Current and Coming features detailed information about current and forthcoming programs, events, exhibits and activities of historical and cultural institutions in Pennsylvania. Originated as “Currents.” Retitled “Current and Coming,” Winter 2003, and then retitled “Out and About,” Fall 2005. Revived as “Current and Coming,” Winter 2013. Ran regularly, Spring 1984 to Spring 2008, and then occasionally, Winter 2013 to Spring 2015.

Pennsylvania Germans

Historians trace the origins of Pennsylvania German settlement to late seventeenth-century Philadelphia and the arrival of the earliest immigrants. These arrivals came from many regions in what are now the countries of Germany, Poland, the Czech Republic, Switzerland, and the Alsace region of France. Lutheran, Reformed, Moravian, Catholic, Jewish, and Anabaptist (including Amish and Mennonite) in faith, they sailed to America in search of religious tolerance and economic opportunity. Moving north and west from early settlements in Ger­mantown, the newly arrived immigrants began relocating in central Pennsylvania during the early decades of the eighteenth century.

To examine the three-hundred-year history of Germans in Pennsylvania, the Heritage Center Museum of Lancaster County has installed a landmark exhibition aptly entitled The Pennsylvania Germans.

Featuring more than one hundred and twenty objects and artifacts rarely or never before exhibited, the exhibition is divided into several thematic areas that highlight various aspects of Pennsylvania German culture and heritage. These areas include the role of education in the preservation of the German language in Pennsylvania, the importance of Ule textile tradition, and the continuity of traditional crafts to the present . Nearly a dozen samplers created by young girls, and dating to the eighteenth century, are featured in The Pennsylvania Germans. Quilts, coverlets, decorated hand towels, and Amish pincushions illustrate the tremendous diversity of the textile tradition preserved by the Pennsylvania Germans.

Of particular interest is a section of the exhibition addressing the pow wow tradition practiced by many traditional Pennsylvania Germans. Pow wowing is a mixture of traditional herbal lore and what many anthropologists call sympathetic magic. Practitioners believe this magic can be used to predict or even encourage natural events. On view is a pow wow doctor’s spell kit, including a book, sealed with black wax, for hexing or inducing evil, and a volume, bearing red seals, for undoing a hex or performing good.

The Pennsylvania Germans continues through Sunday, December 30 [2001].


Thrown and Dipped

Three types of pottery linked closely to Chester County include earthenware, porcelain, and majolica. The county’s potteries produced red­ware from the mid-eighteenth century through the Industrial Revolution of the late nineteenth century to the opening of the twentieth century. Usually designed as household items, pottery products were readily available and highly practical. Jugs, plates, candlesticks, and bowls were among the many types of items produced for everyday use. Although most objects were plain in design, potters sometimes decorated their wares with sgraffito, a design scratched into the clay, or trailed slip decoration. Among the many beautifully decorated objects created by potters are the distinctive Chester County flowerpots, distinguished by their ruffled edges.

Even as red ware was in high production, the Philadelphia firm of Tucker and Hemphill manufactured one of the earli­est – and finest – porcelains made in the United States. The raw materials included kaolin, an unusual white clay quarried in Chester County. Designed and manufactured for a brief period, in the 1820s and 1830s, by skilled craftsmen, the so-called Tuckerware was regarded as an especially fine ceramic, appearing as tea services, pitchers, and vases in the residences of prosperous families in Philadelphia and the region. Tucker and Hemphill also offered hand-painted cups, bowls, and plates, decorated with flowers, gilded accents, and monograms, as well as landscapes in both mono­chrome and polychrome.

In contrast to Tuckerware, majolica was mass-produced in the late nineteenth century. Relatively inexpensive and widely available, the factory of Griffen, Smith, and Hill, located in Phoenixville, produced this molded ceramic with a colorful opaque glaze from 1879 until closing in 1893. Tableware and extended services were ornamented with plant
and marine life and the company’s most popular patterns, which are now avidly sought by collectors throughout the country, included shell­-and-seaweed, bamboo, corn, fish, and cauli­flower. Pieces manufactured by Griffen, Smith, and Hill, many of which are marked “Etruscan Majolica,” included humidors, pitchers, trays, mugs, and a wide array of plates and dishes. Many items were designed as premiums, or gifts, for customers of the Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company (A&P Super­markets), resulting in national distribution.

