Interview: Maria Niforos

Maria Niforos is the kind of lace dealer that one dreams about – offering outstanding pieces, educated through long experience, and with a great love of lace nurtured by a famous mentor. Her web site, http://www.marianiforos.com/ makes the dream a reality.   And her Ebay listings under the ‘mithya’ name offer a wide range of lace and other textiles to tempt both novice and experienced collector. If that were not enough, you can visit her shop in the Portwine Galleries, London.
Maria has not spoken much about her work before, and this is a rare opportunity to know her better.

LaceNews: Maria, thank you so much for this special opportunity to talk. I know many important collectors who have purchased spectacular pieces of lace from you, and your website is amazing. How did you start dealing in lace?
Maria:
Thank you very much Laurie for your kind words concerning the lace I sell and the website. My son Joseph created the website and my other son Daniel is in charge of pictures and the running of the website.
I am reminded of the song “It was thirty years ago today”…
I am not sure if I found lace or lace found me. Life works in mysterious ways and I believe there is something in all of us that finds the particular path we end up taking in our journey through life. When people ask me this question, my answer is usually that “Necessity is the Mother of Invention” or it was the case in this instance.
First I would like to say some words about a very dear and remarkable lady, her name is Elizabeth Czabafy. Elizabeth was one of the great lace dealers in London at the time, friend and collaborator on identification of lace with people like Santina Levy, Pat Earnshaw, Fulvia Lewis  and other lace collectors and experts in lace. Practically every single lace dealer today in London was helped by this great lady. She would give her knowledge to all and she would also make sure that we were given the right price for the lace we found. Superb pieces of lace have found their way into great collections and museums because of Elizabeth.
I started casually around thirty-two years ago, mainly because of Elizabeth. I was walking down Portobello Road at the time, walked into Portwine Galleries and there she was selling lace. She sold me all the lace she did not want, wonderful flounces of lace, all very pretty. At my first fair I sold all of it so of course I returned time and again to buy from her.
I finally ended up in Portwine Galleries and whenever I found  early handmade lace, I would give it to Elizabeth  to sell for me. In those early days I knew very little about handmade lace. Elizabeth was my teacher, a remarkable lady who helped me in every way.
So, the story is a long one… but we meet remarkable people throughout our life. Elizabeth is one of these remarkable people. She was my teacher and my benefactor as she sold the lace I found on its merit and rarity and also for the right price at that time. In a sense she is one of the people that I will always be grateful to.


Elizabeth Czabafy at her 90th birthday party in London, 1999. She passed away at the age of 100 last year in her native Hungary.

Years have gone by now, lace allowed me to raise and educate my children, it allowed me to be with them at home and to pay for everything that needed to be paid for. I have been fortunate to handle and to appreciate the finest laces and to help find these beautiful pieces a “Home”. There is a great pleasure in knowing that these pieces go to collectors who love and appreciate them. Merchantdom has never held a great attraction to me, somehow being a “Merchant of Lace” is more acceptable for me. Preservation of the beautiful mind and nimble fingers that composed these laces is the added bonus.
My favorite lace is ‘Puntoinaria”………. which of course means “Stitches in The Air”. Our lives are woven like these stitches in the air.

LaceNews: I know this isn’t a question that dealers or collectors often like to answer, but where do you find such high quality material?
Maria:
My first response to this question turns its face to philosophy. It is where I start and where I end up, so to speak.  Do we find the lace or does the lace find us? When the decision is made to go down a path, everything unfolds for the person.
After selling for so many years I have made many contacts. Many dealers know what I look for and I am happy to pay the price if the item is beautiful. The good thing about buying from dealers is that they have a good understanding of price and also search for quality items. In the end, everyone in the line so to speak, benefits. I pay the price if I can and I pay a high price if I need to for the items my collectors are looking for.
I travel a fair amount and am always willing to go if someone gets in touch with me. I also go to auctions and travel in Europe. I also have been fortunate to be recommended to handle de-acquisition of collections and sometimes take special estates on commission.

LaceNews: What shows do you do? Where can we find you this coming year?
Maria:
I do five shows a year in the United States. The Pier show in New York and Vintage Textile show up in Sturbridge, Mass. I might try Texas this year as I know a very nice man who runs a lovely event there as I would like to see Texas, so to speak. Maybe take a few suitcases of lace etc with me. I fancy a change and especially some time away from the computer! Thought of doing the Miami shows, mainly to get to the sun in winter but that has not happened yet!
My three children are here in the United States for the time being and also two wonderful grandchildren… the good part is Love….. the bad part is it tends to keep this “fish” grounded. I kept thinking I would go back to London to live as I have lived there for most of my life… but I am one of those, where my children go… I go too. Lucky for me, that they love me!
So, five shows here, shop in London, selling to people in the fashion and antiques trade, supplying dealers still overseas.

