Woodard and Greenstein Antiques
Woodard & Greenstein Antiques, featuring Woodard Weave rugs, is one in a small handful of survivors on the Upper East Side. In a city where businesses often sadly close within ten years of opening, Thomas Woodard and Blanche Greenstein have managed to stay in the neighborhood, providing a niche market of antique quilts and rugs, since 1972. The store, however, has been nomadic during their forty plus years in business. Starting on the second floor of 73rd and Lexington, the shop then moved to 69th and Madison, where Tom and Blanche took a window in the Westbury hotel and caught the eye of international travelers. They followed this by moving to 67th and Madison across from the Westbury hotel, and then to a larger space on 74th and York where they relied on destination shoppers, but had a beautiful view of the East River. When the rent was raised in that building, they discovered an available space in 2015 and moved into their current 81st Street location near Second Avenue. Tom said, “It’s tiny for us, but great.” He added that old customers, who may not have visited Woodard Weave for decades, frequently stumble upon them at their new address saying, “What are you doing here?” Blanche nodded, mentioning how much people love coming in to meet the owners. “Nothing replaces personal contact with customers.”
Before they went into the antique quilt business, Blanche was a stylist for photographers and Tom managed the Box Office at the Public Theater. During this time, Blanche would travel around the country collecting quilts. She did it as a hobby before Tom joined her. A show by Jonathan Holstein at the Whitney Museum in 1971 provided the catalyst to launch the two friends into business together. Blanche told me that the show was called “Abstract Design in American Quilts” and it demonstrated how old quilts could be fine art. She also mentioned walking by a window on Madison Avenue where the store was using antique quilts as props. She realized that there was a demand for “America’s favorite folk art” and that people were beginning to see the artistic merit of quilts.
Tom and Blanche, part of the Alliance for American Quilting, have always specialized in quilts that span the 1820s to the twentieth century, though most come from the heavy quilting period from 1850-1895. Blanche took out one of the first quilts she ever bought, a Mennonite quilt from Pennsylvania dating back to 1880. She also showed me a picture of one of her favorite quilts, made right after the Civil War. She had just posted a square of the quilt on Instagram for Martin Luther King Day in which an embroidered black man states, “Master, I am free.” Blanche says that many of the beautiful quilts that come her way are in fantastic condition because they were families’ best quilts, and therefore rarely used. Though it is difficult to trace every quilt back to its source after two centuries, occasionally the pieces will stay in the same family, meaning that at least the last name of the artist will be known. Blanche confided that one of the main reasons why she likes quilts is because they mark time in a family’s history: they were often created to celebrate births, marriages, and other family events.
Though Blanche and Thomas have a fine reputation in the antique quilt world, they have also become known for Woodard Weave, a collection of rugs they created based on the old rugs that they have been gathering since the 1980s. “These rugs can go with all decors,” Tom pointed out – the simple, striped pieces can look good in both mission and mid-century modern households. Though most of their rugs are newly made, since rugs go through more wear and tear, they are all inspired by designs from the nineteenth century. Blanche mentioned that at one point they sold rag carpets, which families would make from the scraps left over from their quilting. “It was the last step in recycling,” she quipped, adding that Woodard Weave made it into New York Magazine’s “Best Bets” section, thanks to their rag rugs.
Rugs and carpets are not the only textiles that these two friends collect: As we were descending the stairs, they pointed out a group of campaign bandanas. These head pieces were given away before bumper stickers were invented. Woodard & Greenstein have a bandana from Teddy Roosevelt on the wall, among others that came from a collector in Chicago. Tom indicated that they are particularly popular among men. “They are textile snapshots of history.” He then told me that he and Blanche once loaned their bandana collection to Bergdorf Goodman for their President’s Day windows.
A picture in a magazine gave me yet another glimpse into one of Blanche and Tom’s projects: restoring houses. For a number of years they have been rescuing old houses and barns in the Hamptons that are in danger of being destroyed and fill them with antiques, rugs, and quilts. They have local carpenters renovate each house and then “test” them by living in them. In a sense they do to houses what they have been doing to textiles for many years: breathing new life into them.