CHARLOTTE, Mich. — Yutzy’s Quilt Auction is held annually on the last Saturday in July at the Yutzy farmsted. It is more than just an auction; it is a chance to see quilts and other works presented as art.
The setting resembles one in a picture book – an idyllic, peaceful farm complete with chickens in the yard and a family dog lolling about, all surrounded by tasseling cornfields. The auction is held in the upper level of the farm’s hip roof barn. A clothesline style display on the west wall and bouquets of sunflowers in mason jars adorning the auction block and the cashier’s stand add a homey feel as bidders selected their seats and waited for the colorful display of handcrafted art to come.
Auctioneer Laverne Yutzy explained the sizing guide from the catalog quipping, “It’s pretty hard to alter [the quilts] to make them smaller or larger. I can cut them down for you, but you might not like the end result.” On that note, the auction was off and running.
The first hour was filled with a variety of smaller hand-crafted items to warm up the bidders. Loom-woven rugs appeared in a variety of lengths and colors and were choiced-out to bidders in small groups. Bidders selected rugs with final bidding prices of $30 or less and tended to favor those with color schemes of dusty teal and cream, shades of pink, and blues. A set of five placemats that resembled miniature rugs woven out of denim fabric were also a hit with a final bid of $17.50.
A display just inside the main entrance exhibited a variety of hand-woven baskets that were presented on the auction block periodically throughout the day. Made by members of the Gladwin, Mich., Amish community, each piece was signed and dated by the crafter, many of whomwere school children, and included his or her age. Yutzy noted their level of uniqueness and handiwork as “absolutely superior” as he introduced the first group on the block, which included three pieces that resembled large purses or totes with solid wood bottoms. For $35 a piece, bidders made their selections based on colored stripes or subtle woven designs. Other equally popular items included a basket purse with a wooden lid and a detachable shoulder strap, a large clothes hamper, and a decorative water pitcher.
Right on schedule, at 10 a.m., the auction’s feature highlights made their debut. Sixty-plus finished quilts of all sizes were showcased on the auction block one at a time. Yutzy’s introduction of each piece included its size, pattern, and the name of the quilter. His tendency to refer the quilters as artists acknowledges not only the individuality of each piece, but also a deeper recognition of the thoughtful creativity that, like any great piece of art, evokes emotion. The art of quilt making spans centuries and melds together the traditional and the progressive, interpretations that are demonstrated most clearly in the evolution of color schemes and quilt patterns over the passing of time.
The selection at Yutzy’s encapsulated many traditional patterns along with a number of more modern patterns that are largely the result of newer piecing techniques. A 102 by 113-inch Hunter Star quilt, a pattern that resembles a kaleidoscope view of the traditional Lone Star design, done in a tasteful blending of navy blues and purples caught a bidder’s eye at $300. A similar combination of traditional patterns was presented in a 104 by 113 inch Paws Around the Cabin which was consigned by Ada Miller of Ohio. A centerpiece of Bears Paw blocks were surrounded by a number of inverted Log Cabin patches. The slightly more diverse color palette of deep reds, oranges, and golds, all outlined in navy blue, resulted in a final price of $375.
Other traditional designs included two Trip Around the Worlds, one in blues and golds and one in aquas and purples; a patriotic red, white, and blue Lone Star noted also for the swirl designs quilted on the corners; and an Irish Chain that had the blues. Meanwhile, modern designs were in equal supply and demand. A 100 by 110-inch Basket Weave created by artist Toom Lee of Pennsylvania masterfully blended grays, blacks, and numerous shades of purple to create a nearly 3-D effect. The number of fabric blocks used to build this piece of art undoubtedly outnumbered the selling price of $350.
It was Clara Kuepfer of Canada who was, perhaps, the most sought after artist of the day. The quality of Kuepfer’s quilts are known throughout the country. Often show stoppers and well-known sale toppers, they stand out on the preview racks and bring about an audible stir in the crowd every time. “We are very privileged to have one of her pieces here today and are even more privileged to have met Clara a few weeks ago when she was able to stay at our home,” Yutzy shared as he introduced her 112 by 114-inch Fire Island Hosta quilt. Fabrics of superior quality in dusty teals, creams, and grays (some even with a underlying sheen woven within) were pieced together to create a design that was as stunning from a distance as it was up close. As with every piece, the ringmen flipped up a corner of the quilt on the display rack to reveal more clearly the immense quilting detail. Once the bidding was opened, serious bidders did not hesitate to raise the bid in $50 increments to its well-earned final resting place of $1,000.
In some instances, the beauty is in the eye of a beholder, particularly when presented with quilt tops that are not yet finished. In the case of quilt tops the colorful pattern is pieced together; however, the batting, backing, hand-quilting, and final binding process is not yet complete. A small selection of quilt tops were also presented at auction and included a variety of Log Cabin and Lone Star variations (to name a few) that sold in the ranged of $75 to $200.
Upon the presentation of a 95 by 110-inch Wedding Ring quilt top crafted with numerous arched blocks that form larger interlocking rings and done in subtle shades of cream and white, Sarah Graber, Yutzy’s mother-in-law and a key organizer of the event, slipped to the side of the crowd to bid. To someone who had finished her share of quilts and could see the potential, it was a masterpiece just waiting for the finishing touches.