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

Since its founding in 1741, the city of Beth­lehem in eastern Pennsylvania has bene­fitted from the presence of artists associated with its Moravian founders and their educational institutions, specifically the Moravian Semi­nary for Young Ladies, founded almost as early as the city itself, and Moravian College. In the eighteenth century Valentine Haidt served as the city’s artist-in-residence. During the nineteenth cen­tury Gustavus Grünewald was the city’s major artist, and in the twentieth century Emil Gelhaar continued the rich tradition.

The eighteenth century Moravians who founded Bethle­hem were descendants of the pre-Reformation Unitas Fratrum founded by the martyred Bishop John Hus. Long in exile, they were absorbed among German Lutheran pietists dur­ing the eighteenth century and sheltered on the estate of a devout nobleman, Count Nicholas Ludwig von Zinzen­dorf, the moving force behind the formation of modern-day Moravianism. Fired with missionary zeal to convert non-Europeans to Christianity, von Zinzendorf backed the foundation of Bethlehem as a self-sufficient complex, set up like European Moravian communities, and intended to serve Moravian missionaries as they brought the Christian message to the Indians of North America.

Von Zinzendorf believed images could be used to teach and further his missionary experiment. Moravian theology during the so-called “Sifting Period” of Bethlehem’s estab­lishment greatly emphasized images and powerful visualiza­tions of religious scenes. The artist von Zinzendorf sent to Bethlehem, John Valentine Haidt, was given as one of his tasks the creation of works of art which could be used to illustrate the teachings of Moravian missionaries. There are records of occasions on which his paintings were used in exactly this way. Another task was the production of powerful images used in wor­ship and prayer by the citi­zens of Bethlehem themselves.

In the eighteenth century context of Bethlehem, works of art served as teaching aids, as meditational images, and, in the case of portraits, as his­torical documents. Not only did Haidt serve the religious complex as an artist, but his background suited him for roles as teacher, preacher and historian. He received com­munity support: a place to work and subsistence because von Zinzendorf’s decision to send him to the colony made it clear to the entire community that he was to be viewed as an integral member whose work was as important as any other craftsman’s.

As Bethlehem grew more secular, industrial and pros­perous in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, it pro­vided a less supportive eco­nomic climate for artists like Gustavus Grünewald and Emil Gelhaar. Bethlehem ceased to be a closed Moravian enclave around the time of the Civil War, but the sense that the artist was an essential part of the community had dis­sipated years before. With rare exceptions, the artists har­bored by the city were either amateurs or teachers in Moravian schools. Emphasis on art in early Moravian education may be explained by Haidt’s presence in Bethle­hem. He may himself have taught art, for a treatise on art thought to be by him has been identified in the Moravian Archives in Bethlehem. It is probably the earliest treatise on art written in America.

Moravian schools in Naza­reth, Lititz and Bethlehem all featured art instruction from their earliest days, with spe­cial emphasis on drawing. Bethlehem’s Moravians placed strong emphasis on craft skills, and drawing may have been seen as an essential skill for good design. Early nine­teenth century Germans viewed drawing as an obser­vational and analytical skill appropriate to the training of professional men, especially physicians, attorneys and minis­ters. Emphasis on analysis and observation in their train­ing may explain its presence in the curriculum in Nazareth.

From its establishment, religious painting and portrai­ture were integral to Mora­vian community life in Bethle­hem. Not long after the community was established, a religious painting – probably by a companion of von Zin­zendorf, German portraitist Johann Jacob Mueller – was carried to Bethlehem on a cart from Philadelphia to become the central decoration for the city’s first house of worship. Count von Zinzendorf con­tinued an established European tradition of royal patronage by employing court artists first on projects at Herrnhaag and Herrnhut, Moravian centers on the Continent, and later in London to decorate his headquarters with scenes from Moravian history. It was such an artist, John Valentine Haidt, whom he sent to Bethlehem in 1754; three years later he was involved in decorative projects at the count’s American residence, Nazareth Hall.

