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April 5, 2021

Faces of Fauquier: Donating collectibles to help needy

Photo/Don Del Rosso
“In order for it to be of value to me, it needs to be old and exceptional, with quality workmanship and beauty,” Robert Bowman says.
If we’re not careful, Fauquier will resemble Prince William County, which went to hell in a hurry. In the 25 years I worked there, it went from a beautiful, rural county to a congested, poorly planned atrocity.
By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Staff Journalist
The retired architectural antiques dealer likes to say that he transformed a part-time second career into a mission to help the needy.

After about 25 years in business, Robert Bowman of Warrenton in February closed Crybaby Architectural but still puts his collector's talents to use to serve two local nonprofits — Fauquier Habitat for Humanity’s Restore and Fauquier Community Action’s Thrift Store.

As he downsizes his inventory or happens across valuable curbside discards, Mr. Bowman donates items to the Warrenton-based organizations.

“They’re my favorite charities,” explained the lanky 75-year-old Fairfax County native. “They do amazing work. I’ve turned a vocation into an avocation.”

Architectural antiques make up “everything that would have been exceptional in the older houses and buildings,” Mr. Bowman said.

That includes stained-glass and beveled glass windows, doors, lamps, hardware, mantles, transoms, lightning rods, chimney caps and concrete or terracotta griffins and lions’ heads.

“In order for it to be of value to me, it needs to be old and exceptional, with quality workmanship and beauty,” said Mr. Bowman, who in 2001 retired as a Prince William County school system reading specialist soon after he started the business. “Most of the people you sell that stuff to, it’s just going to be an accent piece. They’re not going to install it anywhere.”

He has collected pieces, mostly from the 1930s, but as far back as the Colonial era.

Dismissive of post-1940s furniture, he said: “It’s all the same stuff. It doesn’t catch your eye. It doesn’t stand out. There’s very little that’s unique about it.”

Of the thousands of items that Mr. Bowman has acquired, sold or kept, many remain memorable for different reasons.

About five years ago, he paid $800 for a red, cast-iron British telephone booth that probably would go for $10,000.

In 2001, he paid $4,200 for an 11- by-18-foot skylight removed from a bank in Harper’s Ferry that could sell for $10,000.

In early 1970s, Mr. Bowman paid $75 for a Tiffany 34-by-40-inch multi- and deeply colored stained-glass window that today probably would sell for $10,000.

“The glass itself is what catches your eye,” Mr. Bowman said. “Takes your breath away.”

Mr. Bowman’s personal collection totals more than 100 items, including 17 windows predominantly of the “Arts and Crafts” style that he displays at home on walls or over other windows.

His business-related inventory totals about 150 pieces — excluding hardware.

As for donations to Fauquier Community Action and Habitat, Mr. Bowman said: “I’ll do it as long as I can keep doing it.”

• Age
75

• Home
Warrenton

• Work
Owner, Crybaby Architectural, 1996 to February; reading specialist, Prince William County school system, 1975 to 2001; reading specialist, Stafford County school system, 1971-75.

• Family
Daughter; four grandchildren; widowed.

• Education
Master’s degree, education, Virginia Commonwealth University, 1975; bachelor’s degree, psychology, Virginia Commonwealth University, 1971; J.E.B. Stuart High School, Falls Church, 1964.

• How long have you lived in Fauquier?
About 17 years.

• Why do you live here?
My late wife and I were living in mongo-suburban ranch house, and we both liked old houses. We were checking things out as far as we could go in this direction where we could get a house that we like.

We loved the architecture of the house of Warrenton.

• How do you describe this county?
It’s beautiful and relatively, very unspoiled. You have mountains and the Piedmont where the countryside starts to roll like near The Plains. And then there’s visually, really important architecture and stonewalls, which are amazing and really off the charts.

• What would you change about Fauquier?
I’d like to see Warrenton’s historic district expanded.

I’d like to see Waterloo Street go back to its original lane markings. I find the new lane markings very inconvenient — for both parking and then trying to walk up and down the street.

I had heard that making the lanes curve was going to slow down the traffic. That has not been the case, and I couldn’t see how it could ever be the case. I don’t see how it’s safer.

• What do you do for fun?
Now that I’m retired, I go to antiques shops. I like to walk my daughter’s dog; crossword puzzles.

I read social and political stuff. I’m particularly interested in Black-related social stuff. I just feel so bad — the way Blacks have been treated, and they’re still treated in this country.

I grew up a Southern boy. So I know what it looks like from the other end. Everybody in my childhood was a racist — every relative, every neighbor, every school teacher. You’re talking the ’50s.

• What’s your favorite place in Fauquier?
Warrenton.

• What will Fauquier be like in 10 years?
If we’re not careful, Fauquier will resemble Prince William County, which went to hell in a hurry. In the 25 years I worked there, it went from a beautiful, rural county to a congested, poorly planned atrocity.

I hope it looks much like it does today.

• Favorite TV show?
“Democracy Now!”

• Favorite movie?
“Being John Malkovich”

• Favorite book?
“The Dead Are Arising: The Life of Malcolm X,” by Les Payne and Tamara Payne.

• Favorite vacation spot?
Ocracoke, N.C.

• Favorite food?
A really, really good cheeseburger.

• What is the best advice you have ever received? From whom?
My mother told me be careful how you speak to people, because your words reverberate.

I’m kind of a rash person and a hot-head, sometimes, and I don’t think about the impact of my words and my tone. It helped me to think about that. I found it to be true.

• Who’s your hero and why?
I’ve got a brother I lost in 2001. Mark was the most generous and honest and most amazing person I’ve ever known, on every level. And, he was a bad boy. He was a hound dog, like with girls. Still, he was as good as it gets.

I saw him single-handedly take on a motorcycle gang and win. He was an extremely brave and capable guy.

He had things going all over the community, country and all over the globe. He was a chiropractor. He was working with the homeless in D.C., orphans in Romania, political people in South America that had been tortured. He did tremendous work in prisons.

He was the most selfless person I’ve ever known.

• What would you do if you won $5 million in the lottery?
I know some people in great need in town. I’d help them out with housing and so forth.

I’d contribute to the (Fauquier Community Action Committee) foodbank and Habitat for Humanity. They’re doing such an excellent job of serving a need.

Have a suggestion?
Do you know someone who lives in Fauquier County you would like to see in Faces of Fauquier? Email Don Del Rosso at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or Lou Emerson at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
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