LA MESA VILLAGE – From a distance, the gathering of tents along La Mesa Boulevard looks like all such gatherings – crafts, foods, popcorn, arts and some music. But this week’s La Mesa Antique Faire had hidden treasures that made walking the street for this affair far more enjoyable. Consider just these gems mined from among the merchants obsessed and enthralled by specialties some of us didn’t know existed:

 Cat Frazier of North Park was sitting comfortably in a booth that featured stylish but somehow other-worldly fashions looming above her on manikins.

Turns out the other world was simply another time. Cat became interested in antique patterns for homemade clothes. She salvages the old fashions and brings them back to life by making the clothes by hand, with the occasional personal touch added. A bit of a cat fanatic, she named her company Minerva Hand Crafted Purrfection, her booth is a time machine – her skills reaching to inspiration from our grandparents’ generation and bringing them back to life. The patterns themselves, encased in plastic, are a found art form of its own. The clothing has more style than anything the store bought can bring us.

 The cowboy boots hanging in Rich Robinson’s booth have been drilled with holes and accessorized to attract birds. They are artfully constructed and whimsical. They make you smile. Which is fitting. Robinson, of Crest, sends the profits his cowboy boot bird houses generates, to a group called “The Smile Train,’’ surgeons who repair the cleft palates of children throughout the third world.

“It is just amazing what they do for the kids,’’ Robinson says. “These kids can’t go to school. They get ostracized. The whole idea of helping them just tickled me.’’ Robinson’s art form tickles, too, in all the right ways.

 In Ben Seeley’s view of the world, just about everything from the 1940s and 1950s is superior to what we have today. Soldiers returning from a victorious war dedicated themselves to rebuilding America, worked hard and created great things – including the kitchen stoves. Maybe particularly the kitchen stoves.

Seeley runs a National City company, Ben’s Vintage Stoves, that takes old stoves, reconditions them and puts them into kitchens seeking a vintage look. His display at this festival reminded you of a time when home appliances were as much domestic art as domestic function.

Seeley says restoring them is possible because they were made with such good ingredients, better steel and iron, he says, than that used in today’s appliances. Seeley says his customers have come to trust the even heat of the old stoves and simply don’t want to move to the new, hi-tech digital appliances. “Everything in the ‘40s and ‘50s were basically better,’’ Seeley says.

His work would suggest he is correct.

 Enter the Galleria at 8329 La Mesa Boulevard and you quickly are aware this is not your typical antique store. You see none of the overloaded tables and crowded walls. Each part of this establishment is impeccably merchandized and there is virtually none of the schlock that seems to dominate so many antique venues.

The Galleria is the collaboration of a a group of like-minded antique fans, curated by Cynthia Stein, to present vignettes of different eras.

Stein manages to set a consistent look and feel through a space that includes the possessions of such varied merchants. The effect is clearly noted by shoppers who walk in and often have an audible reaction to an antique store that makes the effort to honor its prized possessions.

This store is clearly a gem in the Jewel of the Hills.

 At the western end of the Antique Faire event was a collection of authors, anchored by Readers Inc., a children’s book store that is quickly becoming a Mecca for young readers in La Mesa.

Though the books produced by the variety of authors gathered around Readers are not technically antiques, this gathering of story-tellers -- some featuring subjects from World War II to science fiction futurists – seemed to fit with the eclectic gathering of characters that characterized this La Mesa event.

Particularly eye-catching was the Gamadin book series being produced by a Carlsbad-based author, who describes his story-line as “a couple of surfers saving the galaxy.’’

A true California story if ever there was one.

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Tags: Ben Selley, Cat Frazier, Children's book store, Cynthia Stein, Galleria, La Mesa Antique Faire, Rich Robinson, The Readers Inc.

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