There’s No Business Like Art Fair Business for Sanford Smith

When Sanford Smith talks about working in “show business,” he’s not referring to Broadway or Hollywood. Over the last four decades he has produced some 130 fairs nationwide, bringing together dealers in art, design and antiques.

“At the high point of my career, I did 11 shows a year,” Mr. Smith, who recently turned 80, said at his home, an Upper West Side brownstone brimming with an eccentric personal collection. The examples of Americana and modern and contemporary art and design there reflect the fairs he has created over the years.

Art by early American modernists including John Marin, Charles Burchfield and George Bellows is mixed with contemporary pieces by Judy Pfaff and Michael Zelehoski and furniture designed by George Nakashima, Charlotte Perriand, Paul Evans and Ettore Sottsass. It’s the kind of eclecticism that Mr. Smith favors in his high-end show Salon Art + Design, now in its eighth edition and opening Nov. 14 at the Park Avenue Armory in New York.

In Mr. Smith’s house you’ll find more than two dozen antique weather vanes featuring sculpted animals, hundreds of miniature toy soldiers battling on the shelves and a cigar-store Indian. These were the kinds of objects sold in the All American Antiques Show that he started in 1980, the first fair devoted to such material.

Following are edited excerpts from our conversation.

What was the first thing you collected as an adult?

Little Vienna bronzes, painted figures of animals and people that were made in the late 19th century into the early 20th century in Austria. They stopped being produced around 1935 because the materials were then used for armaments by Nazi Germany.

Did you know anything about them originally?

No, but like everything else that I ever bought, or dealt with, I got library books so I could learn. I liked them aesthetically. Some were vignettes. Pigs playing instruments. Acrobatic animals standing on each others’ shoulders. They were whimsical.