Handmade with Love: Quilt Collector, Maker Liven Up Fair Auction

9/1/2012 7:00 AM
By Linda Williams Southwestern Pa. Correspondent

BEDFORD, Pa. — In an unusual twist, a colorful, totally handmade quilt was auctioned off at the annual Bedford Fair livestock auction to aid in the scholarship fund. It sold for a high bid of $1,000.

It marked the first time a quilt was auctioned off as a part of this successful annual fair event. The auction began originally as a sale for beef cattle, then, over time, it eventually included hogs and sheep. Later, goats were added, and finally, a dairy basket was added to represent the dairy industry.

Bedford resident and fair advocate Marcia Reffner heard about quilts being offered at the Pennsylvania Farm Show and voluntarily headed up a committee to add a similar project to the Bedford Fair.

“I’ve been quilting for more than 20 years,” Reffner said. “I give almost everything away that I make because it is strictly a labor of love.”

Each year the Bedford Fair includes quilt patches as part of its sewing entries. Seizing on the opportunity, Reffner began three years ago to ask the winners for their patches to include in her quilt.

“I didn’t get enough to make a decent-sized quilt,” she said. “So, I asked some of my friends, and they came up with the rest.”

Reffner put the squares together, made the top and began quilting.

Her quilting project became a part of the fair and dozens of folks stopped by to help with the process.

“I had children as young as three put a few stitches in the quilt,” she said.

Her most humbling experience was a special needs young man who wanted to try quilting.

“He did a few stitches and then looked down with pride and said, I did that.’ ” Reffner said she got tears in her eyes.

She is a stickler for handquilted quilts.

“A machine made quilt isn’t quite the same,” she said.

When she ran short on time, she had plenty of friends who came to her rescue. The two mainstays were Avenial Imes and Ada Myers. The Unique Quilt Shop located in her neighborhood was the block sponsor.

Reffner hoped the quilt would bring a good price but admitted she was overwhelmed when the Kendall family purchased it for $1,000.

Ben Kendall, a Bedford Valley quilt collector, has been helping the fair for years. He has provided a place on his farm for nieces and nephews to raise livestock for the fair and is always on hand to generously purchase baked goods, animals or whatever else might be auctioned off.

A well-known accountant, Kendall said he began collecting quilts when his mother was still living.

“She made some beautiful quilts,” he said. “When she died, I found a lot of the patches she had made, so I had them topped and quilted.”

Each year, Kendall sponsors a huge family reunion and neighbor gathering. Folks are invited from three states and many stay with Kendall at his farm house or across the road at his guest house. To thank him for his generosity, some began bringing quilts as gifts.

“They are just so pretty I put them on the beds,” he said. “I like to change them because I get tired of looking at the same ones. And, my guests enjoy sleeping under a pretty quilt.”

Kendall now has nearly 50 quilts, ranging from throw-sized to king-sized. One of his latest was a “Steelers quilt,” donated by a reunion attendee. Another favorite is an embroidered quilt that was started by a 14-year-old girl. She finished it at age 54.

“When I heard about the fair quilt I knew I had to have it,” Kendall smiles. “It would help out the fair and the colors are so bright, it makes any bed look good.”

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