Featuring more than two hundred examples drawn from its collections, and augmented by loans from individuals and institutions, the Chester County Historical Society in West Chester is currently showing Thrown, Molded, Dipped, and Glazed: Ceramics of Southeastern Pennsylvania to examine the origins and history of the region’s ceramics tradition.

In conjunction with the exhibition, the Chester County Historical Society will host a series of special programs. Children between the ages of eight and twelve are invited to “Clayworks After School Series,” enjoyable and educational afternoon programs where school students can create their very own ceramics just as Chester Countians had in the nineteenth century. On Wednesday, October 10, participants will make a glazed majolica candy dish; on Wednesday, November 14 [2001], they will learn how to design and decorate a tile. Historical society curator Ellen Endslow will give a tour of Thrown, Molded, Dipped, and Glazed, on Wednesday, November 7 [2001], during which she will discuss the development of the region’s ceramics industry. The tour is free with museum admission. A ceramics ornament workshop for the entire family will be held on Saturday, December 1. Pre-registration for all special events is required.

Thrown, Molded, Dipped, and Glazed: Ceramics of Southeastern Pennsylvania will continue through Monday, December 31 [2001].

For more information, write: Chester County Historical Society, 225 North High St., West Chester, PA 19380-2691; telephone (610) 692-4800; or visit the Chester County Historical Society website. Admission is charged.


Faith, Family, Fraktur

Examples of fraktur, which have become highly sought after by both collectors and museums, prized for the history they document but also, more often than not, for the decoration they bear. This class of visually striking and spiritually significant documents flourished during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The group of illuminated documents is now generically known as fraktur, from frak­turschriften (“broken writings”), referring to the unconnected strokes used to form the letters.

It has token decades to identify the artists, scriven­ers, and printers of the birth and baptismal certificates associated with the Pennsylvania Germans, and many still remain unknown. Many of the ear­liest fraktur artists were not immigrants but born American. They learned their skills and designs in this country, within the Pennsylvania German community, in the true folk tradition. With a few outstanding exceptions, not many creators consistently signed their work.

Pennsylvania German farmers and craftsmen settled in the fertile valleys of York County. Lutheran and German Reformed “church people,” who dominated Ule region, often built union church buildings that they shared. Infant baptism was a basic tenet of the two denominations, which spawned the creation of taufscheine, a highly stylized baptismal certificate. In York County, taufscheine and family records were primarily creat­ed for Lutheran and German Reformed families, but some, not many, were made for the children of the Evangelical Church, which grew out of the Lutheran Church, and for the United Brethren, an offshoot of the Reformed Church. Occasionally a taufschein for a Moravian or Roman Catholic child surfaces.

The distinctive combination of hand lettering and colorful illustrations reached its zenith during the 1820s. Early German Reformed and Lutheran history shows that it took some time to establish churches and attract pastors to remote settlements. Parents often had to travel great distances or wait to have baptisms performed. Some historians believe that a community, including the local congregation, needed time to become established in order for families to feel settled enough to resume and carry on traditions, such as commemorating baptism with decorated certificates.

Few deny the value of a taufscheine as an example of folk art. However, historians contend that as increasing attention focuses on the artistic aspects of the certificates, and research probes deeper into the identity of their creators, the more likely it is that less attention will be paid to their original function and to the children for which they were created. These were spiritual documents made for a pious people. Extremely personal documents, they were not made to be hung on a wall or prominently displayed. A taufschein was usually kept in an owner’s chest, with other personal belongings, rolled, occasionally affixed to the inside of the lid, or folded and inserted in the safest and most sacred repository in the house – the family Bible. It has been reported that this very personal document was sometimes buried with the person.

As well known as taufscheine is vorschriften (“writing examples”), most often associated with Mennonites and similar sects. None of these sects practiced infant baptism, which was one of the primary sacraments of the Lutheran and German Reformed “church people.”

To examine the significance of Pennsylvania German birth and baptism certificates made for children of York County and the surrounding area, the York Comity Heritage Trust has installed Faith and Family in Fraktur, an exhibition that continues through Wednesday, October 31 [2001]. Faith and Family in Fraktur is supported, in part, by a grant from the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.

For more information about Faith and Family in Fraktur, write: York County Heritage Trust, 250 East Market St., York, PA 17403; telephone (717) 848- 1587; or visit the York County Heritage Trust website. There is a charge for admission.