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“It’s all about the stories. That’s what we live for.”
Hannah Auerbach
‘Antiques Roadshow’ senior account executive
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EagleHerald/Penny Mullins
This George Nakashima bench was one of the items selected in advance to be transported to the set of "Antiques Roadshow" when it filmed in Green Bay Saturday.
EagleHerald/Penny Mullins
This George Nakashima bench was one of the items selected in advance to be transported to the set of "Antiques Roadshow" when it filmed in Green Bay Saturday.
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GREEN BAY — People from all over the region flocked to Green Bay Saturday to attend one or more of two special events.
While “The Piano Man” Billy Joel filled Lambeau with song, people with all kinds of bags, boxes, carts and dollies filled the streets near the Resch Center and Shopko Hall with their treasures.
They were headed to the filming of “Antiques Roadshow,” the most-watched ongoing PBS series, now entering its 22nd season.
Doors opened to ticket holders at 7:30 a.m., and the Roadshow crew expected things to wrap up 12 hours later — if everything went as planned.
And planning is key.
To call Roadshow a well-oiled machine would not do service to the men and women who work behind the scenes to make the show come together. In Green Bay, where the 12-hour day would produce enough material for three shows in the upcoming 2018 season, the crew which arrived June 15 and 16 had everything in place when the doors opened.
“Beyond the furniture, which is set up in advance, we don’t know what people are bringing,” said Hannah Auerbach, senior account executive with AR. “Time will tell.”
According to Marsha Bemko, the executive producer of AR for the past 14 years, 16,654 people applied for tickets to the Green Bay taping of the show, and 3,000 were picked at random. Each winner received two tickets and each person could bring two items. Other tickets were given to special guests of the show and the media.
Roadshow expected 5,000 people, all of whom were allowed to bring in two items for free appraisals equating to 10,000 items; 24 categories; 70 appraisers; the AR crew (17 on a regular basis); 125 volunteers; and a 12-hour window.
How did it go Saturday?
Seamlessly.
Auerbach said ticketholders are given a preferred time to show up, to ensure that everyone doesn’t try to enter at the same time. Throughout the day, a steady stream of people, carrying wrapped paintings or vases, or pulling red wagons or flat carts, went into Shopko Hall, where they eventually met with a staff member triaging the items.
Ramona Hiller-O’Hara stands at one of those desks. Auerbach calls her “the Queen of Triage,” as she has been with AR all 21 years it has been on television. Hiller-O’Hara, along with a handful of others, looks over the items a person brings in and assigns them one of 24 appraisal categories for each item. A volunteer helps guide the person to a line where they wait for their appraisal.
Some lines are longer than others, Auerbach said, pointing to the winding line of people with paintings and prints. The lines are kept orderly, with volunteers at the helm of each section — directing traffic and keeping things moving.
“Every person gets an appraisal on their item,” Auerbach said, and people can ask questions of the appraisers about their pieces. But if an appraiser holds off on answering, it might be a sign that the piece or the story behind it is worth filming.
“We have three producers — they’re called ‘pickers’ — and they decide if something should be on TV,’ Auerbach said.
While she explained, an elderly man in the line for Musical Instruments seemed to be one of those lucky people “picked” for filming. The appraiser, Richard Johnston of Gryphon Stringed Instruments, had taken the other appraiser, Peter Shaw, aside, after asking the man several questions about his vintage mandolin. Soon, the man was being escorted off to the side, where Auerbach said he would be asked more questions from one of the “pickers.”
“They take them to the Green Room, where they decide whether they will film it,” she said, pointed to a curtained area off to the side of the center circle where the action takes place. People awaiting filming in the Green Room are offered food and drink and a place to sit until they are filmed.
If someone is chosen to be on camera, they will hear the information about their piece for the first time with cameras rolling. “It’s a collaboration, and it all takes place in front of the camera,” Auerbach said.
In the center of the tables of appraisers are three sets” One is being set up for filming, with set designers working on lighting and camera angles; another is being dismantled after a shoot; and the third is where live action is taking place. Because that center circle is surrounded by the individual booths, many people “show up” on camera while waiting in line or watching the filming.
To get things rolling early in the morning, the Roadshow crew selects some pieces of furniture in advance, and pays to have them shipped to the location a day early for set up. This allows the production crew to have several known pieces ready for filming before the doors open.
Ken Farmer of Ken Farmer LLC is one of the four appraisers in the furniture section. He said mid-century modern furniture was showing up in droves in Green Bay, but unusual pieces included a carved bear stand and a George Nakashima bench.
“The stand with a bear was carved (in the style) of Black Forest carving of West Germany,” Farmer said. While the piece was made in the United States, the intricacy of the carving gave it value.
