When you buy an antique piece of furniture, fine art or collectable from Rockwell Antiques in the Dallas Design District, you get more than elegance and beauty to display and use in your home. To the extent possible, Rockwell Antiques provides you with the rich provenance of the item you are purchasing, dating back through the generations of ownership to the mostly European artists and craftsmen responsible. And who better to communicate that Old World story than an Irishman, in this case, store owner and raconteur Nevan O’Shaughnessy.
Growing up in Ireland, O’Shaughnessy was surrounded by Irish and British antiques, and he tagged along as a child on his mother’s forays to antiques stores and auction houses. During a successful legal career in Ireland, he indulged his interest in antiques, amassing a considerable collection, mostly museum-quality 17th- to 19th-century European pieces.
Today, that collection, along with some other purchases and items on consignment, is available for browsing in his Design District store. Enter and you will be greeted by an owner, either O’Shaughnessy or his wife, Mary, a Dallas native with fine arts expertise. Either one will offer cead mile failte, Gaelic for a hundred thousand welcomes. O’Shaughnessy loves to share his vast knowledge.
Indeed, he doesn’t care whether you’re in his store as a shopper, a determined buyer, an interested browser or just an art tourist. He will tell a tale about any piece that catches your interest, a tale that may be long and is usually deep, but is never tall. The O’Shaughnessys uphold a code of ethics that includes revealing how much of the provenance is proven and how much is speculation.
Walk into the store today and you might see a quartet of elegantly simple parlor chairs. Unlike most of the inventory at Rockwell Antiques, this is American made, right here in East Texas. Crafted by a renowned furniture designer, whose name is lost to history because he was a slave, the chairs emit the rich and complicated history of the antebellum South.
O’Shaughnessy can continue the story in rich detail if you walk into the store and ask about it. Or, he can regale you with the scintillating history of Thomas Jefferson’s 1794 treatise, Notes on the State of Virginia (2nd edition), which he has for sale as well. The book was passed down through generations of prominent Americans, whose signatures accompany Jefferson’s in the book.
O’Shaughnessy says the story of the chairs doubles their value in Texas, and the book’s provable history boosts its value by 50 percent. “People are in awe that they are touching something that old and that connected to history,” he says.
Rockwell Antiques makes the stories available online, too, for customers who prefer browsing there. For example, if the 19th-century British bonbon dish with silver-plated handles, for sale at $120, catches your eye, the website provides a detailed explanation of its purpose, the accidental history of sterling silver, photos of the dish from every angle and related reading material.
The resplendent beauty of the store, right in the heart of the Design District, and the breadth of the collection from around the world, might be the reasons Rockwell Antiques was named Best Fine Art and Antiques Dealer in Southwest USA by Lux Magazine, Best Fine Art & Antiques Dealer 2018 by Corporate USA Today, and Best Fine Art & Antiques Dealer in Texas 2018 by M&A Today Magazine. Or it might be that, unique to Rockwell Antiques, each item for sale is accompanied by a well-researched history that the store will help its new owners recount.
The Irish and other European antiques that O’Shaughnessy and his wife brought to Rockwell Antiques from Ireland are rare in the States. Much of what is available in the metroplex reflects what was in vogue at a given time, O’Shaughnessy says. For example, French provincial furniture was, for a time, all the rage, and so it is common to find in antiques stores. “I’ve never acquired with that in mind,” he says. “I collect more for an item’s beauty, history and rarity.”
Barry Waldman is principal of Big Fly Communications, a PR/marketing firm for nonprofits and small businesses.