Arts, antiques & autos extravaganza
By: Brian Rash
Denton Live July-Dec 2011
Bill Ledbetter and his red 1966 Chevy Chevelle are not used to losing auto competitions. He and wife Pam figure they have won at least 10 contests in the past year – their first to compete. On more than one occasion, they’ve been told the Chevelle, an original, is as close to perfection as one can get.
That’s not surprising, considering they pay attention to the tiniest detail, even taking disposable cleaning wipes to competitions so they can gussy up the pedals right before judging. Bill’s had so much work done on the car since 2007 – sandblasting it, reconfiguring it, fixing the body, painting it – he can’t bear to drive it at all. In the succinct words of his wife, “He made it too pretty to drive.”
This year, Bill and Pam along with scores of other auto enthusiasts will register their pristine classics for competition in the Denton Arts, Antiques & Autos Extravaganza, hoping to win the coveted “Best of Show” award. Bill won in 2010, and is looking to take home the prize again this year. More than 200 participants are expected to pull into Denton’s historic downtown Square in September with their vintage autos and classic motorcycles – a competition inspired by The History Channel’s “Great Race” show. Denton served as a 15 minute pit-stop for the race in 1999, and thousands of people showed up for those few fleeting moments just to witness the spectacle of almost 100 street-legal vintage automobiles vibrating the streets of downtown Denton.
Since the 2000 startup of the Arts, Antiques & Autos event, the automobile competiton has arguably become the biggest draw for the crowd of 6,000. It’s not all about the cars, however. Christine Gossett of the Denton Main Street Association, which sponsors the AAA event, says there has always been a fall festival tradition in Denton on the second Saturday in September. “We had several antique stores and art galleries around downtown and the idea of coupling the antique and classic cars with fine arts vendors and antique appraisers was a way to draw in more people and highlight downtown’s core attractions,” she says. The event also features more than a dozen craft and jewelry artists, as well as antique venues where lovers of all things retro can get an item appraised for $5. “As we expand the event, arts and crafts should be the natural area where we see interest and growth,” says association president Larry Parker. “Having local artists enhances the event and hopefully causes more of Denton’s talent to come be a part it.” (This year the extravaganza ends early so football fans can hit the new UNT stadium opening.)
John Bennett, a professional antique appraiser and estate sale coordinator, has been appraising antiques for crowds at the Arts, Antiques & Autos show for eight years. He loves surprising people who have no idea what their item is worth. “Maybe the most interesting thing I’ve come across was much more valuable than the people had any clue about – a group of Spanish Civil War posters from both the nationalist and the republican sides,” he says. “The family had gotten them from a relative who was in Spain at the time of the Spanish Civil War in the ’30s and had brought home quite a number of them.” Each was worth several thousand dollars.
This year, John will give a lecture on appraisals and estate sales, part of new all-day workshops in the Courthouse-on-the-Square. “Every year we add something and we grow,” says Christine. “This year we added the workshops.” Georgia Caraway, executive director of Denton County Museums, will give two workshops: “Vintage Purses” and “Tips, Tools & Techniques: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Caring for Antiques, Collectibles and Other Treasures.” Georgia has thousands of tips about antique collecting. She is encouraging anyone with antique purses to bring theirs along to her workshop, which will focus on her own collection of purses from the mid-1800s to 1970s. “I have given these talks over the last 15 years to hundreds of people and they remain popular,” she says.
The extravaganza features dozens of fine arts and craftsmen, booths and activities for children as well as vendors serving up fair-style food, ranging from corn dogs to funnel cakes and live music. “Typically we try to have local bands that play rock, blues and country, with some cover songs and some originals, which appeal to a wide audience,” Christine says. The arts vendors are vetted to make sure they offer unique jewelry and artwork.
One major reason the event has grown successfully is the work and dedication of the volunteers from the Denton Main Street Association. Larry Parker believes in the positivity that comes from preserving the essence of a vital, charming city like Denton. “Our historic downtown is truly a jewel and we must do all we can to keep Denton vibrant and growing,” he says. “We want to create reasons for all ages, families and groups to visit downtown.”
Year in and year out, the festival brings in different interests for different groups – not just locals but for those who travel from out-of-state for the antiques, art or cars. This year’s car and motorcycle competition features approximately 17 car classes and six motorcycle classes, as well as eight specialty trophies. “Best of Show” winners are named in both the car competition and the motorcycle class, which is growing each year. Trophies are typically given for first place, second place and participant’s choice. This is the second year that the show will feature professional judges, a facet of the show that Bill Ledbetter certainly appreciates. “They know more about the cars than you do,” he notes.
Bill bought his first 1966 Chevelle for $3,000 with GI Bill money he earned from military service. Unfortunately, he had to sell it in 1973 for $400, and he has regretted it ever since. For the past three-and-a-half decades, he’s been thinking about getting that car back. Finally, in 2007, he bought a Chevelle, began restoring it with help from garage owner Ray Wall in Gainesville, Texas, and entered his baby in shows last season. When asked about his wins, he modestly responds that he hasn’t counted. “You don’t? We always win!” says Pam. He matter-of-factly rounds out the number at “about a dozen.” He won both first place in his class and “Best of Show” car at last year’s show. Denton’s wooden trophy – with a gold car on top – is “by far the nicest” he’s ever won, he says. This year, Christine says, they are working with a local artist to create custom trophies in recognition of Denton’s artistic community.
For Bill, who is chairman of the board of North Central Texas College, the Denton show is all about vindication for the fixes he made to his car based on the advice of judges and fellow participants. He says the small details win. There can’t be a crack in the straight lines of the car; doors must close perfectly. Nothing comes out perfect at first, but if you keep working on it, it only gets better, he says. A former teacher, he likes the analogy of school: “You’re in school and you just started writing papers. You have someone helping you edit and improve your writing. It just makes sense that a judge would tell you how to improve your car.” Die-hard classic car and motorcycle fans can still vote on their favorites: On the Friday night prior to the show, some of the owners park their cars and motorcycles on Industrial Street for a pre-show reveal.
The allure of the Arts, Antiques & Autos event varies from person to person. If you ask Christine, she pauses to consider how much is packed into six hours. “We have people come to see the bands; we have people come because their friends are showing a car or motorcycle and they love anything on wheels; we have people coming to see an artist in the show; we have people who come with their items for appraisal,” says Christine. The live music, the rumble of antique cars and the aroma of “fried-something” add to the festival atmosphere. “By afternoon, the warm sun just intensifies these scents and the chrome reflects the sun so there are lots of shiny things around you, from art to bumpers and hubcaps.”
[just the facts]
What: Arts, Antiques & Autos Extravaganza
When: Sept. 10, 2011, 9 a.m.–3 p.m. (New time!) Awards ceremony at 2 p.m.
Where: Downtown on the Square
The mix: Classic, custom and hot-rod cars and motorcycles, one-of-a-kind pieces of art, antique appraisals for family heirlooms ($5), kids’ games and live entertainment. Auto preview night for “People’s Choice” auto award: Sept. 9, 6:30-8 p.m. on Industrial Street
Parking: Anywhere near the Square. Handicapped parking around Wells Fargo Bank, near Walnut, Locust and Austin streets.
General admission: Free for a crowd estimated at 6,000
What’s new: Workshops in the Courthouse-on-the-Square on antique care, appraisals and estate sales by appraiser John Bennett as well as Georgia Carraway, executive director of the Denton County Museums. Bring your antique purses and disco-era bags to Georgia’s talk on vintage purses. The $5 charge goes to the organizers, the Denton Main Street Association, as well as the Denton County Museums. For a schedule of workshop topics and times, check out dentonmainstreet.org.