Thursday, July 9, 2015


It was one of those Wisconsin days at the end of June when the weather can go either way. You can roll out in the morning and see your breath but by the afternoon you've peeled off all the layers and are ready to jump into the pool. Clouds were following us eastward as we drove from Madison toward Elkhorn with umbrellas packed into the backseat just in case. Three times during the summer the Walworth County Fairgrounds is transformed into an antique mecca.
Over five hundred vendors lay out their wares on folding tables under plastic tents. Today everyone had their fingers crossed the rain would hold off. The trade-off was the sticky humidity and the waves of heat when the sun took charge over the clouds.
You can purchase an advance ticket that gets you in the day before the event while some of the vendors are setting up but we were discouraged from doing this. The organizers open up the fairgrounds around four in the morning the day of the fair, that's when most of the vendors show up and the diehards' start foraging their flashlights out surveying the goods. The gates officially open at seven in the morning and that's when lines form of the semi-professional buyers ready to pay their five dollar entry fee and start pushing their shopping carts down the many aisles of vendors. We weren't that serious. We showed up around eleven and there was still plenty to see.
The fair rewards collection collectors with a vast array of vendors specializing in specific passions. One of the first booths we came across housed an anthology of firefighter goods. There were documents, photographs, paraphernalia and these fantastic helmets.
We have been collecting vintage pool balls for a long time and storing them in glass jars on top of an old rabbit hutch we use as storage in our family room.
It's a difficult task for me to pass up a set of balls even when all our jars are overflowing. So my current game plan is that I won't buy a set that has a price tag of over twenty-five dollars on it. This set just missed the cut.
Fiestaware is another item we started collecting when you could still pick up a plate for under three dollars and as you can see we picked our share. Although Fiestaware has lost some of its popularity, probably due to the escalating cost, we still look for bargains.
Unfortunately, the people with piles of Fiestaware have the best knowledge of its value and tend to price it accordingly. It's rare to find a bargain with these sellers. We have better luck when we see a single piece in pile of dishes at a vendor who may be less informed and more willing to sell a piece for a steal.
When you're shopping the upper Midwest you're likely to see a lot of Northwoods Americana. The Wisconsin Northwoods is the land of cabins, pine trees and Chris Craft boats docked around crystal clear lakes. There's always an abundance of accessories ready to grace the walls or cover the floors of any home designed to replicate the smell of pine and the sound of a screen door closing behind a gaggle of kids running out the cabin and down to the lake.
Inventiveness was also on hand. We met a woman from just outside of Madison who mixed her antiques with rosemary topiary and constructions she had repurposed from found objects. A favorite item was her cake stand fashioned from rusted tractor parts. I'm not sure I'd let a cake sit directly on the stand but it was beautiful as a display piece with a vintage cloche.
Another vendor made a garland out of bingo cards and a pendant light out of a birdcage
The flea market was held the weekend before the Fourth of July so there was an abundance of vendors showing their best red, white and blue. This vendor was all about the bling. Repurposed denim and leather goods were fashioned to appeal to the patriotic shoppers and cheeseheads alike.
There was something at the Elkhorn flea to appeal to everyone and this vendor tried to hit them all, a vintage Woodstock typewriter, a pair of 1920's dress shoes, and some retro fabric propped atop a chicken hutch.
On the far side of freaky we found this dresser in the form of the Venus de Milo who's stomach was a drawer you accessed through her bellybutton. I have no idea of what might happen if you pressed her nipple.
Around two it was becoming clearer that the rain was not going to hold off much longer. We'd decided we'd walked enough but as we were leaving the last live stock pavilion turned into a multi-dealer shopping mall we spotted a vendor from Milwaukee who had some really impressive pieces. We fell in love with these huge vats. The vats stood about three and a half feet high.  We made a beat with each other about the cost as we dreamed about how we'd get it back and then where we'd put it in the yard. I guessed $300. Rick went a little higher at $375. We had a great conversation with the owner who told us he had three of them but had sold two already. He said if he didn't sell this one he was going to move it into his loft and make it into a Japanese-esk plunge bath. Turns out the vat was $990. We decided to let him take a bath.

Emmy's birthday is July 3rd. Every year Rick makes the same cake and every year there's a new story to go along with it. This year he decided to make a reduced version of the original recipe. You can go back in past posts to the ones closest to her July 3rd birthday to get the full recipe if you really want it. Our advise from this year is don't try to reduce the recipe by unilaterally cutting each ingredient the same percentage. It doesn't work. This year's model ended up more like gooey brownies than lush chocolate cake. Emmy swept the cake away to a day-long celebration with friends at an upstate cabin. The report came back it was well received. We, on the other hand, only got a photograph.

Turning the Tip
Mark Osterman, photographer
Represented by Howard Greenberg Gallery, NYC

1 comment:

  1. Flea market looks great. As a former pastry chef I can tell you that reducing baking recipes is much more difficult a task than reducing a main dish. It's not arithmetic as one assumes until learning the hard way.