Norman Crider: The Cosmopolitan Years

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Among ballet and theater artists, and aficionados, the name of Norman Crider will ever be associated with “The Ballet Shop” at Lincoln Center, which operated for 22 years and became a New York City landmark.

 

 

Others, including longtime partner and business associate Tobias Leibovitz, also knew him as the founder and president of “The Antiques Center of America” — the first such enterprise in this country, housing 105 dealers under one roof, as one of the original merchants at Trump Tower. He was also known as the proprietor of “La Boutique Fantasque” on the Promenade at Rockefeller Center – described in New York magazine as “New York’s most beautiful shop.”

Still others, including many in Socorro, remember his early career as an international stage performer.

His act, melding flag work and fire batons with virtuoso skill, grace of movement and innate charisma, drew the attention of European impresarios and inaugurated eight expatriate years of performing on stages in some 24 countries, including major venues in Japan and Lebanon, the Olympia in Paris, the casino de Charbonnieres near Lyons, and the Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen.

Concurrently, Crider pursued his future antiques-world career, forging connections with art and antiques dealers everywhere he traveled, while simultaneously developing his own collection of rare and historical pieces that he faithfully shipped to the United States.

In 1969, an engagement in Bergamo, Italy required him to participate in the Rastelli International Juggling Competition.

The proceedings began with juggling balls – at which, among top professional jugglers, as Crider would laughingly tell it, he was embarrassingly unskilled, dropping and chasing the round objects while Italian television cameras rolled – and ended with his stunning baton work, capturing the juggling championship.

Shortly thereafter, the French government awarded him the Order of Cultural Merit and Philanthropy for his contributions to baton twirling in that country. That same year, he announced his retirement from show business, boarded an Air France flight to New York, and embarked upon his long-envisioned career.

Beginning modestly as a dealer from his small Manhattan apartment, Crider formulated large plans to create a centralized arcade of multiple dealers such as he had seen in Europe.

Crider had the financial backing of Edward Moseler, heir to the Moseler Safe fortune and frequent underwriter of training expenses for ice skaters. In 1970, Crider opened The Antiques Center of America on 53rd St. between First Avenue and Sutton Place, where it continued for eight years until the building was sold.

In 1974, inspired by his love for and expertise in 19th century ballet, he opened The Ballet Shop to instant and enduring success. Soon he began working extensively with Sotheby’s and Christie’s. For a few years, he extended the Lincoln Center enterprise to an art gallery on Madison Avenue. This was followed, in 1983, by an exquisite boutique at Trump Tower. Here, over 13 years, as Connoisseur magazine noted, he “created a market where there was none” in vintage designer costume jewelry.

Crider’s and Leibovitz’s connections with Russian dancers, and then to post-Perestroika immigrants arriving with treasures to sell, generated a second Trump shop, featuring a variety of folk, religious and period Russian art. This was augmented, in 1991, by its “old Russia” counterpart, La Boutique Fantasque at Rockefeller Center.

Several years later, Leibovitz’s work with the Indiana Ballet drew them to Indianapolis, and to what Crider felt was a great privilege: Overseeing liquidation of the extraordinary collection of ballet art and memorabilia comprising the estate of former Ballets Russes luminary George Verdak.

Continuing as a fine arts and antiques dealer to the last, in 2007, Crider traveled one more time to his beloved Paris to buy and sell, and to fondly reconnect with his European network.

In addition to his family and partner, Crider is survived by a worldwide contingent of loving friends.