Features appear in each issue of Pennsylvania Heritage showcasing a variety of subjects from various periods and geographic locations in Pennsylvania.

The art of the Pennsylvania Germans is showy and elusive, reflective and new, easy and difficult; showy because it is boldly colorful; elusive because there is more to it than decoration; reflective because one can see the Old World in details; new because Pennsylvania Germans add­ed to the European vocabulary of designs and form; easy because it is familiar; and difficult because marks, like initials, “tease” us to identify them.

Pennsylvania German arts were applied to objects of daily life, which included tools, utensils, furnishings, tokens of af­fection and ritual, as well as official documents recording church membership and genealogy. There are hundreds of ex­amples which not only served their pragmatic purpose, but reveal to us the skills, technological innovation and colorful wit of the Pennsylvania German craftsmen and their patrons. Birth and baptismal certificates, wedding or New Year’s wishes, and house blessings in brilliant fraktur work are ob­vious examples of their artistic skills. It is more difficult to show the impact of the Crefeld weavers in Germantown on the economics of early Philadelphia trade; or to trace their in­fluence on the manuscript illuminators working at Ephrata (which may have developed out of Conrad Beissel’s German­town weaving apprenticeship); or to relate specific European joinery techniques, like the wedged dovetails found in chests and wardrobes, to specific settlement groups in Pennsylvania.

The forms and decoration of objects were but one aspect of “tradition” carried by groups and individual settlers from Germanic Europe to early Pennsylvania. It is too simple, even when looking at the arts of cohesive units of migrant groups such as the Moravians from Saxony, the Schwenkfelders from Silesia or the Mennonites from Switzerland, to expect to find clear prototypes for their arts in Pennsylvania. American settlement from the outset was a mix of people. The mix pro­duced “hybrids” and resulted in developing regional charac­teristics, such as the unicorn panels on Berks County chests or the sulphur-inlay decoration on walnut chests and wardrobes made in Lancaster County. These characteristics may have had less to do with old Europe than with local shops working for extended families.

Under the umbrella of “Pennsylvania Dutch,” there are subtle, regional distinctions in these arts. Many objects which had originally been thought to be the work of English-trained craftsmen were found to have Germanic construction details. This suggests that German-trained men were working in English shops, and/or that German shops were building in an English design vocabulary for a mixed clientele.

Linguists have been recording and studying dialect for years. Day-to-day use of language produced a German-English mix with built-in translations like “kuchenrange” or “auspicke.” Distinguished Old World names like von Roedinghausen became Rittenhouse-pragmatic accommoda­tions to positive, progressive settlement. Likewise, day-to-day work of the craftsmen, joiners, blacksmiths, potters and weavers, working with Old World apprenticeship skills, pro­duced furnishings with “dialect.” Old World German chests had panel and frame lids, French (Alsatian) chests and English/Welsh chests had solid plank lids which were easier to make. The earliest Pennsylvania-made chests bad solid plank lids; whether the source was English or whether the Lancaster and Berks County Huguenot settlers introduced the simpler form is not yet known. Germanic bed frames often had pillow panels, although few have survived; they may have been lost, broken or cut off by later owners unfamiliar or uncomfortable with the Old World design.

Pennsylvania German decoration (painted, inlaid, slip­trailed, sgraffitoed or woven) also shows a mix of dialects and is exceedingly difficult to document. Genealogies give clues, but decoration is rarely mentioned much less described in con­temporary documents. The secrets of transmission of Old World design are still hidden in the genealogical threads of im­migrant craftsmen like Christopher Benade, born in Upper Silesia in 1752. A japanner and goldsmith by trade, he settled in Nazareth in 1793, where he may have taught his skills or supplied designs, but he supported himself selling pottery.

The exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which opens on October 17, 1982 and runs through January 9, 1983, will address some of these problems, and should en­courage further research and publication of regional records. The exhibition includes 330 handsome objects made by Germanic people in Pennsylvania between 1683 and 1850. The ob­jects selected tell their own story and, as a unit of material, shed new light on the contributions of central Europe to American life, especially in Pennsylvania. Thus gathered, they suggested the themes around which the exhibition is organized: From Diversity; Pockets of Settlement; The Market­place – local or urban; The Home – including the attention given to calendar and personal celebrations; Liberty and Freedom; Good Neighbors – the close relationships which developed in urban areas between the Pennsylvania Germans and their English, Scottish, Irish and Welsh neighbors; and Religion and Education – the focal point of the rites of passage through life.

