Promotor Profile: Emma Lee Turney

Emma Lee Turney, the founder of the Original Round Top Antiques Show, is selling her famed Folk Art Fair and Creative Market. After running antiques shows for more than 40 years and the folk art fair for the last 16 years, Turney is ready to change direction and focus on a new chapter in her life – literally. In place of show promoting Turney, 80, is planning on finishing two books. In spite of her passion for the nation’s artisans, she said it’s time a new producer brought a fresh perspective to Texas’ robust demand for contemporary folk art. The possibilities are endless with Turney envisioning a monthly market and then a permanent market and new shows.
She recently discussed the sale and her future with Antique Trader.

Ema Lee Turney.jpgAT: Why is this a good time for you to sell the Folk Art?

Turney: The opportunities abound and it will take a fresh new producer to capture the attention of so many prominent Houstonians who have second homes, ranches, farms and restorations in the area. Many of these are in the area because of my shows – past and present.

AT: What goals did you have in mind when creating a show like this? What inspired you to take a contemporary approach?

Turney: My reason for opening a venue for contemporary artisans was because of so much restoration and establishment of second homes in the area by collectors. We are long time patrons of the five local non-profit foundations in this tiny community and we believe it is important to give back to the community. Round Top is the rural cultural center of Texas with the restorations at historical Henkel Square under the direction of the Texas Pioneer Arts Foundation. Folk art fair painted chairs.jpgItems such as floor cloths were hard to find and we have had some of the best artists of these. Custom fashions and jewelry are always popular. One of our exhibitors, Houston’s Suzanne Cornwell just returned from Hollywood where she was interviewed by William Shatner for his television show. Most of the work being performed by the artisans is dramatic and original. We include one of a kind gourd art, photographers, custom pottery, traditional and outsider art.

AT: Were you surprised at how well the market responded to the idea? How can you gauge the interest in your dealer’s work? Is it sought after by collectors or by interior decorators or both?

Turney: Mary Lou Marks, interior decorator, wedding and event planner recently moved to the Round Top area to serve the many new people moving to the area. We select only the best artists and craftsmen. The “market” we have created has brought a very loyal and supportive attendance to the show.

I am not surprised at how the market responded to this new venue because we created the show to fill a need. Customers and exhibitors greatly appreciate the air conditioning in this Texas hot, humid, weather. Then, I am not very surprised at anything after forty-six years of being a show manager and producer.

Folk art fair signs.jpgAgain, you have to know that we are responsible for creating the market, especially in our area. Regional editors and writers have been totally supportive of our shows from the very beginning because as one writer told me, "You always present what you say you will present." The national media support has been unprecedented with major design publications, Collectors magazines, CBS News Sunday Morning, HGTV, the National Geographic channel featuring our shows.

AT: How far do your dealers come to exhibit?

Turney: I gauge the on-going interest in the show by the repeat participation of the artisans and customers. The show is patronized by collectors, dealers, decorators and designers from across the United States who join our loyal Houston and Texas collectors. And our exhibitors come from throughout Texas and the Southwest, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Louisiana and the Southern states primarily. Some never miss a show; others do only a spring or a fall show because of their schedules.

AT: What are some of the more familiar names among your dealers?

Turney: Well known names in the area: Trudy MacLauren from Wisconsin; Mary Lou Marks, decorator from Houston and Carmine, Texas; Steve Meadows, Illinois (in my opinion the very best outsider artist to date); Beth Anderson, a traditional artist originally from Mt. Holyoak, Mass., now living at Round Top, (at the Spring show, Beth received eight commissions to paint the pictures of country houses); Robert Klein, exotic wood artist, San Antonio, Texas and Janet Weston, a Texas painter.

AT: Does the sale represent your complete retirement from the show promoting trade?

Turney: My plans for the future will be to finish two more books. I do not have plans to produce or manage any other shows.

AT: Have you built this part of your company to be a complete turn-key approach?

Turney: Yes, complete turn-key. The sale will include ten acres of prime location just outside the city limits of Round Top; the cedar barn which houses three extra exhibit areas and an apartment; the new 12,600 sq. ft. air conditioned exhibit building; the customer list of a little under 12,000; 145 press contacts and the good will that has built the show into a major part of the arts scene in Texas and the nation.

The property is listed with Round Top Real Estate and can be viewed online at