Mid-century modern is “probably the biggest style going right now,” according to Mark Fisk.
He should know. He and his wife, Missy, have owned and operated Mainly Art for 29 years. The vintage modern furniture store, named for its original location on Over-the-Rhine’s Main Street, now sells high-quality pieces in Oakley.
The style’s popularity explains why this year’s Cincinnati Concours d’Elegance, the annual collector car show in Ault Park, is themed “Mid-Century Modern, American Style – 1948-1965.” The 42nd annual festivities kick off on Friday, June 7 and conclude with the Cincinnati Concours d’Elegance Car Show on Sunday, June 9.
Fisk is a Concours Foundation board member and has been involved with the show for almost 30 years, about as long as he’s owned Mainly Art. (“I’ve done every job at the show except collect the money and cook the food,” he said.) But his interests in cars and art both go back to his childhood.
Born in Michigan and raised in Dayton, Fisk shared his love of art with his mom and brothers. (His dad, meanwhile, was an antiques fan.) Fisk translated that love into a career, initially by creating large paintings for corporate offices.
That’s how he met his wife – the first time. He was hanging a painting in the office where she worked, and they struck up a conversation.
“I thought, ‘Tomorrow, I’ll ask her to lunch,’” he recalls.
But he didn’t get the chance: Missy called in sick the next day.
Two years later, Fisk was bartending at a club on Main Street when they met again. Neither could remember how they knew each other. On their first date, when they drove by the building where they’d first met, it clicked. They did, too.
“We’ve been together ever since,” he said.
They started Mainly Art after something else caught Fisk’s eye: A plastic Eames chair. He fell in love with midcentury style.
“Even though it’s vintage, it has a freshness that’s never faltered,” he said. “It’s simple but complicated at the same time.”
He decided to create a business buying and selling pieces he likes. Mainly Art began in a 500-square-foot storefront and moved to progressively bigger spaces, up to 18,000 square feet, in four different Main Street locations.
After 18 years, they left OTR because the neighborhood got so popular that there was no longer room to park large furniture trucks, Fisk said. So they moved to their current 8,000-square-foot showroom, restoration and upholstery shop on Madison Road.
All the while, they’ve sold furniture far beyond the city limits. Customers in Japan and New York City, where midcentury furnishings fit well in small spaces, have sought out Mainly Art. (It doesn’t hurt that publications from Travel + Leisure to Midwest Living to The New York Times have written about the shop.)
At least one customer is an Academy Award winner. Frances McDormand wanted furniture delivered to the New York townhouse she shared with husband Joel Coen.
Despite her celebrity status, Fisk told her what he tells all his customers. “I don’t do deliveries in New York because it’s too complicated.”
McDormand replied by asking Fisk’s favorite drink. She made him a deal: If he made the delivery, she’d have a vodka martini waiting. That’s how Fisk came to share a drink with the actress and her filmmaker husband.
Fisk credits Hollywood with helping bring back mid-century style. It wasn’t all that popular when he first opened Mainly Art, but it’s now sought after by a broad demographic, he said.
He thinks “Mad Men” made a big difference, as “it glamourized the ’50s and ’60s.”
When mid-century modern furniture originally gained popularity, World War II had ended and Americans “wanted a new lifestyle,” said Fisk, who lives in a mid-century home in East Walnut Hills.
People migrated to the city and suburbs, and they needed furniture that fit those spaces, he said.
“That broke ground for this modern vibe, (which was) more sculptural and organic,” he said. “Furniture didn’t have to be stodgy anymore.”
Cars evolved similarly, he explained, noting people wanted to “let loose” after the war – travel new highways, stay in motels and go to drive-ins. So they needed wheels, and as with homes and furniture, they wanted something new.
“The ‘jet age’ came about – cars with big tail fins, cars that look like rocket ships,” he said.
The style slowly evolved to sleeker, European-inspired cars. Fisk thinks of iconic examples such as the ’59 Cadillac, ’55 Thunderbird and ’50s-era Corvettes giving way to models like the Studebaker Avanti.
“All those cars were expressions of the art and design and new materials being tried throughout that period,” he said.
Concours d’Elegance will celebrate them. Though the 200 collector cars on display in Ault Park will represent all periods of automobile history, about a quarter will hail from the mid-century era. Other displays will include “95 years of MG,” “Asian Tuners” and “Survivors – Unrestored” (vehicles that have held up without restoration). A committee selects the cars from all over the country, Fisk said.
“This is a top car show in the country,” he said. “The quality of our cars is just fantastic … (They’re) great pieces of art.”
The show will also feature food vendors and a craft beer garden.
Like Mainly Art, Concours has grown considerably over the years. It started at William and Helen Williams’ Indian Hill estate, but quickly outgrew that space and its next home, Peterloon. It moved to Cincinnati Country Day School and Indian Hill High School before settling on Ault Park in 1996.
Leading up to this year’s car show, which organizers expect to draw 6,000 people, are a fundraising dinner on Friday, followed by an open house, countryside tour and hangar party on Saturday.
Proceeds benefit the Arthritis Foundation, with a focus on Juvenile Arthritis (JA). The foundation provides local families with education, resources and support for managing the disease, including the opportunity to attend the JA Family Camp.
“It’s a great charity,” Fisk said. “You’re helping people, and you’re doing something you enjoy.”
Fisk himself enjoys collecting mostly European cars. (He had a Porsche in last year’s show.) He can pinpoint the exact moment that sparked his interest, courtesy of an uncle who worked for Porsche.
“When I was seven years old, I went over 100 miles an hour in a Porsche, and that was it,” he said. “It was the biggest thrill of my life.”
Fisk has been lucky to enjoy many thrills since then, including traveling the country for his furniture business, meeting people and hearing their stories.
“I like to hear the story because I can tell it to the next person,” he said.
Fisk remembers a woman who’d rocked five babies in her Eames chair. None of those grown children wanted it, and she cried when Fisk came to pick it up. He promised he’d find it a good home.
And he did: He sold it to a woman with a baby on the way.
“There’s this long line that’s not broken,” he said. “The history of it, that’s my favorite thing.”
“We’re not just selling ‘stuff,’” he added. “We’re selling people’s memories.”
42nd annual Cincinnati Concours d’Elegance
The Cincinnati Concours d’Elegance in Ault Park is a nationally recognized car show featuring prized automobiles and motorcycles from the past.
A weekend of social functions and a casual road tour precede the Concours, which is 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday, June 9. Free parking and shuttles are available from the Fifth Third Bank operations center off I-71 in Madisonville.
Proceeds from the Concours benefit the Arthritis Foundation, which combats juvenile arthritis. Tickets: $30/adults, $15/ students, children 12 and under free.