Valentine Haidt was born in Danzig on October 4, 1700, the son of Augsburg gold­smith Andreas Haidt who had been court goldsmith to Frederick the First of Prussia. Haidt studied metalcraft first with his father and then at the newly formed Royal Academy in Berlin. Later he traveled widely in continental Europe, living for several years in Rome. In 1724 he settled in London, married and established his own busi­ness. His main trade was the chasing of watches, one of which was recently purchased at auction by Bethlehem’s Moravian Archives. A deeply religious man, Haidt actually had wanted to become a minis­ter as a child, but his father insisted on his pursuing his profession. Haidt joined the Moravians in middle age and departed London with his family to live in Moravian set­tlements in England and on the Continent. He served as a lay preacher and probably continued to practice his craft, since every Moravian was expected to be able to earn a living at some trade. He also began to execute portraits of fellow Moravians.

Soon after his arrival in America, Haidt was ordained a Moravian minister in Gnadenhutten (now Lehighton, Carbon County) in 1754. His first assignment was a year’s appointment in Philadelphia during which he evidently came into contact with the young Benjamin West. Haidt may have, based on stylistic analysis and documentation, briefly taught the acclaimed painter. Surely the young West would have sought out a newly-arrived professional artist from London, so contact of some sort between the two painters is likely. Haidt’s London contacts would have been especially useful to West, since he had been in­volved with a small group of London artists who met to found what finally became the Royal Academy of which West was later the president.

By 1755 when Haidt arrived in Bethlehem, he was already a well known painter and, until his death in 1780, he pro­duced work for communities and individuals throughout Pennsylvania and elsewhere. The Moravian movement was international and Bethle­hem was one of its major centers. Haidt’s work was known among Moravians all over the world, but it is im­possible to ascertain whether painting constituted his pri­mary role in Bethlehem! He was also a minister. He took care of whatever festival decora­tions needed to be made. He was the town’s fremdendiener (a sort of combination greeter and guide) and, along with everything else, he painted. In spite of his myriad duties, he was a prolific artist.

Haidt executed portraits of Bethlehem residents and turned out some of America’s earliest religious paintings. His meditational images em­phasized the sufferings of Christ or celebrated his nativity. Since Bethlehem was named for Christ’s birthplace, Christmas festivities have always played an important part in the city’s civic life. Many of Haidt’s nativity pictures were done, in all likelihood, for Christmas festivities in various years.

Haidt’s images of Christ’s passion and death are graphic and bloody. They were con­ceived in line with prevailing German artistic traditions and in terms of the “Blood and Wounds” theology of the Moravian “Sifting Period” during which great emphasis was placed on the contem­plation of the grisly details of Christ’s suffering. Coming from Augsburg, as Haidt did, he would not have shared the aversion to vivid religious narrative that characterized many German Protestant works of art. His style was a type of provincial Baroque adapta­tion of traditional motifs and subjects, deeply felt and poetic.

Haidt based his com­positions on prints and books, employing them as patterns, but with alterations and combi­nations as needed. Fortu­nately, several of his source books remain among his effects in the Moravian Archives in Bethlehem. Characteristic of Haidt’s religious paintings are rich, glowing colors, creamy skin tones, luminous, expressive eyes and large hands. He disregarded perspective and often mixed figures of several scales in a single painting. He is at his best with small groupings of figures, such as the Thomas Doubting completed in 1757 for the decoration of Nazareth Hall, and the small, delight­ful Adoration of the Kings painted about 1760. Both can­vases are preserved at White­field House in Nazareth.

Curiously, Haidt trained no successor. Upon his death, religious painting and por­traiture in Bethlehem seem to have ceased. While the Moravian community used his, paintings as integral compo­nents of its Lenten and Christmas celebrations even after his demise, an official city painter – which is what Haidt had been in essence – was not seen as an essential member of the community after the deaths of Count von Zinzendorf in 1759 and Haidt in 1780.

