With unwavering determination and fervor for Old-World patina, Shawn Stucker fulfilled her dream to become a shop owner of extraordinary French antiques. Now one of the most prominent importers in the Louisville, Kentucky, area, she unravels the stories that continue to inspire her European Antique Market.
A natural storyteller, Shawn Stucker is the owner of Louisville, Kentucky’s renowned European Antique Market—now the largest importer of French antiquities in the state. “It all began,” says Shawn, “with a woman who had a passion for French patina, who was aspiring to enrich her life—a dream that eventually led her to France in search of antiques … but what she found was something much greater.”
While working a corporate job in merchandising and operations, Shawn began collecting and selling antiques as a hobby in the early 1980s. “It was a very conscious effort,” she recalls, “because I knew that eventually this is what I wanted to do.” Her endeavors then led to the purchase of an old farmhouse she could use for stocking her wares, and she acquired a booth at a local antiques market. From there, Shawn started traveling to England and importing on a small scale. “But when I finally went to France to buy,” she remembers, “it was as if I had died and gone to heaven.”
Preferring southern France for the magnificent finds and unbelievable bargains, she has journeyed across the Atlantic some fifty-three times now and has combed places such as Lyon, Auvergne, L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, Avignon, and Provence, as well as the surrounding villages and sprawling countryside.
As an outsider learning the ropes, Shawn managed to expertly maneuver through the region’s village brocante (secondhand) fairs and numerous professional markets, as well as a store of hidden jewels found off the beaten path, where townspeople sell wares from their attics. Before she could speak French, Shawn devised nicknames to help her identify the markets and shops she would frequent—“Horsetooth,” “Madame Canal,” “Caveman,” “Reds,” “Monsieur Whitecoat’s,” and “No Pants.”
“The owner of ‘No Pants’ had on swim trunks the first time I stopped in,” she says, laughing out loud, “and if you want to hear more stories, come by the shop.” Cultivating dozens of close acquaintances in France throughout the years, Shawn is a welcome guest in the homes of people who have since become her dear friends. Some of the fondest memories from her travels are the bonne franquettes (the French expression for unplanned get-togethers), where wine, cheese, and conversation are savored and enjoyed. “Sometimes they happen in a dealer’s stall, a small café, or the cave (wine cellar) of a maison,” she says, “but they are always the beginnings of a friendship and a wonderful interruption to a hectic day, or the perfect way to end one.”
As she gradually became a skilled antiques buyer, Shawn also realized that she had grasped the language when she began dreaming in French. Now, she travels effortlessly with the friends she has made abroad, and when she returns to Louisville, she shares the success of her shop with her husband and business partner, Carl. “Through the years,” says Shawn, “I’ve found that customers are just as interested in my stories as they are in my antiques—or what I call my cadeaux de la vie, my gifts of life.”
To read more, see “Dreaming in French” on page 68 of the September/October 2010 issue of Victoria.