By Nessa Conley Speirs, on assignment for CentralKentuckyAntiques.com
In an era that is characterized by rapid technological advances, where almost all of our products are plastic or metal and our clothing is synthetic, it may seem like history is slipping away in favor of computer screens, instant updates and iPhone apps.
But a dose of centuries-old charm, a respite from the constant barrage of modernity and trendiness, is easily found at Shelbyville’s preeminent antique dealer: The family-owned-and-operated Wakefield-Scearce Galleries.
The Wakefield-Scearce Galleries are operated out of Science Hill, a member of the National Register of Historic Places; indeed, a customer seeing the Galleries for the first time might feel as if he is stepping into a Charles Dickens novel. The front entrance greets shoppers with white pillars. The rooms are decorated with finely crafted antique goods. Chandeliers drip light from the ceilings, and in early November of each year, the Wakefield-Scearce Galleries welcome the holiday season with a three-day Christmas Gala, drawing crowds of antique- and history-lovers alike, some from hours away.
Composed of 78 rooms, a total of more than 32,000 square feet, Science Hill is a fitting location for purveyors of such fine English furniture; it was, in the 1800s, a prep school for girls, a venue for learning not only of reading, writing, and etiquette but also of the sciences (hence the name). The website calls the Galleries “genteel”, trumpeting them as “a fitting monument to a place so rich with history…”
Founded in 1947 by Mark Wakefield and Mark Scearce, the Wakefield-Scearce Galleries remains in the Scearce family and specializes in fine antique English furniture. It is currently operated by Patrick Burnett, son-in-law of Mark Scearce.
Burnett, who came to operate Wakefield-Scearce about thirty years ago from a background as an industrial engineer, stuck around because of a true love of finding, collecting, and placing beautiful antiques; he speaks of his collection almost reverently.
“Something about it…” he begins when asked why he chose to stay in the antique business. “You get to deal with beautiful collectible things and hopefully place them in homes where they’ll be enjoyed and passed on to their children.”
And certainly, these pieces are meant to be enjoyed for generations. Some of them date back to the 1700s and are valued at tens of thousands of dollars. Each of them possessing that “warm and classic” styling that Burnett describes, they’re worth every penny.
“I love wooden tea caddies,” says Burnett when asked about his favorite items. “They come in every shape and size and form. They were such a simplistic thing but were in most households. They came up with these little boxes with a lock on them for their tea,” he says, adding a gentle reminder that tea was not always easy to come by.
And his favorite, most memorable item? “Well, there are so many,” he says with a laugh. “One of the smaller American pieces I’ve had was a spoon by the silversmith Paul Revere. That was kinda fun.”
As the person in charge of the day-to-day operations of the galleries, Burnett is the embodiment of Kentucky’s particularly welcoming brand of southern hospitality. “It’s a nice day to come and spend a pleasant day in the country,” he says, inviting me for a visit. “We have a dining room that serves lunch daily, fine Kentucky cuisine. Julia Childs once called it the finest fried chicken lunch in the United States.” That may be the case, but there’s a great deal more to appreciate than the fried chicken.
We invite you to visit Wakefield-Scearce Galleries:
525 Washington Street
Shelbyville, Kentucky USA
Phone: (502) 633-4382
Hours of Operation: Monday – Saturday 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. EST | Closed Sundays
Nessa Conley Speirs is a freelance writer based out of Pittsburgh; she has a Bachelor of Arts in writing from Metropolitan State College of Denver and is working toward a Masters of Fine Arts in writing from Carlow University. She has had work published in a number of online and print publications and is currently a writer for the Hillman Center for the Performing Arts in Pittsburgh. A lover of thrifting, vintage kitsch, and antiques, she is thrilled to have the opportunity to write for CentralKentuckyAntiques.com.