TOWN OF FULTON
They’re just things, made of wood and iron and clay.
But they draw huge crowds, like the one expected at a rural Edgerton address starting Saturday.
Local philanthropist and appraiser William Wartmann spent much of his adult life around beautiful things, but what drew him was less the material objects than the spiritual benefits of collecting them, a longtime business partner said.
Wartmann died last year. He had lost his wife, artist Joyce Wartmann, in 2003. Many of the antiques and artworks they collected go on sale starting Saturday at their rural Edgerton home.
Wartmann would have loved to see people carry away his collection, said Jeff Chandler, William’s longtime partner in the appraisal business.
“He would say it’s so important for the next generation to find the magic in a piece and develop a rapport with something that comes from a different era,” Chandler said.
The Gazette got a preview Friday of the sometimes jaw-dropping objects that crowd the rooms of the 167-year-old house the Wartmanns restored.
Deborah Straub of sale agent Vintage Harvest of Madison showed a reporter and photographer rare items of furniture, pottery, art and odd items such as a physician’s box for transporting medicines that dates to the late 1700s.
“Don’t you feel like you’re in a museum?” Straub enthused.
The Wartmanns are well known locally for using their money for good. They sponsored scholarships for Edgerton High School students. Their Wartmann Endowment for the Performing Arts brought renowned performers to the Edgerton Performing Arts Center.
They established a major endowment for the UW-Madison School of Music and Fine Arts, the university where they met. Edgerton Hospital and Health Services boasts the William and Joyce Wartmann Rehabilitation Services department, thanks to their donation.
Some of Joyce’s paintings will be on display but not for sale until the second weekend of sale, along with “exotic” items from Africa and India, Chandler said.
One antique painting at the sale might be a depiction of the famed 1856 shipwreck of the Red Rover. The storm-tossed ship is illuminated by the moon peeking through an eye-shaped break in the clouds.
Chandler said the painting might be the work of a famous American folk artist, Thomas Chambers.
Wartmann hired Chandler to do research and bought art catalogs and books from around the world to enrich Chandler’s knowledge—more out of generosity than profit motive, Chandler said.
“He liked to help people on their journeys,” Chandler said.
Chandler said Wartmann saw antiques as a way to step away from the modern, commercialized world.
“He realized when you develop a rapport with something and let it speak, that you have enhanced your own humanity,” Chandler said.
“To Bill, these things are antidotes (to the modern condition) and helpful experiences where the owner can find inspiration and refuge, and that’s why people should go to museums.”
Straub pointed to antique inkwells, a prairie-style lamp, wooden trunks from Switzerland and Norway, sets of German dishes, Native American pottery, and a rare Carolina sugar chest from the days when sugar was so valuable it had to be locked away.
Straub said the sugar chest could fetch $3,000 to $8,000.
Straub knew Wartmann and liked him. She hired him for his knowledge, to enhance the estate sales she managed.
“Believe me, he gave me more information than he charged. He loved antiques.”
The list goes on: A molded iron pedestal dish from the 1851 London Exhibition, an 1820 George III Pembroke table and the 1860 portrait of an East Prussian man. Two glasses he bought on his honeymoon are sold with the portrait.
Joyce Wartmann’s maiden name was Brach. She was a Brach’s Candies heir, and a hand-cranked candy maker with a set of dies is one of several items being sold by silent bid.
Perhaps a tribute to Wartmann’s good taste was the fact that several antiques dealers camped out in the small parking lot at the estate Friday, so they could be first through the doors in the morning.
“The Wartmann name is synonymous with good taste in antiques,” said Lawrence Anderson of Madison, one of those who were enjoying a tailgate-like repast in the parking lot.
Wartmann was often listed as a sponsor of PBS’ “Antiques Roadshow,” and he shared his expertise on the local airwaves, Anderson said.
“It’s going to be a zoo here tomorrow,” Anderson said of the expected crowds.
Straub she had been contacted by collectors from as far away as New York and Texas. She usually gets 3,000 or so hits on the estatesales.org website for a sale, she said. As of Friday, she had gotten more than 12,000.
Asked if he has a particular piece he is interested in, Anderson smiled the smile of a man keeping a secret from the competition.
“There is, but I can’t tell you,” he said.