Officially, it is the "Clearview School Quilt and Consignment Auction," and it's held the last Saturday of July at the school on Highway 104 just south of Albany in Green county.
At first glance, one might think such an event would appeal only to elderly women members of the church circle who meet monthly to make quilts for the poor in some far off land.
Maybe so, but who were the rest of the thousand (perhaps double that) or more people that attended the 18th annual event held last Saturday in the schoolyard and surrounding field of the one-room, 45-student, three-teacher, Amish, Clearview School?
The crowd included people from bigger cities like Madison, Milwaukee, Beloit, Janesville and Chicago and from villages and rural areas near and far who came for many reasons — maybe to buy a quilt or piece of furniture, to eat homemade ice cream, to enjoy a day away from air-conditioned houses and offices or to just get out in the country.
The quilt auction tent is the biggest and draws the largest crowd, most who sit on wood planks. The veteran quilt auction goers bring their own lawn chairs — the easier to move into prime viewing locations or more comfortable in which to catch a few winks.
For the serious quilters, this is an all-day event beginning at 7 a.m. with a quilt preview and ending at 4 p.m. or later when the last quilt goes under the gavel.
I do not know one quilt from another so Susie Helmuth (Lester and Fanny's daughter) did her best to help me out.
"There are lined and unlined quilts of varying sizes" Susie began. "Those with fine, hand stitching, a good design and attractive color usually bring the best prices. Then there are the comforters that are unstitched but knotted and smaller wall hangings."
Early on and for much of the sale, the $650 paid by Donna Schlender from Oconomowoc was the top seller. Until, an hour or two later when I returned to the quilts, a woman (a regular reader of this piece) hailed me and said, "you just missed it John, a quilt just sold for $1,000. I don't know who bought it, but her buyer's number was one."
Luckily, I remembered that No. 1 was again Donna Schlender. "Yes, she bought another one," her husband, Ron, a retired bearing factory worker, told me (with a smile) as I sat down next to them.
"What do you do with these expensive quilts," I asked.
"I usually donate them to other charity auctions," Donna said. "Although, I may build a bedroom around the $650 one, I really like the colors. No, I'm not a quilter; I'm an accountant and have owned Accounting Services Unlimited in Oconomowoc for 30 years. Ten years ago I went to an Amish quilt auction at Bonduel and got hooked. I think I bought six or seven today."
Needless to say, her husband just smiled and remained silent.
The furniture auction tent was a close second in size and crowd and offered a huge array of furniture and wooden home accessories. I saw a coat rack sell for $15 and a dresser for many hundreds.
Another auctioneer was also selling smaller furniture items just outside the main tent, making for four sales rings going on at the same time.
The farm equipment and odds and ends ring is always interesting with items like boots, horse bridles, hand tools and whatever else offered. Interestingly, the three-square Maytag washers, the kind my mother used over 50 years ago, brought $180 each. Vernon Detweiler, who now lives in Kentucky, bought one. "They are worth more down south," he said. "You can still get the parts, and they will be run by a gas engine."
The Amish community covering a 5- to 6-mile area in the Albany-Brodhead area dates to the late 1970s when a few Amish families from New Glarus and Waverly, IA, moved to the area. Some 30 families ultimately established themselves into a community of farmers and craftsmen.
Of course there were children and a school — Clearview School: Amish built, Amish attended and Amish financed. The financed part of the school presented a challenge because, as a private school, it receives no state or government funds.
For the past 18 years, much of that funding comes from the annual quilt auction and get-together.
The auction has its roots in the 1960s when Lester and Fanny Detweiler were holding horse auctions on their farm in Waverly before moving to Wisconsin. In 1977, they moved to a dairy farm in the Brodhead-Albany area where they milked cows, and Lester made horse collars and built a new house.
In 1980, Detweiler held the first of three annual horse auctions at the now Alliant Energy Center in Madison.
"That got too expensive," Lester said. " We quit and didn't hold another auction until a few years later when we started the All-Wisconsin, Fall Draft Horse, Machinery & Quilt Auction. Each year we sold more quilts and more quilts, and the event grew."
Fanny, who had gotten involved in the quilt part of the auction, saw the event grow to where horses became fewer and quilts become the main feature of the event.
The Detweilers found the annual auction too much for them to handle, so in 1995, they turned it over to the new Clearview School just across the road from their farmstead.
Many of the quilters and regular attendees told me that this year, the 18th anniversary, "had the biggest crowd ever." I won't disagree, although I've attended only five or six of the auctions.
Rudy Detweiler, who milks 50 cows on his nearby farm and also runs a tiling machine, was at his usual post, making 5-gallon batches of ice cream. Power is provided by a horse walking in a circle that, through an ingenious arrangement of pipes and gears, mixes the ingredients.
"No, the horse isn't being overworked," Rudy said as he tossed a couple of ice cubes at the horse to speed things up. "Last week she was baling hay; that's work."
Lester and Fanny were both around. Lester, who was watching the equipment and odds and ends ring while seated on a wagon that would later be sold, had a serious stroke five years ago and didn't remember me without some prompting.
Fanny, who remembers me well, was at the Detweiler Bulk Food Store she runs at the farm across from the school. As usual, she was busy serving customers who were buying spices, flour and dried foods of so many kinds.
My guess — every one of the auction visitors went away happy and vowing to come next year. They'll figure out what to do with the quilts they bought and will remember the home-cooked food they ate, the Amish kids on the swings and teeter totter and their day away from the pressures of modern living.
Mark the date: July 25, 2015. Treat yourself to a real day in the country.