LaceNews: My world view of lace is greatly influenced by how I have developed as a collector.  In the beginning I collected everything with a ‘handmade’ lace label, as if I had a personal mandate to save a lost art  (which turned out not to be so very lost). I suspect most people start this way. It either becomes overwhelming and they quit, or they learn to hone their collection to some specialty or to a particular quality.  How do you see collectors develop from your point of view as a Lace Merchant?
Maria:
I think the person who decides to start collecting lace is quite special in a way. One basically need ‘eyes” to see the intricacy and depth of lace. They also need “ears” to hear the history of lace when they look at a piece. I also think the lace collector has some kind of romantic side, has a love of beauty and a appreciation of history. I believe the lace collector has a different way of living.. some kind of intuitive understanding of  life . They understand the connection, perhaps they even “feel” the nimble fingers that worked under one lamp in wet barns to produce these beautiful pieces. The image, on one lit lamp shining on one piece of flax is quite amazing. I am reminded of a beautiful  quote from Jalahudin Rumi, the great Dervish teacher. “Let the beauty you love, be what you do.” A collector may not be a lacemaker, but they  certainly have a understanding of beauty.
We all start our journey somewhere! I believe the lace collectors start collecting  smaller pieces of lace and then are drawn in a certain direction. The eye becomes more refined and their knowledge also grows. This combination then sends the lace collector on the journey they take  in regard to their collection. Eventually they find their own particular  “path of lace” they become more passionate about and head in that direction. I believe most collectors start in this way.  In the end “Decision ” is paramount, not only in collecting lace but also in the direction we take in our life.
In London, I mainly sold to dealers from Brussels etc and so I started to know very quickly which were the best laces to buy. All owed of course to Elizabeth identifying and selling the lace for me. I mainly had only dealers. One particular man came every Saturday from Brussels.. again Elizabeth taught him also about many laces. He would just come and buy every single Saturday. I must say that most of my time was spent looking for the lace he was buying. I soon came to understand  that it was the best quality he was looking for, interesting designs and quality workmanship were desired.
I had only sold lace here in the U.S. at a lacemaker’s event in Ithaca. I only found out about that as my daughter went up to Cornell to do her Master’s degree when we came from London. I was surprised to find appreciative lace collectors at this event. We had just come from London and so most of my dealings in lace made their way to Americans mainly through dealers I sold to in Brussels. I had no idea there was such a large lace presence in the United States. I was quite pleased to find so many lace collectors. Their appreciation made me want to hold pieces back I would normally sell in London so that I could offer the lace to these collectors.

LaceNews: Lace is not your only business – you often show other textiles. A particular favorite of mine are the Chinese embroidered shawls. Tell us about your other textile interests.
Maria: Lace and linens have always been what I specialized in. I have also always sold fans, children’s early clothing, some ladies fine and elaborate clothing and have sold those lovely Chinese embroidered shawls for a very long time. I have had hundreds and hundreds of those beautiful shawls. I have also sold lovely relevant accessories when I have come across them.
I started selling other textiles around ten to twelve years ago.. not many, usually if there was something that appealed to me. Textiles sell well here in the United States and when I started doing a few shows here I started to bring them over for these shows.
This past year I was commissioned to sell the estate of the famous New York textile dealer Francois Nunnale. Francois was a major force in antique linens and textiles and had a extraordinary collection of items. She had had linens and textiles from all the great estates, the Astors, Whitneys, Vanderbilts, Morgan and assorted royalty throughout Europe. She sold to many rich and famous important people and helped amass collections of linens, Fortuny, textiles etc for her customers. There were boxes and boxes of items and a large part of the year has been spent is finding homes for these pieces. It has taken a lot of time and I am still in the process of going through boxes.

