Montgomery County

Estate of Amsterdam artist-haberdasher reflects long-gone way of life

Local auctioneer Ken Carden won’t just be selling antiques at his next estate sale. On the block are

Local auctioneer Ken Carden won’t just be selling antiques at his next estate sale. On the block are artifacts from an Amsterdam era that has long ago come and gone.

The estate of Matthew Orante, artist, haberdasher and local figure will be auctioned off at the end of September or early October.

“This isn’t like my usual antique auction,” Carden said. “Everyone in Amsterdam knew Matt and spoke highly of him. Everyone wants a piece of his memory.”

Orante had a long history in the area. For 22 years starting in 1952 he ran Matthew’s Men’s Shop, a clothing store he started with money earned as a wood pattern maker.

“The shop wasn’t just a wage for my uncle,” said Orante’s nephew Dave Northrup, who worked at the shop in his teens. “It was an expression of who he was.”

Northrup recalled the atmosphere of the East Main Street shop in the late ’60s, talking of the hand-leaded price tags Orante made for the clothing and his own paintings that lined the walls.

“He had a really big one of a Lithuanian king,” he said. “It was in a big gilded frame. It just dominated one whole wall.”

That 60- by 44-inch oil painting is now lot number two in Carden’s auction, along with many other artifacts Northrup remembers fondly.

Specifically he mentioned one seven-foot scale model of the Eiffel Tower. The model was big enough to make it into the Recorder in 1955, the year Orante finished it. The framed clipping from the newspaper is also for sale.

“Whatever my uncle did, he put his own unique stamp on it,” Northrup said, “and you couldn’t miss that stamp.”

After Matthew’s Men’s Shop went out of business in 1974, unable to compete with larger retail stores, Orante took up building musical instruments. There are dozens for sale.

Orante died in 2008, followed by his wife Isabel last year, leaving no children.

“He and Isabel were part and parcel of the brilliant life of Amsterdam,” Northrup said, “That part of the city is gone now. It happened quickly.”

Northrup said the old Matthew’s Men’s Shop building at 40 East Main St. is the only visual mark his uncle left on the city, and that’s empty.

Orante’s art work is a testament to an era that has vanished almost entirely, which makes it valuable to locals. Carden however, sees greater potential.

“Most artists only get famous after they’re dead,” he said. “I’ve got an idea that his work is going to get very popular in another 20 years, long after I’ve auctioned it off.”

Since Orante was the son of Lithuanian immigrants and much of his work reflects that heritage, Carden plans to reach out to buyers in Eastern European nations, saying while the work is locally important, the overseas market will yield a greater profit.

“I have to think of the bottom line for the estate holders,” he said.

The auction, which was originally set for Sept. 16, will likely be moved back to early October while Carden makes connections overseas.

“I wish I had met him,” he said. “Though after months of handling his work, doing research, I feel like I did know him.”

For more information on the auction and when it will take place visit

Categories: Life and Arts

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