Published: June 14, 2022
Review and Photos by Z.G. Burnett
PENNSBURG, PENN. – On June 3 and 4, the Schwenkfelder Library & Heritage Center hosted the Penn Dry Goods Market (PDGM), which has been in operation since 2013. With 25 dealers represented for the market, the Schwenkfelder also hosted an in-person lecture series and special textiles exhibition from the center’s collection. A virtual program before the market was also added to reach enthusiasts who were unable to travel.
The PDGM was created by Candace K. Perry, curator of collections, who noticed that there were not many textile-focused antiques shows and came up with a program that would combine the Schwenkfelder’s strong textiles collection with a fundraising vehicle. The lecture series, which is organized for and by “textilians,” doesn’t require one flat price. Each talk is ticketed separately so that attendees can pick and choose what they want to hear. It also prevents the event from being cost prohibitive to young or beginner-level collectors, or even just those who can’t afford symposia that run a few hundred dollars. Perry also conducts the annual textiles-focused exhibition in conjunction with the market, the theme of which “sort of reveals itself.” This year’s subject was “Crazy For You: Crazy Quilts and Objects of Memory From The Permanent Collection.”
Although smaller than other blockbuster textile shows conducted during this season, the Schwenkfelder’s parking lot was packed well before opening to visit the booths of well-stocked, seasoned dealers. The heritage center’s lobby already buzzed with attendees perusing the downstairs tables, which were covered with crates of textile squares, bolts of fabric and notions for early buying. Customers were not limited to locals, at least half of the attendants traveled from other counties or were out-of-state. No matter how much was bought throughout the show, more fabric seemed to materialize from under tables and from cars outside. Yet unlike larger textiles shows, there was seemingly less of a frenzy in the atmosphere and more smiling buyers having a good time.
Upstairs, many dealers were already fully set up at least an hour before opening. There was an overall feeling of anticipation mingled with the soft conversations between colleagues, some who hadn’t seen each other in person for two years or more. The PDGM hosted a virtual sale last year and was entirely cancelled the year before, causing many dealers to do some mental math when asked how long they had been selling at the show. “We’ve all lost track,” said Jane Lury of Labors of Love, whose booth was draped in antique quilts, tapestries and clothing. Author of Meanderings of a Quilt Collector, Lury also conducted a lecture on antecedents of American quilts on the second day of the market, which featured a live quilt turning. She has sold with Schwenkfelder for five or six years and was sharing a booth with Karen Redinger of West Simsbury, Conn., for whom this was the first year selling at Schwenkfelder. Both regularly hold tables at The Sturbridge Show.
The top-shelf quality of dealers and offerings was evident, even from a quick circuit around the booths. Many brought antique fine and decorative arts as well as textiles, arranging interior-inspired motifs in the center’s functional spaces. No square footage was wasted, with irregular booth shapes working into hallways and dealers gladly sharing space for equal visual appeal. Creating a warren of product, it was a task to capture the action through photographs without blocking another person’s browsing. Dealers commented on the sophistication of their customers, some of whom were colleagues, but many were consistent collectors. “Our loyal customers enjoy the selection that the dealers have for them,” Perry mentioned later, “often chosen especially for [the market].”
Many customers attend for both days of the show, which requires a small entrance fee. “It allows them to carefully peruse the show and make their choices,” said Perry. “We want to bring educated consumers to our show – not only collectors, but curators and scholars.” It also allows customers with day jobs to attend on Saturday, as the first day of the show is traditionally a Friday. To put a fine point on it, there were few rookie buyers and sellers in the room.
This is partially owed to the textiles history lecture series conducted during both days of PDGM, from 9 am to around 5 pm. The scope of the topics is wide within the subject, including the in-depth study of specific quilts and samplers, broader surveys of regional techniques and even a thorough examination of the color mauve. Lecturers this year included Pamela Weeks, curator of the New England Quilt Museum, and Dr Lynne Anderson, founder of the Sampler Consortium. Because the talks are attended à la carte, the often highly knowledgeable attendees shop the market in between their lectures.
Nancy Hahn of Country Things from Bowie, Md., was putting the finishing touches on her booth right up to opening. With racks of quilts and coverlets bordering her space, she also offered tables with antique sewing chatelaines, thimble cases, fabric samples and more. Hahn and her husband, Paul, have been selling for about 40 years and only had nice things to say about the PDGM. “It’s the best we’ve ever been treated [at a show],” Hahn said. “They help you set up, provide food for dealers, everything.” Similar sentiments were heard from other dealers throughout the day, which is a credit to Schwenkfelder and Perry, in particular. “I consider it a team effort, us and the vendors,” she said. “We have to do our best to support each other!”
“It’s a social event,” said David Tuttle of Oley, Penn., who was selling under his own name. “Sure, we come to sell, too.” Tuttle has shown at PDGM for “four or five years” and arrived ready with folk art, quilts and even a late Nineteenth Century arched spiderweb lunette window. Although PDGM is a first and foremost textiles show, Tuttle was far from the only dealer to offer other categories. However, these mostly adhered to the general theme, stocking period goods that were at least associated with handicrafts.
