Fayette County history could fetch big bucks at Ohio auction | TribLIVE.com
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Mary Pickels
Redware pie plate, mid 19th century, impressed 'J.L. Blaney, Cookstown' and other local pottery.

A slice of Fayette County’s history will sell to the highest bidder Friday.

More than two dozen pieces of pottery, stoneware, paintings and other artwork painstakingly collected, researched and cataloged over four decades by the late local historian Michael J. “Mick” Gallis will hit the auction block in Ohio.

Gallis, 63, of Smithfield, who died June 4, spent a lifetime collecting the items, including a rare Fayette County “fraktur” showcased in recent years at the Westmoreland Museum of American Art’s exhibit “Made in Pennsylvania: A Folk Art Tradition.”

Fraktur refers to elaborate folk art created in ink or watercolor between the mid-1700s and 1860s. It often was used for birth and baptismal records.

Many museums, including New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, feature fraktur in collections, and some pieces have fetched more than $100,000 at auction.

For Gallis, who operated a pool service business in Morgantown, W.Va., it was never about the money. He loved history and the county in which he was born, grew up and died, said his sister, Rosemary Olson of Nicholson.

He was known for his research, including tracking down subjects in a series of portraits by the late Western Pennsylvania artist David Gilmour Blythe.

“He would prove a fact three times,” Olson said.

A small part of Gallis’ collection will go up for bid at Garth’s Auctions in Delaware, Ohio.

“There are almost as many people inquiring about (his) items as about the rest of the auction,” said company president and co-owner Amelia Jeffers.

The catalog for the auction, scheduled to begin at 10 a.m., shows a Pennsylvania blanket chest from Gallis’ collection on its cover. Inlaid with tulips, stars and the date 1818, it is expected to sell for $4,000 to $8,000.

Antique collector David Brocklebank of Ligonier sold the blanket chest to Gallis.

“He was my best friend for many years,” he said. “He was really a scholar at heart.”

Brocklebank’s own collection of frakturs, accumulated over 35 years, is part of The Westmoreland and will be displayed when the renovated museum opens next year. Frakturs, a tradition in Lutheran and Reformed German churches, were considered a “covenant between you and God” and rarely put on public display, Brocklebank said.

Barbara Jones, The Westmoreland’s chief curator, said frakturs were prized objects for families, often the work of schoolteachers supplementing their incomes.

Sometimes stored in Bibles or cedar chests, they are “genealogical records” that family members discover many years later, Jones said.

A Gallis fraktur up for sale was made for the Feb. 12, 1804, birth of Sahra Schallenberger, daughter of Johannes and Margaret Schallenberger of Fayette County. Its estimated price is $800 to $1,200.

“People really cherish this bit of history of Western Pennsylvania,” Jones said.

Fayette County Historical Society members plan to attend the auction, said its president, Christine Buckelew. Gallis was a walking encyclopedia of Fayette County history, she said.

“Nobody I knew knew more about Fayette County history than Mick. We relied on him,” she said.

Gallis frequently loaned parts of his collection to the historical society’s Abel Colley Tavern and Museum in Menallen, and members donated money to bid on some items and return them to the museum. Before his death, Gallis had begun hosting “Made in Fayette” exhibits at the museum, Buckelew said.

Olson said her family has many of his pieces, including grandfather clocks, corner cupboards and crocks.

Gallis also collected family Bibles that he would find at estate sales. Occasionally, when someone contacted him with a genealogy question, he’d tell them, “‘I have your Bible,’ ” Olson said. “He always gave it to them.”

Mary Pickels is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach her at 724-836-5401 or [email protected].

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