Though it’s at least an hour drive outside of Chicago, the Kane County Flea Market’s monthly appearance is well worth it. Held the first weekend of every month in suburban St. Charles, Illinois, the Market is an eclectic mix of die hard antique dealers with expensive vintage items, amateur antique dealers with moderately priced goods and people with spare trucks with a bunch of random crap. The pleasure of the market comes from sifting through the dross to find that one unexpected treasure.
Coming from Chicago where vintage items usually end up on Craigslist, or captured by specialty shops where they are marked up several times, it’s refreshing to actually find some cheap things with the patina of their different generations. But along with the requisite purses, postcards, furniture and jewelry, comes some truly odd finds. Take for instance the booth selling questionably authentic archaeological artifacts, from Civil War-era bayonets to slave shackle bracelets. On the front right corner of their table sat a conspicuously covered box that read “Adults only Roman Porno Phallus Amulets.” Sure enough inside lay several aged bronze penis pendants, tremendously out of place with the more prevalent atmosphere of doilies, quilts and farmland décor (seen at left).
Aside from what you can purchase, the Flea Market is a terrific cacophony of different aesthetic objects, all on the same table or piled deeply in a bin. Similar in this way to a contemporary art fair, the Flea market’s objects create a cognitive dissonance should one slow down enough to contemplate it. For instance, one vendor haphazardly placed a disco ball between two broken chandeliers in front of his box truck. The sun shone down on the disco ball’s tiny mirrors, illuminating the truck walls and shaming the other lighting fixtures. In some sense contrast doesn’t exist in a flea Market until you stop checking items off of your list and look for it. From the Jesus porcelain next to the Tinker Bell porcelain, to the sea of Precious Moments figurines, the Market is a place littered with phony sentiments and nostalgic attachments--as if owning something old is immediately a valuable experience.
But don’t be casual at the Market because some vendors take this economic exchange extremely seriously. During my visit I was attempting to take photographs of stacks of old letterpress blocks that were used for newspaper advertisements, when a vendor gruffly told me to stop immediately. When I inquired why he replied, “They don’t let you do that at museums, why do think that you can do that here?” Visitors to the Kane County Flea Market will find that it’s not the same thing as a museum, but it is still special in its own uncanny way.