THE INGENUITY OF CURTIS ANN DAVIS
Founder of The Arbors Marks 25 Years in Round Top
By Marsha Canright | Photos courtesy of The Arbors
It looks like a fairytale scene from the Arabian Nights. Dozens of elegant white tents rise from the 12-acre field next to the Round Top American Legion Hall and for 11 days in the spring and fall, each of those tents is a lair filled with treasures.
This is The Arbors, the signature show for Curtis Ann Davis who has been a mainstay of Round Top’s antique weeks for the past 25 years. She is one of the few early vendors who continues to have a show at Round Top.
“So much has changed over the years. Round Top weekend is no longer just about antiques, which breaks my heart a little, but times change,” Davis says. “Young people today like to mix things up; they mostly don’t want a houseful of antiques.”
Among dealers, Davis is known as an entrepreneur who is willing to try new things: a rotating happy hour in different tents, a martini bar, live music, swag bags, even homemade banana pudding. Last year on a hot spring day she was passing out ice cream to her dealers from a golf cart.
Her philosophy is simple: Change is inevitable. “You have to be a willow. You have to be able to bend,” she says.
Davis started as a dealer but went on to become the founder and manager of a venue that grew from 20 dealers to more than 90. She is responsible for the site, OSHA regulations, the infrastructure and clean-up crew, and for bringing customers to her show.
“Last year we did a panel discussion on ‘Mastering the Mix,’ and that’s what I see emerging at Round Top,” she says. “My own daughters have a mix: midcentury, Oriental, industrial, some antiques, and it all works together and looks fabulous,” she says.
In the past the fall and spring shows were devoted purely to antiques. “Now there are linens, handmade jewelry, antler art, pillows from Morocco, repurposed items, amazing rugs from many countries, framed fossils, botanical prints, and so much more. Of course, there are still many beautiful antiques from all over the world.”
Before deciding to create her own Round Top venue, she and her husband, Dave, owned The Arbor House, a successful antiques cooperative in Alvin. The shop sat next to a producing grape arbor and Davis enlisted a senior citizen group to turn those grapes into homemade jelly. Thus, the name.
Davis initially made visits to Chappell Hill, Warrenton and Round Top to acquire interesting stock for her shop, but enjoyed the camaraderie so much she eventually decided to take part.
“I decided to do a show with eight dealers and I was able to get a location in Warrenton at Hilltop Antiques. I stayed at a century-old two-room farmhouse that I rented from a sweet, older couple, Quentin and Vaddie Oeiser. We had so much fun,” she says.
Every Thursday night Vaddie would make homemade stew for everyone who stayed at the house, and the group would sit on the back porch to eat and sample homemade wine. Quentin would pick the guitar and everyone would sing. These are fond memories for Davis.
“One night after I had a little too much wine, I told Vaddie that it was my dream to have my own show in Round Top and I asked her if she could help me find a venue,” Davis says. Vaddie talked to her brother who was then commander of the American Legion Hall, and that’s how Davis came to lease the space.
Her husband Dave, who passed away in 2017, was always her biggest supporter. They were a team and they built The Arbors from scratch, she says. “At first I was a wannabe. It didn’t take me long to realize I didn’t know what I was doing, but I’m a fast learner. I’ve never been competitive with other venues, just with myself,” she says.
In addition to dedicated clientele, in more recent years Davis has been visited by celebrities seeking their own treasures: Tori Spelling, Elton John, Anderson Cooper, Rachel Ashwell, Joanna Gaines, Mary Steenburgen, Jessica Robertson from Duck Dynasty, and former governor Rick Perry and his wife, Anita. She also welcomes busloads of designers and decorators.
“She has so much energy I can’t keep up with her,” says Paula Whitfill, a colleague who manages special events and social media for Davis. “Last year, she personally led two large tour groups of designers and guests from Renovate Houston around the entire 12 acres, making introductions, and she never missed a step. She has that kind of enthusiasm and she is extremely knowledgeable not only about every kind of antique, but every dealer’s products on the field.”
During the festivities, Davis is up every morning by seven. All day she walks the field and most nights she’s dining with dealers or attending local events. Round Top is her element, her home away from home.
“It hasn’t always been smooth sailing. My first year the tent purveyor packed up and went home,” Davis says. She’s had rain, mud, troublesome winds, and longtime dealers who were lured away by other promoters. She’s had good years and not so good years but the journey has made her wise in the ways of the field. She makes it a rule to stay onsite for six weeks and doesn’t leave until the site is clean — that’s part of her respect for the place.
“It was important to Dave and it’s important to me to be a positive force in the Round Top community,” she says. Last year Davis hosted an opening night fundraiser for the Festival Institute and she plans more charitable events in the future.
“The money we make from Curtis Ann renting the hall and property makes it possible for our group to plow money back into the community,” says Lynn Reavis, commander of the American Legion Post Number 338. “We have been able to pay for musical instruments for the students at Carmine, we’ve funded student scholarships, and we’ve made donations to the local fire departments and the public library. It’s made a real difference,” he says.
As for Davis, she’s primed for the upcoming spring show that begins March 27. “I’m having fun and going strong, so even my girls say ‘don’t give up Round Top,’” says Davis. “For me, it’s a love thing, a labor of love.”