While 50 or more guests might make it to the center area for filming, Auerbach said there are more than 30 “over the shoulder” shots, where guests hear from appraisers the value of their grandmother’s brooch or a stoneware jug they found buried in the backyard. Other “snapshot” appraisals are added to the 125-175 appraisals filmed during a visit.
“We never know what is going to come in,” Auerbach said of the family “treasures” and “rare” finds. Despite that element of drama, Roadshow has never had a show where there weren’t enough interesting stories to tell.
While prices are important, many people just want to know more about the pieces they cherish.
Like Marsha and Byron from Madison. They brought her Great Uncle Otto’s Martin guitar and case to Johnston to find out more about it.
“We’ve tried to get tickets in the past,” the couple said, adding that they also brought a painting and an old dice game for appraisal.
Marsha said Great Uncle Otto was born in 1862 and died in 1938. “No one has played it since then,” she said of his guitar, in a battered wooden case that looked more like mini-casket. Her mother told her guitars like that used to come with the cases unassembled, and the buyer had to put them together.
While everyone in the family must have loved Great Uncle Otto, his guitar was slightly less appreciated. “It ended up in an attic in northern Illinois, and in 1980, it went to my mom,” Marsha said. After years in the attic, it was kept in the basement until arriving in Green Bay, where Johnston told the couple it was built after the Civil War, and could be identified by the label inside the case and inside the guitar. In its current condition, it was worth under $1,000 but could be worth more if it was repaired.
While many people found unknown treasures, others were a little disappointed with the appraisals they received. Sometimes a painting is found to be worth less than the owner paid; other times, Internet searches gave misleading values to items that expert appraisers didn’t agree with. People were let down gently by the appraisers, who work all summer long on their own time and travel at their own expense to be a part of the show.
The appraisers’ donation of time to Public Television, according to Bemko, amounts to more than $1 million worth of appraisals in the period between June and August, when the show is taped. This year, in the start of the 22nd season, the show is being filmed into September, when the Roadshow will hold its first-ever outside show in Newport, Rhode Island. Other venues include Harrisburg, Pa., which was filmed June 3; Green Bay; St. Louis, July 8; New Orleans, July 22; and Portland, Ore., Aug. 12.
Each of the venues will result in creation of three hour-long shows, with the exception of Newport, which will yield two shows. The 2018 season will air nationally on PBS beginning in January, Bemko said.
“We will have 28 new shows to fill half of the new year,” she said. Bemko said she spent four years learning the ropes before she became executive producer, and she is involved in every aspect of the show, from choosing the locations in the off season to running what is being done on location. Tons of footage is then reviewed by a number of people to put together the shows that will air on Public Television.
She said Green Bay marks the fifth time Roadshow has been to Wisconsin. It was filmed twice in both Madison and Milwaukee. The first time in Green Bay also marked one of the smallest locations they have used to accommodate the estimated crowd of 5,000 people, but it worked, she said. Advance crews come to the site to ensure there is adequate space, services and security. Bemko said Roadshow has its own security staff, and both uniformed and plainclothes officers peppered the event.
Once a venue is selected, Roadshow does not return to that site for five years, she said. “Once we ‘harvest’ a city, it needs five years to build a crop again.”
Dave from Oak Creek, Wis., and his mother, Linda, from Appleton, brought several items for appraisal that had special family meaning — one was a painting Linda’s parents received from a cousin, and the other was a set of 12 jade liquor glasses — both items given as wedding presents in 1939.
Dave said the appraisal was of the painting done by a cousin, Camille Andrene Kaufmann, who was a well-known artist with an interesting background. Because of the family connection, Dave had done more research on Camille and said she was a single woman who made her living during the Depression as an artist, working for the Works Progress Administration (WPA) painting murals on buildings, including several for Hirsch High School and Burbank School in Chicago. She was also on the faculty of the Art Institute of Chicago for 40 years.
The painting Dave brought was in a Spanish style, which the appraiser said would not fetch as high of a price as another Dave owned with deer in it. His mother, Linda, was in line to have the jade cups appraised. A follow-up email from Dave shared that the cups were not jade, even though they were marked as such.
“At any rate, the family Jade legend took a reality check on value ($75), so perhaps we’ll just use them as shot glasses now,” Dave wrote the EagleHerald in his email.
His comment was reminiscent of another Roadshow legend, the “Feedback Booth,” where anyone who went to the show can sign in, go in front of the camera and say something about their experience.
For the staff, and the many volunteers who help to keep the crowd moving and appraisals rolling, it is more than putting together a good show.
“It’s all about the stories,” Auerbach said. “That’s what we live for.”