GOSHEN — Goshen College is now the home of a collection of antique Amish quilts and other household memorabilia, part of the once extensive collection owned by Goshen entrepreneur and antiques collector Dave Pottinger.
Moving from Honeyville to nearby Goshen in 1989, Pottinger became known in the city through his many renovations of historic downtown buildings. Prior to that, he was known nationally as a collector of antique quilts from the Amish communities in northern Indiana and central Illinois.
Three books were published about his collections, and hundreds of his quilts were acquired by major U.S. museums, including the American Folk Art Museum in New York City, the Indiana State Museum in Indianapolis, the Illinois State Museum in Springfield and the Fort Wayne Museum of Art, according to information from Goshen College. In 1983 an exhibit of Pottinger’s Indiana quilts toured museums in the United States and Europe. The exhibit was especially popular in Zurich, Switzerland, the historic homeland of the Amish.
According to Pottinger, he had always hoped to be able to display a portion of his collection locally. That desire was fulfilled this past December when donors presented 242 objects from his collection to the Mennonite Historical Library at Goshen College, which maintains a large collection of Mennonite and Amish items developed by the Mennonite-Amish Museum Committee.
“The major museums all had a collection, but there was nothing local, and I always felt bad about that,” Pottinger said of the origins of his recent partnership with Goshen College. “So I finally talked to the college, because we’d been setting up shows for them for a number of years of different things, and so we worked it out. They found a donor, and it’s a small collection... but it’s all local material, some furniture, quilts and so on. So I felt really good about that, that finally Goshen — or this area — has part of that collection.”
Pottinger said he has probably collected more than 1,500 Amish quilts from across Elkhart and LaGrange counties over the years, though a good number of those have since been sold or donated to museums and institutions. The remaining 242 items now housed at Goshen College represent the last of his once vast collection, he explained.
In addition to full-sized quilts and comforters, the Goshen collection includes doll quilts, decorated knitted women’s stockings, sewing caddies, children’s and adults’ clothing, strawberry pincushions and rugs. The collection excels in paint-decorated furniture, including a chest of drawers dated 1871, a blanket chest by Sam Miller (1903), an unusual one-drawer stand (1880) and hickory rockers.
Pottinger began buying Amish quilts in earnest in 1977, when he moved from Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, to the Goshen area, and he continued to do so until about 1996, when it became more difficult to find them, according to information from the college.
“I was in the antique business and had been more or less most of my life, and quilts were always a part of it. But Amish quilts have an added feature, and that is that they’re more artful. They’re not just bed quilts,” Pottinger said of what first drew him to collecting antique Amish memorabilia. “Now of course that’s not true for all of them. A lot of them go with traditional designs, but a lot of them are very abstract and interesting, so I was attracted to it from that standpoint.”
Pottinger’s collecting years centered primarily around his Honeyville Store, which he renovated and re-opened to serve the rural LaGrange County Amish community.
According to Pottinger, a majority of the items now housed at the college came from a one-mile radius around Honeyville, with most dating from 1900 to 1940, although one sewing caddy is dated 1853. The collection also includes a number of local antique Mennonite items as well, he explained.
“For me, as important as the objects were was getting the information about each object. Every object I have has a history with it of who made it, when, why, and so on,” Pottinger said of his personal take on antiques collecting. “The objects that the college got, almost all of them were in our home. They were things that were more personal, and were collected right around the store where I lived, from people that I knew well. So we had them in our home and were using them, and we just decided that it was time to give them a new home. We have other material that we wanted to use, and we thought that it was probably a good time to do it, and it ended up working out for the college as well.”
Speaking to why he chose Goshen College as the new home for his remaining collection, Pottinger said he and his wife, Faye Peterson, have a long history with the college and felt it would be a perfect fit.
“My wife, Faye, has set up many, many shows for them in the gallery, and we have good personal relations with them, and it was something that we’d always kind of talked about,” Pottinger said of the decision. “So I don’t know, it just seemed to work out timing-wise. Life is timing, right?”
An exhibit drawn from the collection will appear in 2018 in the Hershberger Gallery in the Music Center at Goshen College. In conjunction with the exhibit, Pottinger will present an Afternoon Sabbatical program in 2018 at Goshen College about his collecting experiences.
The Mennonite-Amish Museum Committee sponsors two exhibits a year devoted to the history and arts of Anabaptist groups. Its next exhibit, “A Cabinet of Curiosities,” will open on March 26 in the Good Library Gallery.
Ervin Beck, professor emeritus of English and member of The Mennonite-Amish Museum Committee at Goshen College, provided information for this article.