OTISCO — For enthusiasts of concrete statues, a Southern Indiana trade show is the place to be this week.
Several hundred people from all over the country came to Otisco this week to attend The Concrete Lady's annual fall show, which is open to both the general public and those who work in the ornamental concrete business. The setup for the show took place Thursday, and live auctions take place all day Friday and Saturday. On Friday evening, attendees enjoyed a party with a live band, food and drinks.
The trade show has been going on for 19 years, but The Concrete Lady has been in business since 1976. It all started when stay-at-home mom Peggy Woods — the "Concrete Lady" — was looking for a hobby. She started buying concrete and creating statues, and eventually, that hobby grew into a 17-acre lot filled with concrete statuary in her front yard. The statues are manufactured onsite.
"It just turned into this," she said. "It just kept growing and growing."
Peggy runs the business with her husband, Carl. The grounds are filled with statues ranging from angels to Bigfoot, and it is a concrete menagerie of lions, birds, dogs and many other animals. The business focuses mainly on wholesale.
Tony Woods, who is the son of Peggy and Carl, is one of the family members involved in the business. He also owns a retail business called Concrete Kingdom in Louisville and Clarksville that sells the same types of statues for the same prices. He said The Concrete Lady is the largest concrete statuary company in the United States, and it is a place for smaller mom-and-pop businesses to pick up their statuary.
The annual trade show includes sales of both statues and statue molds at the live auctions and booths, which run throughout the day. Many attendees at the show own their own concrete statuary businesses. Although The Concrete Lady hosts the auction, it doesn't sell its own molds there, and the family will typically buy about 150 molds for their own business. Tony said there's something new at the show every year.
"If you're a small business in Florida and you've got some molds and some things that you are not selling, you bring them up here, you put them into the auction and you sell them to somebody else who might be able to do something with them, and then you can buy something different," he said.
Tony said other concrete statuary shows he's been to are primarily focused on auctions, but The Concrete Lady's fall show is also a social event. Peggy said the event is like a reunion, and for most people who attend, this is like a vacation.
She said she has seen people come from places like Australia, Kenya and New Zealand to attend the show, and she is amazed that they would come that far. However, she doesn't see a big crowd from Southern Indiana, and many in the community don't know The Concrete Lady is there, she said.
"Charlestown people will go to Gatlinburg and buy our concrete," Peggy said. "I would say I have more Chicago customers than Charlestown."
Tony said a tanker-load of cement is 26 tons, and that will typically last just a few weeks. It's a constant assembly line, he said, and they use a huge industrial mixer to pour out concrete, which is then poured into mold by workers. After the figures are removed from the mold, they are eventually hand-painted.
He said their customers might ask them to create a statue of something meaningful such as their Labrador Retriever who has died.
"They'll bring us in a picture of their lab, and we'll paint it like their lab," he said. "Then when they come to pick it up, they'll just start bawling. There's a lot of sentimental stuff."
Christie Whitt came from Jacksonville, Fla., to attend The Concrete Lady's show, including the auction. She owns her own ornamental concrete business, and she has been coming to the show every year since it began.
"We come back to get good quality used molds at a good quality price," she said. "It's fun. It's like a vacation. We get to see all these people from 50 states and Canada — everybody's in the business. It's real nice."