Death of the Woman Who Started It All Adds Poignancy to Round Top Antiques Show — Emma Lee Turney’s Legacy
Without Turney's vision and tenacity, Round Top might have never become Texas' antiques mecca.
Emma Lee Turney died earlier this month at the age of 92 — and this spring Round Top Antiques Show will not be the same without her. Without Turney’s vision and tenacity, Round Top might have never become Texas’ antiques mecca.
Turney oversaw and orchestrated every aspect of the first widely known antique show in the area, which was held at Round Top Rifle Hall back in 1968. When she retired in 2005, Turney sold the Original Round Top Antiques Fair, which she founded, to Susan Franks. Turney watched Round Top’s antiques power grow in unimaginable ways over the course of those 37 years.
One of the many nearby venues who owe their very existence to Turney’s business acumen, Marburger Farm Antique Show, noted her passing in a heartfelt Facebook post:
“As we prepare for our Spring Show, we’re sad to hear that Emma Lee Turney, the woman who started the original Round Top antique fair in 1968, passed away peacefully on March 6. Emma spent 45-plus years presenting antiques shows in New Orleans, Austin, Dallas, Fredericksburg, Rosenberg, the Shamrock, and later the Adams Mark in Houston. . . and then there was Round Top.
“Hazel Ledbetter, Faith Bybee and Miss Ima Hogg were restoring early Texas homes and Inns near Round Top when they approached Emma and asked her to start a country themed show to provide a source for the right furniture and fixtures. Emma agreed and the rest is history. Following her lead, thousands of other dealers set up on every square inch of dirt all over the greater Round Top area and eventually grew the international fair to what it is today. The Marburger Farm family is grateful for Emma Lee Turney and the path she paved for Round Top community.”
A RoundTop.com article written by Lorie Woodward describes and details that inaugural Round Top event thought up by Turney.
“Except for the smoke that rose from the barbecue pits at the rear of the Rifle Hall, the air was crisp and clear,” Woodward writes. “It crackled with anticipation as 22 (or 24 or 26, depending on whom you ask) of the state’s top antiques dealers brought the best of their collections to Round Top the first weekend in October 1968. No contracts were signed. Merchandise was offered by those invited dealers who passed Turney’s stringent standards for authenticity and provenance.
“Knowing their money would acquire investment-quality pieces, antiques collectors, many from the ranks of Houston’s social register, lined up and waited for Turney to open the doors and grant them access to the treasure trove of one-of-a-kind originals. Typically, the women power shopped, and the men gathered under the historic oaks swapping stories and drinking cold beer. It was not uncommon to have change from food and beer purchases counted back in German.”
Turney wrote about launching what has become an antiques mecca, and an undeniable pilgrimage for collectors and designers alike, in her book Denim and Diamonds: The Story of Emma Lee Turney’s Round Top Antiques Fair, which was published in 1998.
Perhaps Turney summed up the grand adventure best herself.
“It has been a challenge — and a great pleasure — to sponsor, manage, produce and host this country show. . .,” Turney wrote. “Taking the risks, setting the standards of excellence in country show and the loyalty found in both patrons and dealers has made every minute of time and every penny of every dollar invested worth it.”
This year’s Spring Show takes on new meaning with the death of the woman who started it all. The show goes on, which is a testament to Emma Lee Turney, too.