Haidt’s paintings survived in Moravian communities in Nazareth, Lititz, Philadel­phia, North Carolina and abroad. His portraits were cherished by generations of Moravian families and his religious pictures continued to be used year after year in religious festivities and hung in Moravian places of worship. Even today, they rarely appear outside Moravian hands.

Haidt’s position as a member of the Moravian com­munity in Bethlehem was extraordinary for an American painter; it was equally extra­ordinary for what was essen­tially a small, frontier community to retain an official artist to whom it even supplied a studio. Since Haidt was a minister as well as an artist, he was uniquely well-posi­tioned to produce work which reflected both his patrons’ concerns and his own interests and feelings.

Art was taught from the earliest days in the Moravian schools at Bethlehem and Nazareth. Extant records of the Nazareth Hall School show that there was, however, no professional artist to instruct students in drawing. The task was always given to whatever instructor showed an artistic aptitude, along with his other duties which might include teaching classes in mathe­matics. Young men learned to draw, but young women at the Seminary for Young Ladies in Bethlehem were expected to be at least somewhat skilled in the domestic arts, such as embroidery, and to be able to paint in the “ladylike” medium of watercolor.

It was only by chance that a second golden period in Bethlehem’s artistic develop­ment began with the arrival in November 1831 of Gustavus Grünewald. Grünewald was an exceptionally well-trained and talented artist. He ex­hibited nationally while living in Bethlehem, and he was an influential teacher.

Grünewald was born in 1805 in Gnadau, East Prussia, a Moravian center which is now part of Poland. He studied painting in Berlin and at the Dresden Academy with Casper David Friedrich, the greatest of the German romantic land­scapists, by whose work he was strongly influenced in his early years. Grünewald served in the Prussian army and declined the offer of court patronage as unreliable. In 1831 he married Justina Maria Lehmann, a teacher at the Moravian school in Gnadau, and the two journeyed to Bethlehem, arriving in November. Justina Maria had relatives in Bethlehem, but the couple arrived without letters of transfer which would have eased their entry into the community. Records of the Aufseher Collegium, which over­saw the community’s business affairs, indicate that the couple was greeted somewhat coolly when they sought lodging. Bethlehem was still a closed community at the time, and only Moravians and their guests could lodge there.

The Grünewalds applied for readmission into the Mora­vian congregation of Bethle­hem by 1833. They apparently left the city for a stay in Philadelphia, but returned in 1834. During this unsettled and trying period Justina Maria bore and lost her two children; the first child died in infancy, and the second was stillborn. They are buried with her in God’s Acre, the earliest Moravian cemetery in Bethlehem.

Grünewald’s first recorded artistic effort created specifically for the community, Shepherds on the Plains of Bethlehem, now lost, was a painting com­pleted for the Christmas season of 1835 and apparently dis­played at the Seminary for Young Ladies for years.

The community’s attitude toward Grünewald improved after this creation. In 1836, after a protracted period during which the Grünewalds were forced to move from one rental house to another by the Aufseher Collegium, Grünewald and his wife were finally allowed to buy a house. During that year Grünewald received his first payment for teaching at the Seminary for Young Ladies. His payments totaled $377.22 for lessons in drawing, velvet painting, worsted work, ribbon work and ebony work. Oil painting was added to the curriculum in 1844. Many delightful accounts record Grünewald’s taking his students outside to draw. The teacher and stu­dents were a familiar sight, with easels and drawing materials, on the canal towpath which runs near the Church Street buildings the Young Women’s Seminary occupied in the nineteenth century.

Grünewald learned from Friedrich and the romantics a technique of sketching out­doors first in pencil, then in pen and ink and wash. The drawing was translated into a finished painting in the studio. There is also evidence that he relied on photographs; a paper print in a private Bethlehem collection shows the flooded Lehigh, a scene on which Grünewald’s Freshet of 1862 is based. A photo­graph similar to one of his two studies of Central Church and Moravian buildings is also in the same collection.

