travels world for bargains
NITA S. WEST
MADISON, Ind. It's a typical hot, humid Indiana morning, and
Evan Sommerfeld is rushing between both of his downtown Madison antique
Sommerfeld spends much of his
time on the road buying unique items
for his two Madison antique stores,
Old Town Emporium and Evan
Sommerfeld Antiques, Inc.
He has just come from Old Town Emporium, 113 E. Second
St. to Evan Sommerfeld Antiques, Inc., located at 118 East Main St.
He is bargaining with dealers, supervising the move of antique chairs
and other items to another location, along with getting ready to leave
on one of his overseas buying trips.
While most people would find owning and operating two businesses more
than overwhelming, Sommerfeld takes it all in stride. He even finds
time to sit down and talk about what drew him into the antique business
and what maintains his excitement.
"I've been in the antique business most of my adult life,"
Sommerfeld began in high school, working during summer months to locate
small, unwanted treasures but desirable to the clientele he was slowly
building. While a student at the University of Illinois, he served as
manager of an antique shop, where he learned the trade.
What could possibly lure a young man to spend his free time searching
dusty attics, out of the way shops, auctions and estate sales for antiques
and collectible articles and still maintain his interest years later?
"It was the excitement," he explained. "The excitement
of finding something, like a treasure hunt, of finding something you
can sell for more that you paid for it because you were clever about
The excitement of the treasure hunt grew during Sommerfeld's 20 years
in the U.S. Army. During that time, he spent nine years in Europe and
the Far East, where his interest in antiques grew stronger. Here he
learned more about European antiques their value and the best
places to find them. He quickly realized Holland was an enormous marketplace
for what Sommerfeld calls "a potpourri of precious things."
During the Golden Age (1620 to 1750), the Dutch were among the wealthiest
people of Europe, as well as being great world traders. Their trade
routes took them to China, Japan and India, where they traded goods
for Holland and other European countries for spices, ceramics, textiles
and precious metals. These, in turn, were traded in Europe for the finest
goods other counties had to offer.
England is a surprising source for African artifacts as a result of
trade with English colonies in Africa. Many Dutch items are also found
in India as a result of world trade.
Twice a year, Sommerfeld travels to Holland and other European countries
in search of various treasures. He ships an average of two sea containers
per year back to the United States, the results of many grueling hours
of searching shops, estates, sales and even flea markets.
These influences are found particularly in Sommerfeld's Old Town Emporium.
While Evan Sommerfeld Antiques, Inc. carries both antiques and collectibles,
Old Town Emporium specializes in 18th and 19th century furniture and
accessories of English, Dutch and American origin.
In addition to housing a wide variety of antiques, Old Town Emporium
has a rich history of its own. It was built circa 1825, approximately
the same time as the historic Sullivan House at 304 W. Second St. in
Madison. With some interior details similar to the Sullivan House, it
is a true Federal-style house, built by Kritz, one of Madison's first
It was just this type of historical significance that drew Sommerfeld
to Madison in 1986 after retiring from the Army. He was given one year
to chose a site for his new home and settled on Madison after considering
many other locations.
The Sommerfelds were familiar with the small Southern Indiana town by
way of their friendship with the Gunter family, who introduced them
to Madison. It was the perfect spot for several reasons. Madison's real
estate prices were fairly low at that time, the school system was good,
and it was located only a day's drive from Mrs. Sommerfeld's family
in central Illinois.
Finally, the Midwestern area would be a lucrative location for the antique
shop Sommerfeld planned to open.
Like all antique dealers, Sommerfeld has come across many interesting
things. Some can be viewed at the Indiana Coverlet Exhibit inside the
Jefferson County Historical Society Museum.
Director Joseph Carr says the exhibit "has been very popular this
In its second phase, the exhibit contains a selection of Indiana-made
coverlets, all pre-Civil War, and all part of Sommerfeld's private collection.
"There are only two or three such collections in the whole state,"
Sommerfeld's interests in antiques is not limited to what he can fit
into his shop or home. Madison's rich history architecture intrigued
Sommerfeld and led him to inquire about its preservation.
At that time, there existed no formal group, other than the historical
society and a few individuals dedicated to building preservation. One
of those individuals was Marianne Imes.
She describes Sommerfeld as an antique and preservation enthusiast as
well as "a talented writer who is great with the pen."
Knowing Imes was responsible for the restoration of more than one Madison
house, he contacted her and suggested a that a preservation organization
would be an invaluable asset to the community.
"He asked me to invite people concerned with preservation in Madison
to an organizational meeting." Imes said.
That was the beginning of Cornerstone, an organization dedicated to
restoration and preservation of historical sites in the Madison area.
Since its conception, Cornerstone has been the salvation of many historical
buildings in Madison. Sommerfeld and his wife remain active in the organization
he serving as membership chairman and she as president. Although
Sommerfeld spends much of his time on the road, he always returns to
Madison to add to its ongoing culture and help ensure its preservation.
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