Antique Warrior

Madison's Sommerfeld
travels world for bargains

Contributing Writer

MADISON, Ind. – It's a typical hot, humid Indiana morning, and Evan Sommerfeld is rushing between both of his downtown Madison antique businesses.

Evan Sommerfeld

Photo by provided

Evan 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," he said.
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 it."
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 carpenters.
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 summer."
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," Carr said.
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.

Back to August 1999 Articles.



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