Q&A with the founders of Sheafer + King Modern

On September 26, husband and wife duo, Andrew King and Andrea Sheafer, opened their first retail store for Sheafer + King Modern. It’s a light, airy space dedicated to mid-century modern art, design and décor from the 50s to 80s. Located at 1103 E. 52nd St in the Paris-Soloman Building, the 1,200 sq. ft. space has been carefully curated by Sheafer and King using their prior expertise as an auction cataloger and art dealer respectively. After over two years of buying and selling art online, the couple decided it was time to create a space that their customers and fellow Mid-Century Modern enthusiasts could build a local community around unlike anywhere else in Indianapolis.

Euan Makepeace: Can you both give me a little bit of background on how you got into the business and where your passion stems from?

Andrew King: We started the business a few years ago, just buying and selling [art] online. We would also buy things at auctions and flip them at other auctions or by selling on sites like eBay and Etsy. After growing for about nine months we decided to start our own website and as we’ve done this, we’ve gotten more focused on art from the 50s to the 80s. It is what we both love and the kind of things we decorate our home with.

Andrea Sheafer: At school I studied art history, so I’ve always had an interest in art. I was at school during the 2008 financial crisis and everyone always thought, “oh, you’re getting the most useless degree ever,” but I was very happy when we were able to focus more on buying and selling art. I feel like that has been a great thing for us and me, because it’s what I love most.

EM: What is it about Mid-Century Modern Art and Design that is important to you?

AS: I’ve been drawn to it for a long time. It’s a lot of abstract [art] and then there’s the more poppy aspect of graphics too. Think of Andy Warhol’s stuff, which is very colorful and bright. Then there’s the more abstract expressionist area, which is just paint thrown on a canvas, sometimes colorful, sometime more monotone, it can be very energetic. I feel like a lot of artists during that period were given license to do what they wanted. They moved away from traditional realistic art to being more imaginative, totally crazy and so unique.

AK: My background is in classical music and I love the experimental music from that same period. I think that it’s really interesting to see the relationship between the arts during that same period of time.

EM: What is it that you look for in a piece when you are at an auction?

AS: We’ve been trying to create a certain vibe and a brand for ourselves. The art we tend to gravitate towards are pieces that are typical to the period. We tend to also pick things that we know people will like. Sometimes we see things and think to ourselves that they’re really cool pieces, but we don’t know if our customers will like it, like it’s a little too out there.

EM: Does that mean that you have an exclusive backstock of pieces that are a little more out there for customers who are looking for that type of thing?

AS: We don’t have a lot. When we started out in this business, we already knew so many dealers and when we’d go to their houses there were just piles and piles of stuff. We always said that we didn’t want to do that. We don’t want to be the crazy hoarders, but I think we’re starting to get a bit more like that. Not to the same level as others that we know, but we do have some stuff that is a bit crazier at home that is not in the shop.

AK: This may change now that we have the shop, but in the past when we’ve bought things that we felt were really cool, and worth a fair amount of money, but was too weird for our customers. We would often just send it to another auction that would have the right eyeballs on it. Now that we have this gallery space though, we may start venturing into the more radical pieces.

EM: Now you also source pieces from local artists from the 50s to 80s. Can you tell us a little bit about the local Mid-Century Modern movement here in Indianapolis?

AK: When we’re at auctions, if we can find paintings that fall into the right style and they are by artists from the Midwest, we always prefer to buy those, because there’s a connection to here. Right now, we have a few things from the area. We have a really great painting by Rinaldo Paluzzi that was included in an Indianapolis Art Museum show in the 70s. We just recently bought an entire collection by an artist from Cincinnati, Carolyn R. Shine, who was a really prolific painter in the early 50s. She then became a curator with the art museum and just stopped working as a painter. She passed away at over 100 years old and all these amazing painting were found in her attic, so we bought a lot of them and have been getting them restored. We’re always just looking for period appropriate pieces that are from the area. Right now, we actually have a lot of paintings by female artists from the Midwest dating back to the 50s and 60s, which I think is kind of interesting. In fact, I would say that our art catalogue is at least 50 percent female artists and I am not sure why we’ve been able to acquire those in particular but it’s a neat thing.

EM: You recently opened up your first retail space, why now?

AS: We had been talking about it for a while, we sell mostly online, but with art it is difficult to ship. A lot of it is large and a lot of the painting that we would come across we would say to ourselves, “this would be amazing, but can we ship it?” That was always a problem for us. We’ve been talking about opening a physical location for a while and we had a place lined up in March ready to sign a lease, but then COVID happened, so we started wondering if people would even be buying anything online at that point. As we got used to this new normal, in July we decided that we could still open a physical space and feel safe and create something that we could use for people to come and see what we have. We get emails all the time from people asking to see what we have and before we’d have to say, “you can come to our house,” but some people are uncomfortable with that and especially now with a pandemic, so having a space where people can actually come in and have a look at things has been great.

AK: I think the other thing is, over the last couple of years we have gotten to know quite a few people who have galleries and high-end vintage shops around the Midwest and nothing quite like what we’re doing existed in Indianapolis. There are similar sorts of places in Chicago, Cincinnati, Lexington, Columbus and in Cleveland and I think there is a community of people here in Indianapolis that really appreciates great high-end mid-century design. And maybe before they would have to travel from Indianapolis to shop or to have this sense of community around this period of art and design. That’s partly what we wanted to create, because we’ve seen it in other places and we saw a need for it in Indianapolis and since it’s what we were already doing online, who better to connect with the community locally than us.

EM: For those who are not well versed in Mid-Century Modern art and design; or want to start learning more about the period, where do you recommend them starting?

AS: My favorite way to learn about the period, and sometimes you can find them online, is to find old design and decorator magazines. I just like looking at the advertisements. You can learn so much. You see how people decorate their houses. You see the designers who are popular. It’s a really fun resources just to look and see the different design trends of the period and it gives you a good idea of what was in and what was out back then.

EM: Finally, what do you anticipate the next big trend in the industry being?

AK: I think the thing we are actively looking for because we are seeing prices going up and up is stuff from the 80s. In terms of art and really in terms of furniture and décor, that Memphis style, bright colored, 80s stuff right now. The thing is, it’s really difficult to find at any price, because so much of it was made with really poor materials, so it just didn’t last. We think that it’s becoming very popular though and we’re looking for wherever we can find it.

Keep up with Sheafer + King Modern on Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest, or check out their website.

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