Liz McElroy of JK Nevin Antiques, Elverton, Penn., was especially excited and composed her booth like a period parlor complete with furniture and a handsome oil on canvas portrait of a gentleman. This was McElroy’s first time selling in person; having bought at the market up to 2019, McElroy participated in last year’s virtual PDGM to great success. The 2020 market was cancelled due to the pandemic, and like most shows of this kind, traffic returned with some reservation. Many attendees and dealers wore masks. McElroy’s persistence was rewarded, as she sold “a bucket bench, a crib quilt, doll clothes, a large painted basket and a few other smalls.”
Although attendance was affected by a date change and some hesitancy about attending indoor events, dealers also enjoyed a surge of customers. Even Kathy Leiseur, member of the Schwenkfelder board, revealed that she had to be strict with herself: “Every show, I try to limit myself to [buying] one thing. But if you don’t pick it up right away, it’ll be gone!” With textiles especially being such a tactile interest, some waited 2020 and 2021 out until they were able to be in person with their clients again.
Richard Gryziec of RSG Antiques greeted the day with a wall full of samplers. “Attendance seemed on the lower side than previous years,” he said. “It certainly wasn’t due to a lack of promotion or quality, as the promoters go above and beyond in those aspects.” However, those who did make it were in a buying mood; Gryziec shared that in 2019 he had his best sales ever of any show and did even better this year. Upon opening, several of his framed samplers and larger smalls had already sold, and more red tags appeared each time we passed by his booth.
Wayne Wilhilde of Wilhilde Antiques, Shippensburg, Penn., was also having a good show and was happy to be back for the second time at PDGM. “We took a break for the pandemic, but we prefer to be in person,” he said. Along with quilts, end-on-end blankets and hooked home furnishings, Wilhilde offered stoneware, butter molds, fine art and much more in a range of prices to suit all levels of collectors.
Gene Bertolet of Bertolet Antiques had a few textile and quilt examples, but many of his objects for sale were tools for working the raw materials to create fabrics, including a table loom that sold either right before or close after the show’s opening and a large period skarn. His booth featured trade signs large and small, advertising dressmaking and alterations, shoe repair, millinery and any other service imaginable in the scope of clothing production. In absence of things one could wear, Bertolet offered redware, slipware, tinware and stoneware, among other wares.
The scope of objects available wasn’t limited to American material culture, as Carol Weiss of Rue du Trésor exhibited. Weiss splits her year between New York City and Paris, where she finds much of her stock. At PDGM, she was unloading her collection of American quilts and textiles to focus more on French fabrics and antiques. Not limited to linens and notions, Weiss offered French kitchenware, fashion accessories and children’s toys. Rue du Trésor also shows with Antiques at Rhinebeck.
Veteran dealers such as Doug and Bev Norwood of Norwoods’ Spirit of America, Timonium, Md., attracted many longtime customers and new collectors. In addition to mounted stockings and mittens, samplers and hooked rugs, their booth had a fine selection of Americana from nearly every category. Between visits from friends who had known the Norwoods for years (one gentleman mentioned that he and Doug were born on the same day in the same year), Bev shared the origin of their business name. On July 4, 1976, when she and Doug were both teachers, they decided to set up a stand of American antiques on the day of the country’s bicentennial. Her mother was shocked, saying that they would miss the celebrations, and even more so when Bev said that their first show began at 7 am and would leave plenty of time for merrymaking. Much to their own surprise, the Norwoods completely sold out of their stock on this first go. When asked what their then-nonexistent business name was, Bev replied, “Spirit of America!” It has been so ever since.
Reaching further back into American history, customers were also invited to visit the Schwenkfelder’s galleries downstairs. These include an original Constenoga wagon, circa 1825, polychrome furnishings brought by Silesian and German immigrants to the region and many more treasures besides. The “Crazy For You” crazy quilt exhibition installed in the Fraktur Gallery not only displayed how these quilts made scraps into intricate works of art requiring a great level of skill to block and execute, but included period furniture and other household objects to contextualize the quilts. Popular in the late Nineteenth Century, crazy quilts were usually made from fragments of expensive fabrics such as silk or velvet. Because of the fabrics’ delicacy, they were more often used as coverlets. Some were made from their crafter’s own scraps, yet many were made from pre-cut pieces bought and ordered through the mail. According to the exhibition’s label, “The quilts became albums of a sort, preserving the maker’s whims and fancies in embroidery and fabric.” Each display had its own attribution, and quilts mounted on the wall were cleverly hung with strong magnets to conserve the fabric as much as possible.
The Penn Dry Goods Market is a vibrant extension of the rich collection of objects and artifacts conserved by the Schwenkfelder Library & Heritage Center. The atmosphere of the market was nothing short of joyful, with community members donating their time and energy from early morning to evening on both days to make the event a success. Regional pride is palpable in those who organize and attend the market, and in the excellent sponsorship of their facilities. When asked what her favorite part of running the market is, Perry replied, “I love all of the people. The vendors, the speakers and our terrific attendees. Everyone is so interesting, each with their own stories, and what they bring to us for one weekend a year. As the line from Seinfeld goes, ‘It’s the best, Jerry! The best!'” One cannot put it better than that.
The Schwenkfelder Library & Heritage Center is at 105 Seminary Street, where the Penn Dry Goods Market occurs annually. For more information, www.schwenkfelder.org or 215-679-3103.
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