Darien resident appraises antiques while collecting art and literature
After a career in the education field, one Darien resident's desire to continue educating the public had led him to collect and display a menagerie of art and literature.
Gil Rodriguez spent the majority of his life teaching at schools in Connecticut and New York. He moved to New York when he was 3 years old and attended the New York Public Schools. While teaching, Rodriguez opened a bookstore that he ran for two months during the summer that specialized in rare books.
During his tenure as a teacher, Rodriguez said he used his passion for collecting to help educate students about their cultures, especially while he was teaching at Port Chester High School where he dealt with large Hispanic and black communities.
"I wanted students to be able to appreciate their culture," Rodriguez said. "The idea that I was able to reach the black and Hispanic communities was fantastic."
Rodriguez enjoyed running his bookstore because he could acquire anything.
"I could purchase everything and then keep what I wanted," Rodriguez said.
However, Rodriguez found that many of his customers who were coming into the store weren't looking for rare books; they were looking for regular books. The bookstore that Rodriguez ran eventually moved to a new location after he decided to keep it open year round, but after his rent went up and people weren't buying as many books, Rodriguez decided to focus on appraising rare books and artwork.
"I was really interested in beautifully illustrated children's books," Rodriguez said. "I used to go to estate sales in the '60s and '70s and organizations would call me to help them price books."
One of the prized items in Rodriguez' collection is a portion of the original manuscript for Alex Haley's book, "Roots."
Eventually Rodriguez got so involved with pricing books that he started buying them for his own collection.
"I got so involved that I was buying the books and then storing them while I was teaching," Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez' fascination with art and literature started when he was in school and one of his art teachers suggested he apply to an art school. He graduated from the Music & Art High School with a specialty in art and then received his bachelor's degree from the University of Montana in history and foreign languages. From there, Rodriguez attended Manhattanville College where he received a master's degree.
Rodriguez learned how to appraise books after joining the Antiquarian Booksellers' Association of American. He laughed when asked how the appraisal process works by saying it was much easier to appraise books with the internet.
"When I first started doing it I had to go to the library and look through all the auction records and catalogs," Rodriguez said. "Now I can just go online and type in the book."
Because Rodriguez' passion for teaching didn't end after retiring from education in 2002, he decided to travel around and do displays that would feature some of his favorite artists and writers.
"I was interested in Charles Lindbergh because I was living in Darien," Rodriguez said. Other displays included a collection of Chinese artifacts and documents and a display dedicated solely to cookbooks from the 1800s.
"It wasn't just a display about cookbooks," Rodriguez said. "It also showed how difficult it was for people in that time period to acquire the ingredients they needed for their cooking."
Rodriguez has been in the appraisal business since the late '60s and he said the hardest part of any appraisal in telling someone a cherished family item has no retail value.
However, he acknowledged that the best part of appraising is when he gets to tell someone they have something that is very valuable that they thought was worthless.
"It's beautiful when they come in with multiple items and one thing may not have much value but another one does," Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez said you have to be diplomatic when appraising items.
As part of the Antiques Appraisal Weekend event at the Lockwood-Matthew's event on Oct. 2 and 3, Rodriguez will be on hand to help appraise any paper treasures people bring in.
Rodriguez and his wife Kathleen have a 20-year-old daughter, Helen, who is attending Stonehill College. A 19-year-old daughter, Mary Francis, and twin 13-year-olds, John and Olivia. Rodriguez said his children share his passion for collecting art and literature.
"It gives real value to these items when you see people who appreciate them as much as you do," Rodriguez said.