Relative passes down love of antiques to gallery owner

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - Look around your home. Is there a special piece of furniture or something that belonged to a loved one? We often hold onto those so we can pass them down to our children. But sometimes, they find new owners who love them and their history.

Ken Rivenbark loves heirlooms. “You have to take care of an antique cause it’s only ours for a short while,” Ken told me standing in the middle of his new gallery in downtown Huntsville. “It gets passed on to someone else.” It’s a lesson he learned as a child from his aunt. “I’ve never forgotten that,” he said. “I’ve always tried to keep that in my mission.”

That mission is offering high quality and high end pieces in his galley. “We specialize in furniture from the 17th, 18th, early 19th century,” he said. But you’ll also find fine art, estate jewelry and the largest silver collection in north Alabama. “It’s not items you’re going to see in every other store,” he said with a smile.

Most of what you’ll see in the gallery comes from auctions. “A lot of my furniture comes out of Virginia,” Ken said. And it may come with some history. “Often I have the family provenance that goes with it and that’s always exciting,” he said. Ken hand picks each items he buys. “It speaks to me,” he said, which is what he hopes happens when customers see a piece in his gallery.

He showed us several of his favorites. One of them, a wooden box he got from a local family. It’s called a Tennessee sugar chest. “In the day, sugar, tea, tobacco products were all precious commodities so they were kept under lock and key,” Ken told me. Not everyone could afford those items.

He opened the top on another piece and remarked, “This is the oldest piece I have in the gallery.” It’s an English bible box from the late 1600’s. It probably was brought to this country on a ship and was used in a church.

If the pieces in his gallery could talk, imagine the stories they could tell. One of his most expensive items is a bow front side board. “It is English with very detailed inlay,” he said while showing us the craftsmanship involved. “The work is quite exquisite so it would have come from a very affluent family.”

Ken got his love for preserving the past from his aunt, Evelyn Miller. “She would go to flea markets or yard sales and buy furniture,” he said proudly. She learned how to bring old pieces back to life. “And she would show me how to do that and she walked me through the stages,” he said. But even after it was finished, there was one step left before it was perfect. “We had to go in the house and find the perfect place for it,” he said with a smile.

Aunt Evelyn has passed on but “She’s still with me. I feel her around me often,” Ken said. And she would no doubt be proud of what Ken is doing, preserving the past for the future. He’s proud of one piece that came from a Huntsville family. “It’s one of my favorite pieces,” he said. It’s the office desk used by Gene Monroe, Sr. who founded Monroe Business Equipment in 1923. The roll top desk is oak. “Often in desks like these you find little secret drawers behind the drawers,” Ken said. “So you always have to look and you always hope you’re going to find a little treasure.” When I asked if he’d found any treasure, he laughed and said, “No, but I keep looking. Hey, I believe. I believe.”

Rivenbark and Roper Antiques is located at 313 Jefferson Street in downtown Huntsville. The new location allowed Ken to triple his gallery space to 5,500 square feet. Store hours are 10 to 5 Monday through Friday and 10 to 1:30 on Saturday.