This story was originally published in the Summer 2019 issue of Arizona PBS magazine.
Fans of “Antiques Roadshow” will have noticed that the show has taken on a new look this season. After more than 20 years of filming in convention centers across the United States, the program is now collaborating with historic and scenic sites in its host cities.
When “Roadshow” came to Phoenix on April 16, the production took over the Desert Botanical Garden for a day. Let’s meet a few of the people who spent the day among the cacti.
Going to the ‘Roadshow’: The Guests
By Cole Cusumano
April 16 was a near-perfect day in Phoenix with a slight breeze whiffing through the shrubbery and cacti at the Desert Botanical Garden. Blue skies complimented the red rocks as a full parking lot of guests eagerly made their way to the gates.
The garden was hosting the popular PBS show “Antiques Roadshow” for a day. The 4,000 attendees had been selected by lottery to attend the event, out of a pool of over 10,000 ticket applications.
“Antiques Roadshow” last stopped in Phoenix in 2009, so there was a large crowd and a buzz of excitement in the air. Hundreds of hopeful people made their way to tall white tents to have their items appraised.
It was comfortable under the tents as people waited in line, chatting with others. Everywhere, antiques rested in wagons, on dollies or cradled in their owners’ arms.
One of the hundreds was Wally Graham, (above) who had come with multiple pieces of African and Western art — and a magnetic smile.
“I came to get a couple of my prized possessions appraised,” Graham said. “I’d love to gain some more knowledge and see what some of it’s worth.”
For Graham, an avid collector of African, Asian, abstract and Western art, this was not his first time participating in an “Antiques Roadshow” appraisal. He was here when the show last came to Phoenix 10 years ago.
“There’s a positive attitude in the air,” Graham said. “We’re here at this beautiful place, the trees are blooming, the weather is great and this tent is keeping the crowd comfortable. It’s perfect.”
Not far from Graham in the appraisal line, Cheryl Patterson and her granddaughter Ede (below) stood with their items, including a cast iron stove, a Phillip Moulthrop wood bowl and diamond, sapphire and pearl earrings. They also brought a paperweight with a tale to tell.
“My great great grandmother carried this paperweight down the Oregon Trail in 1852 — we want to see where it was made,” Cheryl said. “She didn’t have many things, but she had this paperweight. She rented space in a horse-powered wagon and they walked down the Oregon Trail.”
At the other end of the tent, guests made their way out of the appraisal tent. It’s hard to find a single person without a smile on their face.
Laura Perkin and Ken Green exited the tent with a bag of tribal art items, mostly Native American jewelry. Together, they run a business called White Owl Products, in which they teach people to play Native American flutes. Although they didn’t have the thousand-dollar item they were hoping for, the pair said that the appraisal was enlightening.
“We have been watching ‘Antiques Roadshow’ for years,” Green said. “Today was a wonderful opportunity for us to meet with some of the experts.”
The View From Behind the Table: The Appraisers
By Ethan Gilchrist
Appraiser Nicholas Lowry, who specializes in prints and posters, said the appraisers enjoyed the garden setting just as much as the guests.
“The desert was beautiful in the morning. The sky was clear and we came out here and people started coming through at 7:30 a.m.,” Lowry said. “From that point on it was pretty much a never ending string of people we were talking with, looking at their treasures and their not-so-treasured treasures, telling them what we thought.”
Kevin Zavian, a watch and jewelry specialist, said he enjoys getting to meet the show’s guests in more open spaces. “This is more like our Bedouin circus adventure,” Zavian said, referring to the tents set up amid the cacti at the Botanical Garden. “It’s really nice after working a convention hall for years to be outside and surrounded by all this nature.”
“The location is extraordinary,” said ancient-art appraiser Anthony Slayter-Ralph. “The logistics of it are a little awkward because we’re all over the place, but overall, it’s a joy for us.”
Lowry, Zavian, Dawes and Slayter-Ralph are all longtime “Roadshow” regulars. Dawes, who appeared on the very first season of “Antiques Roadshow,” introduced Slayter-Ralph to the show a few years later. Zavian, a third-generation jeweler, used to work on the show alongside his father, Berj.
Nick Dawes, who specializes in decorative arts, said the silver work he saw that day included a lot of unclassifiable pieces as well as more typical American and European silver. He met many people with pieces they thought were worth something but weren’t, and also people with pieces they thought were nothing but were extremely valuable.
“The great thing about “Antiques Roadshow” is you never know what to expect in terms of what people are going to bring,” Dawes said. “One thing we have come to expect is that people are all really nice and in a really good mood wherever we are.”
Lowry explained how the “Roadshow” team selects the pieces that appear on the show. “When we think there might be a story or we think it might be much more valuable than the owner thinks — without giving anything away — we ask them if they’d be willing to talk about it in front of the camera,” he said.
From there, a producer comes to meet the appraiser and the guest to decide whether the item should be filmed. There is no guarantee that every recorded item will make the cut for TV.
Lowry said this can be a mind-boggling process, as he meets tons of people with tons of antiques, but he still loves doing it every time.
“It’s so busy we don’t really have time to think,” Lowry said, adding that the prints and posters table is one of the busiest at the show because everyone has a poster on the wall that they think is worth something. “It’s a relentless stream of people, and it’s very hard to take a moment to catch your breath. We can obviously go to lunch, but when you’re sitting at lunch you’re worried about your colleagues at the table.”
Lowry also takes great pride in making sure audiences find him memorable.
“I started out wearing funny shoes, but they would never put them on camera and I got really angry,” Lowry said. “So I started wearing funny T-shirts and I’d end my appraisal by going ‘Look at my T-shirt,’ but they’d cut that.”
He settled on eye-catching three-piece suits and a handlebar mustache.
“I decided I was going to give them something they can’t ignore,” he said.