For those who are already well acquainted with the arts of the Pennsylvania Germans, many of these objects could “tell” their story in more than one theme. But, for visitors who may be less familiar with these creations, such as those who will see the exhibition at museums in Houston, San Fran­cisco, and Chicago as it travels to those cities, it is hoped that each object will simply and clearly exhibit its thematic content. No matter where these “slices of the cake” are viewed, however, they are certain to provoke thought and discussion.

To the generous lenders throughout the state of Penn­sylvania and further afield, who are sharing their treasures carefully collected or inherited over the years, and to the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Henry Francis du Pont Winterthur Museum, which are jointly presenting “The Penn­sylvania Germans: A Celebration of Their Arts, 1683-1850,” we all owe a debt of gratitude.


From Diversity

Plate (1765-1774)
John Jacob Stoudt, Bucks County
Philadelphia Museum of Art: John T. Morris Collection

Marked S S, for his daughter Elizabeth Salome Stoudt (1743-1827), this molded plate is decorated in the sgraffito technique with the added feature of coloring in the slip: green
– copper oxide, orange – iron oxide. Although coloring oxides were used in America from the outset, coloring inside the outlines of designs with colored slip was a European nicety not found after the first generation potters. Stoudt, a master pot­ter from Gimbweiler, arrived in Philadelphia in 1737.


Pockets of Settlement

Economy Hotel (1834)
Drawing attributed to Frederick Reichert, Beaver County
Old Economy Village, PHMC

The gable over the bell-cast roof shown in this drawing reflects the direct transfer in the nineteenth century of Germanic architectural design. George Rapp and his communal pietist society migrated from Wurtemberg more than a hundred years after the first group from that region bad settled Germantown. Rapp’s Harmony Society went directly to western Pennsylvania in 1805.


The Marketplace

Side Saddle (1818-1842)
Emanuel Schaeffer, Lancaster
Lancaster County Historical Society (Gift of Robert E. McMurtrie)

Emanuel Schaeffer went through his apprenticeship and journeyman status before opening his own shop in 1815. A civic leader, he was president of the Lancaster City Council and an associate judge in the Court of Common Pleas. This saddle, decorated with tooling and stamping and inlaid with colored leathers, retains its original embroidered wool saddle blanket.


The Home

Kitchen Utensil (1785)
J. Werman
Private Collection

Iron meat forks and spatulas were routine house furnishings. This double-ended form, which com­bines the two, was stamp marked by the maker; punch marked with the initials M D N, presumably those of the owner; and dated 1785. It is a handsome example of an imaginative pragmatism found in much Pennsylvania German deco­rative art.


Liberty and Freedom

Tall Case Clock (1815)
John Paul, Jr., Dauphin County
Winterthur Museum (G58.2874)

The case of this extraordinary clock is inlaid with a variety of woods and ivory in designs of eagles, shields, prancing horses and the word LIBERTY, as well as with tulips and birds. It is inscribed: “Verfertiget von Johanes Paul,” and represents a custom-made reaffirmation of patriotism at the end of the War of 1812.


Good Neighbors

Pocketbook (c. 1750)
Attributed to Margaret Wistar, Philadelphia
Wyck Charitable Trust

This needlework in the tent stitch on canvas was typical of English work taught and done in Philadelphia. It was made for Caspar Wistar, who emigrated in 1717 from Hilspach, Germany, by his daughter. Wistar and his family became important members of the English community in Philadelphia.


Religion and Education

Baptismal Basin and Ewer (1831-1855)
Ludwig Lehman, Bethlehem
Central Moravian Church, Bethlehem

Ernst Lehman was born in the Mora­vian colony in St. Croix. He learned coppersmithing in Germany, and finally settled in Bethlehem where he made this important ceremonial, gilt copper set for the principal Moravian Church in America at Bethlehem.


Beatrice B. Garvan, who received a B.A. in history of fine arts from Vassar College and an M.A. in American civilization from the University of Pennsylvania, is the associate curator of American Art at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. She has lectured, organiz­ed exhibitions and written extensively, including the Handbook the of the Pennsylvania German Collections at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. She and Charles Hummel are co-curators of the Pennsylvania German exhibition organized by the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Winterthur Museum.