LaceNews: Your ebay name is mithya, which is lovely. How did you come up with this?
Maria:
I have been studying philosophy, spiritual books and religions for over thirty years. I have come to respect all the great traditions and have had teachings in Advaita philosophy. In this teaching the word mithya has a few meanings, a dream, a transient state, unreal and also according to the Shankaracarya of the tradition, a “relative reality”. I liked the concept of the unreal, the dream… which I thought very apropo to selling on this strange cybertool. The fact that everyone meets, mainly without ever actually “seeing” each other, was interesting. I have come to see that one does not need to see a physical form even though it would be nice… one can “hear” a person. Sometimes almost as good as seeing!

LaceNews: Tell us some of your Internet experiences – how have you effectively added this tool to the traditional ones of a Lace Merchant?
Maria: My daughter Michele was the first to suggest selling on the internet.. it took awhile to convince me.
I helped my son open a shop around a year ago……A lovely shop called “The Village Soccer Shop”. Daniel’s artistic vision was enhanced with his brother’s Joseph artistic skill and also with a little help from me. It looks great and has done quite well for these times…. unfortunately it meant I lost my website help!!! It takes an amazing amount of time. Daniel is slowly starting to have time to upload and do the website again. The website gives an idea of the type of items we usually look for. We only manage to get a small portion of items we sell on for now… We have supplied many dealers in Europe and Japan for a long time and so many items do not stay around long enough to have pictures taken – this will eventually change as time goes on.
After looking on Ebay’s lace pages, I realized that there were not many very early and fine pieces of lace on Ebay and I saw a opening. In the last year, I have done a few major shows, sold a lot to my collectors through pictures I sent. I also had Joseph’s help in putting items on Ebay. Joseph was instrumental with setting up the ‘Buy It Now” on Ebay.  At first, I was doubtful but soon came to realize it had its merits. When I buy at auctions there are items that sometimes do not warrant being sent to Europe because of their weight, sheets, etc., so we put these items on Ebay. We also put some items of Francois estate on Ebay. When I buy, I am always looking, it could mean only a few items in a lot, if there are numerous other pieces, eventually they make their way to Ebay or to a show here in the United States.
I mainly miss selling the good handmade laces on Ebay. I take great pleasure in offering these laces to the eclectic and knowledgeable collectors I have found through Ebay. This year I mainly would like to concentrate on doing less on the internet and spend more time traveling…. saying that, good laces will always be part of the picture ..right now, there is just a mass of other items that need to be sold.
The lace collectors and makers on Ebay and those I have met through the website are very special people. I think I get alot of pleasure from working with them. I doubt very much I would be selling on the internet if it were not the case as I have a tendency to like traveling.

LaceNews: You mentioned that you particularly like Punto in Aria, but is there some special piece that you have handled in your career that is a personal favorite?
Maria:
This is a difficult question as I have been fortunate to sell many beautiful pieces, I guess the ones that made my heart skip a beat when I found them would be….
– A early 17thc. Cutwork handkerchief that eventually made it’s way to a museum.
– A early sixteenth or seventeenth century Reticella, Punto in Aria and Cut Work cover.
– The earliest known  bobbin lace fan with mythological theme  that had ever come  up at Christie’s in London.This eventually was bought for a museum.
– A rare early pair of Point De France lappets and another bobbin lace pair that I was told were so important that they were probably made for a great Eastern merchant. These also eventually made their way to a museum I believe. I think one of the Miller books on Antiques has some pictures of these pieces.
– A mid-seventeenth century  mirror image cloth with amazing scrollwork design and mythological animals etc.
– An amazing Brussels Point De Gaze oval wedding veil that was purported to have belonged to Princess Alexandra of Russia, given to her by her Godmother Queen Victoria.
– A  superb  and extremely rare  large Blonde lace bedspread with cherubs. See the bedspread
– Aemilia Ars four poster bed set and canopy and other Aemilia Ars tablecloths ,etc.
– 19thc. Brussels Point De Gaze fan with amazing pictorial scene of a boy fishing amidst a pastoral scene.  This is probably the fan

LaceNews: Maria, thank you so much for this extraordinary interview. And everyone is closely watching the wonderful Brussels shawl that you put up on Ebay a few days ago!
Maria: Thank you Laurie…. I am impressed with the dedication you have to lace and to the community of lace. Thanks for all the kind words… it has been a pleasure to get to “Know” you through your questions…………. dialogue works wonders really. It frees us! I must admit, it was probably good for me that you” caught” me as I do tend to have a tendency to run the other way when asked for pictures or for an interview.

You can contact Maria at ariam7@gmail.com
Her website is http://www.marianiforos.com
Or visit Portwine Galleries (Saturdays or by appointment), 175 Portobello Road, London

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