Industry mourns passing of Earlean S. Bowen, ‘The Antiques Lady,’ 95

EUPORA, Miss. – The antiques industry lost a true jewel with the recent passing of Earlean S. Bowen, an enthusiastic buyer and seller of antiques and longtime owner of Bowen’s Antiques in Eupora, a small and quaint town in central Mississippi north of Jackson and south of Memphis, Tenn. Ms. Bowen died Nov. 16 and was buried three days later, on her 96th birthday.

Bowen’s Antiques wasn’t so much a store as it was a veritable antiques village, with 10 buildings plus a brick residence all on one property in Eupora that Ms. Bowen owned. She

Earlean Bowen at her 90th birthday celebration. Behind her is a photo from her younger days. (Photo courtesy Stevens Auction Company)

kept adding on buildings as her massive inventory of antiques – especially furniture and primitives – grew over the years. She made sure the buildings were spread apart to minimize any fire damage.

“I had the privilege of knowing Earlean Bowen, as did many other fortunate folks, and I would be hard-pressed to name a person who was more loved or full of life than she was,” said Dwight Stevens of Stevens Auction Company, based in Aberdeen, Miss. “She attended many of my auctions and even though she was a dealer, it was the buying that excited her – the hunt.”

Stevens added, “When you went to visit Earlean at her shop, everything was for sale – including the jewelry she was wearing and the bed she slept in. If someone wanted to buy, she would figure out a way to make a sale happen. She also prepared a full dinner every day, with various meats and two or three different desserts. She’d feed pretty much anyone who came by.”

Bowen’s Antiques was not an overnight success story, nor was Earlean Bowen a lifelong player in the antiques business, though she always fancied antique furniture. Born in Eupora, she worked at the Montgomery Ward store there for years before getting a job at the Mississippi State Department of Welfare, as manager of the state’s food stamps program.

In 1975, with $10,000 and a dream to get into the business, Earlean launched Bowen’s Antiques, initially as a home-based venture. In the few years prior to that, she had been selling a few used cars out of her front yard and was also an Amway distributor. In a few instances, she accepted furniture pieces as a down-payment on a car, then sold the furniture out of her garage. Then, as she was calling on customers, she would notice other furniture items in their homes that she decided she just had to have. “Almost no one could say no to grandmother,” said Lisa Mims, Ms. Bowen’s granddaughter. “To my knowledge there has only been one piece of furniture that she ever tried to buy that she just couldn’t talk the owner into selling to her.”

This article originally appeared in Antique Trader magazine

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That was 36 years ago, when Earlean spotted a Welsh cupboard in an open doorway of a home in Kilmichael, Miss. She turned the car around and immediately knocked on the door to purchase the piece. Much to her dismay, she didn’t leave with it, and all of her future attempts were unsuccessful, too. “Even as recently as a couple of years ago, every time we’d pass that house she’d say, ‘I wonder whatever happened to that wonderful cupboard,’” Mims recalled.

Parlaying her love of Empire pieces, old Southern furniture, primitives, Americana, china, crystal and jewelry into a bulging inventory, Bowen had, by age 85, amassed an inventory worth an estimated $1 million. And, remarkably, she was just hitting her stride. “At an age when most people are well into retirement and taking life easy, Ms. Bowen was out there, charging around the country, buying new pieces and making new contacts,” Stevens said. “At age 90, she had a six-man crew and several trucks. She was just this unbelievable powerhouse of energy. Everybody knew her affectionately as the ‘Antiques Lady.’”

She finally did slow down, however, in her 90s, and pared back her work schedule in the process. One thing she never missed, though, was the Governor’s Inaugural Ball, an event Bowen got invited to every four years, having made political connections in her government job. Last year at age 95, she danced with the Governor of Mississippi for what was to be the last time.

Bowen served as treasurer for the Sapa Baptist Church in Eupora for more than 45 years. She was also a member of the Eupora Rotary Club and a supporter of the Eupora Arts Group. In 2005, she was Grand Marshall of the Eupora Christmas Celebration Parade. In 2006, she was presented a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Webster County Development Council.

In a text to friends after Bowen’s passing, Lisa Mims wrote, “Grandmother is furnishing the halls of heaven with antiques now.” Stevens Auction Company will be auctioning Bowen’s estate in its entirety in a sale planned for sometime this spring, probably in March.

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