Cheeseheads welcome Antiques Roadshow

MADISON, Wis. — Marking the halfway point in its 2009 tour, the Antiques Roadshow caravan pulled into Wisconsin’s capital July 11. More than 22,000 people sought tickets for the event, and those lucky collectors who made it inside Alliant Energy Center brought a trove that included Americana, oriental rugs, fine art, vintage tools, and an historic quilt honoring famous women of the late 19th century.

After 14 years, the Roadshow crew has it down to a science. Attendees laden with treasures (and trash) are funneled into a serpentine holding area before being allowed into the main appraisal setting in small groups. This circular “cocoon” is made up of tall fabric panels around the perimeter, backing the tables lined with dozens of experts. In the center of the circle is the technical heart of the operation: a maze of cameras, sound and lighting equipment swarming with technicians, and three sets where appraisals are taped in rapid sequence throughout the day.

In addition to host Mark L. Walberg, the Keno brothers — Les and Leigh — were there, and as always they were fully caffeinated and animated as they buzzed around the furniture area. David Rago and Suzanne Perrault tackled pottery. Wes Cowan, Ken Farmer, J. Michael Flanigan and Stephen Fletcher talked Americana and decorative arts. Arlie Sulka, the Zavians (Berj and son, Kevin), Jim Ffrench, Ron Bourgeault, Noel Barrett, Caroline Ashleigh, Beth Szescila, David McCarron, Nicolas Dawes, Kathleen Guzman and many others who have become familiar faces patiently took on all comers.

For some the news was disappointing. For others, it meant a visit with the show’s executive producer, Marsha Bemko.

Striding from table to table, Bemko listens to pitches from appraisers about the rarity or importance of selected objects, and determines who goes in front of the cameras. Some of the taped appraisals will eventually air in the show’s next season. Some will be available soon for viewing on the show’s Web site,

Bemko weighs every pitch, and then interviews the owner. This process is designed to weed out dealers (“dealer speak” will give them away) and focus on the true collector. Bemko also wants to preserve the “wow” factor, when the unknowing owner finds out the true value during taping. (After a decade with the program, Bemko is sharing her insider’s view in Antiques Roadshow Behind the Scenes, available in the fall from Simon & Schuster.)

Appraiser Caroline Ashleigh of Birmingham, Mich., (see sidebar) had been inundated with beaded bags, coverlets and dresser sets before she was approached by a woman with a rolling basket from which protruded a tall, cloth-wrapped column.

“I have four quilts here,” said the woman, “including one that’s very special.”

Once unrolled from a cardboard tube, the first three quilts included a log-cabin design and two lovely crazy patterns. But the fourth — also a crazy quilt — was the knockout.

Created for the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1892 and assembled in Iowa, the maker had contacted prominent women of the day, asking for scraps of fabric to incorporate into the design. Contributors included Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, the wives of Ulysses S. Grant and P.T. Barnum, the daughter of Charles Dickens, even the Queen of Denmark.

As Ashleigh realized the significance of the quilt, she began taking notes, asking the owner about its provenance and if it had been publicized over the years. Once she was satisfied with the information about the quilt’s history, Ashleigh contacted an associate producer to make a pitch for taping an appraisal.

“I’m no. 4 on Marsha’s list,” she said, “that’s a good thing.”

After talking with the owner and checking the production schedule, Bemko agreed the quilt was worth a taped appraisal. Then Ashleigh and the nervous owner were off to the green room for makeup and paperwork. As the taping schedule is established, the time between pitch and presentation can stretch into hours.

Lynn Zeckel and her friend, Jack Hooper, of Madison also had a tape-worthy treasure, but it almost didn’t make the cut. Zeckel brought a late-19th-century rug from northwest Persia that had been in her family for a century. Appraiser Jim Ffrench of Beauvais Carpets, New York, made a pitch for it to be taped. At first, word came back from an associate producer: “Forget it.”

“But less than five minutes later, they changed their minds and said it was a go,”  Zeckel said in a phone interview. She and Ffrench were standing before the cameras about an hour later.

So what were they worth, the quilt and rug? You’ll have to tune in or visit the Antiques Roadshow Web site in the coming weeks to find out.

The two pieces didn’t reach the heights of the show’s first million-dollar appraisal, which occurred in Raleigh, N.C., on June 27. A collection of four Chinese jade pieces from the Qianlong Period (1736-1795) were conservatively valued by appraiser Jim Callahan at between $710,000 and $1.07 million.

After stops in Denver and Phoenix, Antiques Roadshow wraps up the 2009 tour in San Jose, Calif., on Aug. 15.

Photos by Mark F. Moran.

There’s no business like shoe business: Caroline Ashleigh’s guide to shoes coming out in 2010

When Caroline Ashleigh puts her best foot forward, it’s usually in some pretty fine footwear. No wonder, then, that her first book is about her favorite sole mates.

Warman’s Shoes Field Guide will be published in the spring of 2010. The 512-page, pocketsize guide will feature more than 400 pairs of collectible, celebrity and contemporary shoes, everything from Dorothy’s Ruby Slippers to Manolo Blahnik.

“Shoes are still the strongest fashion statement a woman can make in accessorizing her wardrobe,” Ashleigh said during an interview prior to joining the other appraisers on the set of Antiques Roadshow in Madison, Wis., on July 11. “And this book will present a fun overview of both vintage and modern styles.”

The budding author is the founder of Caroline Ashleigh Associates LLC in Birmingham, Mich., a firm that provides appraisal and auction services throughout the United States. She is a graduate of New York University in Appraisal Studies in Fine and Decorative Arts, and is a senior certified member of the Appraisers Association of America.

Her career began in the museum world as a member of the educational department staff of the Detroit Institute of Arts and Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. She has worked closely with major museums, and served as a consultant to several major auction houses including Sotheby’s and William Doyle Auctioneers in New York.

Ashleigh offered her thoughts on shoes in a brief Q&A:

What were the first designer shoes you bought? Charles Jourdan: In the 1930s, Jourdan (1883-1976) was the first shoe designer to place advertisements in the high-end fashion magazines, which helped to identify his name as an haute couture house.

Is a $700 pair of shoes worth the money? Is a Mercedes worth it? When you buy an expensive pair of shoes you are paying for the best of materials, the best fit, and the best design. To my eye, shoes are a functional art form.

Do you always wear heels? The only place that I don’t wear heels is to the gym.

What shoes would you never part with? My vintage clown shoes from the circus.

What shoe trends do you enjoy? Sculptural heels.

What look can you not stand seeing on the street? UGGs (sheepskin-lined footwear from Australia) with short skirts, and Crocs with anything.

What’s flying off the shelves right now? Over-the-knee boots for fall.

What do you wear the most? Vintage.

Where do you shop? I hunt shoes down everywhere: designer’s boutiques, magazines, vintage fashion shows, secondhand stores, the Internet.

What can’t you live without? Platform shoes, because they are so comfortable.

Ashleigh’s Web sites include and