Antiques and Adventure on Palm Avenue

Arts & Culture

Pictured: A life-sized sculpture made from the antique molds used for the famous Terracotta Army of Emperor Qin Shi Huang, Photo by Phil Lederer.

Thirty-two years ago, Cheryl Burke was on her first trip to China, where she found a pair of the last terracotta sculptures crafted from the same historic molds that made the famous Terracotta Armies of Emperor Qin Shi Huang in 210 BCE, shipping the sculptures out of the country just before those molds were designated major artifacts in themselves by the Chinese government and retired from use. Just a few years later, she was in Argentina, tracking down antique furniture passed down from French royalty to fleeing nobility pre-World War II, scattered and sold through the Argentine countryside in the post-war years and the Peron years. “It’s like a treasure hunt,” Burke says, and it’s all just a day in the life as the owner and curator of Burke Interior Design & Antiques over on Palm Avenue in Downtown Sarasota. Or at least it was.

After more than 30 years in the business, Burke has announced that she will be closing shop come the end of November, embarking on a new adventure in Tuscany. And while the antique French furniture is long gone, the terracotta warrior and his horse remain, along with a wide variety of antiques and artifacts on sale at a significant discount.

Walking into the shop today, Burke almost recreates that treasure hunt thrill, with the space full to bursting with antique chests and chairs, wardrobes and fixtures and furnishings, and every available surface covered with some sort of statuette or bygone rarity waiting for rediscovery by the proper eye. The terracotta sculptures hint at Burke’s impressive collection of East Asian antiquities, including a hand-carved wooden Guan Yin made in 1618 and a whole collection of Blanc de Chine figurines, known for both their delicate and intricate composition. Most don’t survive, Burke says, but the ones that do are testament not only to the craft of their creators but the love and care bestowed by their keepers. “That’s the story,” she says, “and the history.” But the shop holds much more than simply Asian antiques.

A quick tour unearths charming English coffee tables and mahogany sideboards, ornate Italian curiosity cabinets and porcelain chandeliers, foot stools, beds, oil lamps, European sconces, bronze temple bells, hand-forged andirons and even a primitive grinding stone wheel. And in the middle of the space, partially obscured by the treasures surrounding, a one-of-a-kind sculptural conference table created by Howard Werner, comprising a massive wooden pyramid inverted atop two ebonized wooden spheres with a mirroring wooden pyramid as its base. Signed by the artist, the piece represents the rare American addition to the collection.

And with the shop closing its doors this November, everything must go and everything is discounted. Burke is traveling light, heading to Tuscany, where she’ll open a bed and breakfast alongside her new antique shop, while making time to study Italian Baroque art. But until then, the doors are open. And as Burke says, “No one ever sells their best off first.”

Burke Interior Design & Antiques, 72 South Palm Avenue, Sarasota.


Pictured: A life-sized sculpture made from the antique molds used for the famous Terracotta Army of Emperor Qin Shi Huang, Photo by Phil Lederer.

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