“I had the privilege of knowing Earlean Bowen, as did many other fortunate folks, and I would be hard-pressed to name a person who was more loved or full of life than she was,” said Dwight Stevens of Stevens Auction Company, based in Aberdeen, Miss. “She attended many of my auctions and even though she was a dealer, it was the buying that excited her – the hunt.”
Stevens added, “When you went to visit Earlean at her shop, everything was for sale – including the jewelry she was wearing and the bed she slept in. If someone wanted to buy, she would figure out a way to make a sale happen. She also prepared a full dinner every day, with various meats and two or three different desserts. She’d feed pretty much anyone who came by.”
In 1975, with $10,000 and a dream to get into the business, Earlean launched Bowen’s Antiques, initially as a home-based venture. In the few years prior to that, she had been selling a few used cars out of her front yard and was also an Amway distributor. In a few instances, she accepted furniture pieces as a down-payment on a car, then sold the furniture out of her garage.
Then, as she was calling on Amway customers, she would notice other furniture items in their homes that she decided she just had to have. “Almost no one could say no to grandmother,”
That was 36 years ago, when Earlean spotted a Welsh cupboard in an open doorway of a home in Kilmichael, Miss. She turned the car around and immediately knocked on the door to purchase the piece. Much to her dismay, she didn't leave with it, and all of her future attempts were unsuccessful, too. “Even as recently as a couple of years ago, every time we'd pass that house she'd say, 'I wonder whatever happened to that wonderful cupboard,'” Ms. Mims recalled.
Parlaying her love of Empire pieces, old Southern furniture, primitives, Americana, china, crystal and jewelry into a bulging inventory, Ms. Bowen had, by age 85, amassed an inventory worth an estimated $1 million. And, remarkably, she was just hitting her stride.
“At an age when most people are well into retirement and taking life easy, Ms. Bowen was out there, charging around the country, buying new pieces and making new contacts,” Dwight Stevens said. “At age 90 she had a six-man crew and several trucks. She was just this unbelievable powerhouse of energy. Everybody knew her affectionately as ‘the Antiques Lady.’”
She finally did slow down, however, in her 90s, and pared back her work schedule in the process. One thing she never missed, though, was the Governor’s Inaugural Ball, an event Ms. Bowen got invited to every four years, having made political connections in her government job. Last year at age 95, she danced with the Governor of Mississippi for what was to be the last time.
“Ms. Bowen was a hard worker and a go-getter – a true American success story,” Mr. Stevens said. “She was also a faithful church-goer. When the church she attended got torn down to make way for a new four-lane highway, she spearheaded the effort to make sure many of the older pieces from the demolished structure were saved and incorporated into the new church.”
Ms. Bowen served as treasurer for the Sapa Baptist Church in Eupora for over 45 years. She was also a member of the Eupora Rotary Club and a strong supporter of the Eupora Arts Group. In 2005 she was Grand Marshall of the Eupora Christmas Celebration Parade. In 2006 she was presented a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Webster County Development Council.
In a text to friends after Ms. Bowen's passing, Lisa Mims wrote, “Grandmother is furnishing the halls of heaven with antiques now.” Stevens Auction Company will be auctioning Ms. Bowen's estate, in its entirety with no exceptions, in a sale planned for sometime this spring, probably in March. Watch the Stevens Auction website for details – www.stevensauction.com.