Published: June 5, 2018
Review and Photos by Laura Beach
PENNSBURG, PENN. – California dealer Julie Silber, whose name is practically synonymous with the 1970s quilts revival, shared a space with her friend Jane Lury at this year’s Penn Dry Goods Market, an inventive program of lectures cum specialty fair organized by the Schwenkfelder Library and Heritage Center on May 18 and 19. Lury, a quilt collector and author, calls her enterprise Labors of Love, but the moniker could also describe the felicitous gathering of scholars, collectors, dealers and Schwenkfelder staff and volunteers that, united by their passion for all things fiber, contribute to this unique specialty show and sale.
As befits the Heritage Center’s educational mission, the Penn Dry Goods Market is about sharing knowledge and stimulating interest in everything from antique quilts, samplers, clothing and domestic linens to sewing notions, tools, hooked rugs and baskets. Buying and selling is a happy consequence of the exchange.
The Penn Dry Goods Market is the brainchild of center executive director David Luz, curator of collections Candace Perry and independent scholar and volunteer extraordinaire Kathryn Lesieur. As Perry recalls, “We set out to provide people with an affordable opportunity to hear extraordinarily high-quality historians speak. We provide an a la carte menu that allows people to hear and see what they want. Initially, we imagined two programming threads – a needlework thread and a quilts thread – that ran at the same time, but realized it was too much to take on.”
The roster is impressive. Friday opened with talks on quilts by Colonial Williamsburg curator emerita Linda Baumgarten, Shenandoah expert Beverley Evans and scholar Marla Miller on Hadassah Chapin Ely’s wholecloth quilt. In the needlework arena, Kathleen Staples spoke on English samplers, Pamela Parmal addressed New England embroidery and Lynn Tinley delved into Eighteenth Century Rhode Island samplers.
On Saturday, Bill Subjack explored samplers made in missionary schools and Lesieur reviewed samplers from Reading, Penn. Curator Madelyn Shaw surveyed quilts from the collection of the National Museum of American History, while Sharon Waddell talked about New York quilts. Colonial Williamsburg curator Neal Hurst’s presentation on Eighteenth Century summer clothing prompted such interest that organizers found booth sitters for dealers who wished to attend. Each lecture is underwritten by a sponsor, a clever way of insuring the overall quality of the symposium and the profitability of this event, a major fundraiser for the center.
Twenty-four specialist dealers set up in three rooms on the center’s second floor. “The goal is to provide dealers with educated consumers, and I think we do that,” Perry explains. Lesieur adds, “Our visitors know what they are looking for. They come to buy, but many times spend time talking with the dealers. When you have knowledgeable dealers and customers, there is a lot of interaction. Everyone learns.”
The savvy crowd also knows value. “Our buyers are looking for something great that is still affordable,” Perry observes.
The venue is a good one for Bill and Joyce Subjack of Neverbird Antiques. The Virginia dealers, who often sell to major museum curators here, composed a fascinating display devoted to handiwork by girls associated with mission schools, the theme of Bill’s talk. One fascinating offering was a beaded mirror frame by Sarah Ann Bilkey (1848-1901) of Dodgeville, Iowa County, Wis., dated November 1869. It showed the influence of Native American design. The Subjacks also offered samplers from Barbados, Sierra Leone and Ceylon, along with a copy of the Gospel According to St John in the Mpongwe language.
Rumored to have sold 17 samplers, Rich Gryziec of RSG Antiques featured a circa 1825 example by Mary Jane Welles (nee Hale), a close friend of Mary Todd Lincoln. Welles attended the first lady during the vigil at Petersen boarding house, across the street from Ford’s Theatre, the night of April 14/15, 1865.
Well-known show dealers Bev and Doug Norwood of Timonium, Md., brought an appealing selection of works in fabric and on paper. A highlight was Susanna Hook’s superb theorem on velvet depicting an urn, flowers and butterfly.
For connoisseurs of Pennsylvania needlework, a high-end selection awaited at Van Tassel Baumann. Ruth Van Tassel decorated her walls with a Delaware Valley needlework by Hannah Knight, a Quaker descendent of the earliest founders of Philadelphia; a needlework composition by Elizabeth Powell, 1814, from a group of samplers worked in Philadelphia between 1812 and 1818; a Quaker medallion sampler by Elizabeth Wolfe, 1821; and an English Ackworth School sampler by Maria Blake. Near it, Van Tassel displayed a watercolor of the Westtown Boarding School in Pennsylvania, which modeled its curriculum after Ackworth’s.
Julie Silber and Jane Lury held court in a nook off the main floor. They festooned their walls with a vivid American flag quilt, a circa 1830 English chintz medallion quilt, a Welsh quilt and an Maine “potholder” quilt of about 1850.
New York City dealer Carol Weiss of Rue du Tresor specializes in French textiles, including beautiful coverlets of early chintz and wholecloth whitework spreads. Weiss was celebrating the fact that her mathematician husband had recently retired, a move foreshadowing more time at the couple’s Parisian pied-á-terre.
Rare bonnets, including a straw Leghorn example, and an Eighteenth Century man’s embroidered silk waistcoat attracted notice at Ani DiFazio Antiques of Silver Spring, Md.
Sandy Elliott was the only New England dealer in the show. From Brentwood, N.H., she brought a general line of country antiques and primitives with an emphasis on homespun linens.
And who could resist the Gatchellville Store? Linda Sarubin and Carroll Swam lovingly tend the 1860s mercantile establishment in southern York County, Penn., stocking it with vintage dry goods in original packaging. “People come from all over the country to see us,” says Sarubin. Dealers for the past four decades, she emphasizes sewing notions while her husband sells musical instruments and tools.
Following the Penn Dry Good Market’s close, Perry was knee-deep in upcoming exhibitions. Highly recommended is “Perkiomen Valley Quilts,” a display of antique and contemporary textiles that opened June 1 and continues through November 16. Visitors may recognize the distinctive split nine patch pattern without realizing its association with the Perkiomen Valley, curator Perry says.
Already thinking about next year, Kathy Lesieur concludes, “Penn Dry Good’s reputation is growing. We have waiting lists for speakers and for dealers. No one we’ve asked to speak has ever said no. People want to come back. It’s a great time.”
For more information on the Penn Dry Goods Market, go to www.schwenkfelder.com or call 215-679-3103.
The Schwenkfelder Library and Heritage Center is at 105 Seminary Street, adjacent to the Perkiomen School.
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