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11 Jun 2015

A Conversation with Suri Bieler of Eclectic/Encore Props

The American Folk Art Museum Block Party on June 4 provided visitors the chance to stop by and tour another historic collection: Eclectic/Encore Props, which is the largest and most diverse prop rental company on the East Coast.

Suri Bieler is founder and CEO of Eclectic/Encore. She oversees an amazing repository of scenic material representing a monumental span of cultures, continents, and centuries, from medieval suits of armor to Moroccan throw pillows and from a saloon in the Wild West of yore to the wild times of the Jazz Age. Among the films that have made use of Eclectic’s props are Radio Days, Quiz Show, Igby Goes Down, Scent of a Woman, The Age of Innocence, and Birdman, just to name a few. And Eclectic has provided props for TV’s Boardwalk Empire, Law & Order and all its spin-offs, The Sopranos, The Good Wife, and The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon—again, just to name a few. The Eclectic/Encore Props list is endless.

What follows is a conversation the museum had with Suri, to introduce Eclectic/Encore Props to our Block Party visitors. Suri concluded the conversation with an expression of enthusiasm that has been palpable since the museum began working with her: “I love that the American Folk Art Museum and Eclectic/Encore Props are neighbors. We have formed our own corner of history on 33rd Street & 48th Ave.”

How did your association with the American Folk Art Museum begin?
It was a happy accident. Our loading dock happened to be open when two staff members were looking for an open space to stage a live musical performance. It turned out to be Courtney Wagner and Elizabeth Kingman of the museum, and they were searching for a spot where La La Brooks could sing on the evening of June 4. I thought it was extraordinary that there was now a museum so close to us in Long Island City. I invited Courtney and Elizabeth in for a tour, and they offered us the chance to be a partner in this event. We jumped at that opportunity.

Tell us a little about yourself and Eclectic/Encore Props.
I was drawn to theater at a young age and was fortunate to study Theater Design and Production at UNC School of the Arts. After graduating, I came to New York and was prop buyer (decorator) for off-off Broadway, then off Broadway, and then for nine Broadway shows. In 1979 I took my savings of $175 and a bank loan of $3,000 and opened Eclectic Props, Inc., a prop rental company geared to theater.

With desire and determination, I moved the company into the worlds of film, television, photography, and events. In 1989 I purchased Encore Studios and renamed the company Eclectic/Encore Props, Inc. and moved both collections to 620 West 26th Street. The combined inventory became the core inventory of what has become the largest collection of antiques and unique theatrical furniture and accessories available for rent on the East Coast.

With serious trepidation, after realizing again that we had to move the ever-expanding inventory to a new location, I searched high and low—New York, New Jersey, the Bronx—and then found Eclectic’s new home here on 33rd Street in LIC. Our new three-story showroom afforded me the opportunity to organize our displayed inventory by period or theme. We went further by enhancing those sections with staged vignettes showcasing the depth and breadth of the collection.

In February we opened Eclectic/Encore Photo Studio, a division of Eclectic/Encore Props, Inc. Our photo studio is available to rent with or without props, but I strongly recommend renting props while you are shooting in the studio. (We offer 50% off the cost of the rental visit our combined state-of-the-art website where our more than one-million item inventory is accessible 24/7. See, click on “Photo Studio,” and see what ideas come to mind.)

Who, or what, is your market?
At Eclectic, we work with the art department of a film or TV show; that team consists of the Production Designer, Art Director, Set Decorator and Inside Prop Person. Set decorators are responsible for creating the environment for every scene in the script. That can be a hotel room in the 1800s, a police station in the 1930s, or a cabin in woods in Austria, 2015. With endless possibilities for story lines, a prop company can be very useful. Props consist of everything a person or character lives with or touches. The style or period helps create the character. Props are set pieces or hand props, and decorators are consummate historians and lovers of detail . . . layer after layer of “things that sit on the tables” will help the characters come to life and then when we see the movie, we believe they have lived in that cabin or apartment on West End Ave all their lives.

What about historic styles? How far back does your collection go, and how far across the globe?
Okay . . . I’ll give you an idea in words, but the visual is better; we have medieval props, turn-of-the-century, American, English, Victorian, French, Baroque, Rococo, the Wild West—with wagons, wagon wheels, life-size fiberglass horses, hay bales, saloon furniture, bentwood chairs, western tables and rugs. Also Spanish furniture, 1930s, Art Deco, Mission, Arts & Crafts, 1940s, 1950s, 1960s (mod colorful, bright, fun furniture), 1970s-1990s, then of course the rustic section including Adirondack chairs, nautical section with row boats, canoes and sharks. The Gothic section turns into the religious section which turns into the photo studio which turns into the textile room to the carpet and rug room to the drapery and curtain room with the 15-foot mahogany King Arthur’s Feast Table. Radio, TV room, flag room, school room, sports and taxidermy room, medical, office, product room with miles of ephemera (paper props: magazines, airline tickets, letters, telephone books) . . . don’t worry, there’s more, you can stretch your imagination around every corner! And we look forward to showing everyone on the Thursday night tours!


Image: Purvis Young (1943–2010), People Celebrating (detail), 1990s, mixed media on wood, 49 x 34 1/2 x 5 in., gift of Gordon W. Bailey, in honor of Anne-Imelda Radice, 2012.19.3. Photo by Adam Reich.