Tovar, a recent transplant from Atlanta.
As he worked, he said he first applies one chemical to loosen up the grime. Then he applies another liquid to help him wipe it away. The trick is to remove the unwanted filth, but not the patina that comes with age.
“We like to preserve art, and that’s what it’s all about,” Tovar said.
“When you start bringing it back to what it originally was, it’s such a great feeling.”
Nearby, Debbie and Tony Davies were selling another kind of spruced-up antique: slag-glass lamps from the turn of the 20th century.
It all started about two decades ago, Tony Davies said, when “we bought a lamp that we liked.” After purchasing several more, the couple realized that “we’re going to have to start selling these if we want to buy any more,” he said.
Now the pair own Good Ole Stuff, a lamp restoration and retail business in Vancouver. They attend a handful of antique shows a year, selling about 50 lamps annually at those events. One slag-glass lamp on display Sunday was priced at $1,400 and another at $700.
Tony Davies cleans the lamps with mild soap and water and rewires the electrical components himself. If the metal detailing on the lamp is damaged, he’ll ship it off to a conservator to finish it.
“It’s a 100-year-old work of art that’s a functional item in your home,” Debbie Davies said.
Anita Mead of Portland preferred a different collectible in her home. The Portland woman has about 30 dolls, displaying several atop her entertainment center and on a shelf in her bedroom. She was at the event Sunday browsing for a few more.
“I usually find the dolls, or they usually find me,” she said. Already she had discovered two Norwegian dolls and was in the midst of purchasing a Glinda the Good Witch doll circa 1989.
Glinda, sold by Rebecca Franklin of Spokane, was in mint condition. Franklin said she bought the doll and 19 others from a woman who had never taken them out of the box.
“I was the first to take the plastic off of Glinda’s dress,” Franklin said.