Grünewald was primarily a landscape painter, although attractive portraits by him exist in the collection of the Moravian Museum in Bethle­hem. While Grünewald occasionally produced work based on European settings or wandered into fantasy, his true genius was for specific and yet poetic portrayals of real places, and he concen­trated on the Lehigh River Valley. His work in the 1830s and 1840s connected him with the American luminists who produced landscapes of uncanny clarity and realism. Especially fine is a view of the Lehigh Canal at Bethle­hem in the Moravian Museum. Grünewald did not shrink from showing Bethlehem’s mills and fledgling industries. fascinated by the railroad, he often showed trains chugging along the banks of the Lehigh, in what would other­wise have been bucolic, lyrical landscapes. He treated the railroad as a heroic and vital element in the landscape during the same years Thoreau was writing Walden and Hawthorne was writing The Celestial Railroad. Grünewald created one of the earliest images of a moving loco­motive, preceded only three years by J.M.W. Turner’s Rain, Steam and Speed and con­temporary with Adolf von Menzel’s Berlin-Pottsdam Railroad of 1847. Grünewald’s speeding train was shown at the National Academy of Design, New York, in 1848 entitled Bear Creek with a Train Going Through and the Woods on Fire.

Grünewald’s work was well known outside Bethlehem; he frequently exhibited at the National Academy, the Artist’s Fund Society and elsewhere. A large collection of Grünewald paintings is prized by Mora­vian College and exhibited at its Main Hall on the Church Street campus. Main Hall was constructed during the late 1840s, and the double parlor rooms in which the paintings are displayed have been restored to their original appearance. Grünewald com­pleted two murals for these rooms showing the views from the windows in each parlor toward the south and the river.

Grünewald lived in Bethlehem during an extremely fertile period in the city’s artistic heritage. Although many amateur artists practiced in the city during the years of his residence, it is difficult to assess from the available evidence the extent of his direct influence. He had many friends and his house, which once stood at the corner of Goepp and Main streets, func­tioned as the center of an artistic coterie that developed around him. It is recorded that when he went sketching he was rarely alone, enjoying the company and conversation of other artists. He is described as good looking, of a military bearing, and strong willed.

To supplement his income, Grünewald painted and gilded frames, made embroidery patterns, did decorative proj­ects and painted occasional portraits. He also taught private evening classes for craftsmen and their apprentices in design and freehand draw­ing. After the death of Justina Maria, in 1866, Grünewald left Bethlehem and returned to Germany. He remarried and lived with his wife in Gnadenberg until his death in 1878.

Other acclaimed artists thrived in Bethlehem during the fecund artistic period of the nineteenth century. New York-born landscapist DeWitt Clinton Boutelle, a distin­guished painter and associate of the National Academy, resided in the city from 1859 until his death in 1884. He came to Bethlehem at the invita­tion of wealthy industrialist and art collector Samuel Wetherill. Boutelle’s son, E.C., was also a talented Bethle­hem landscapist.

Rufus Grider was but another prolific artist of the period. A frequent painting companion of Grünewald, Grider was born in Lititz, and studied there at the Moravian school conducted by John Beck. The talented Beck family nurtured many artists, and art historians may be tempted to surmise that Grider’s interest in art might have been influenced by his exposure to the Becks. Grider was a businessman and entrepreneur, primarily painting for pleas­ure when he had the oppor­tunity. He owned general stores, first in Emmaus and later in Bethlehem. He owned the famous Sun Inn in Bethlehem, directed the city’s Phil­harmonic Society, and was the first person in Bethlehem to use illuminating gas and install asphalt sidewalks. De­spite his various pursuits and interests, Grider left an unexcelled documentary record of Bethlehem’s appearance as it changed and grew be­tween the 1850s and the 1870s. He assembled many port­folios of watercolor sketches of Bethlehem and other Penn­sylvania communities, of which more than three hun­dred are housed in the Moravian Archives. Grider’s work runs the gamut of subjects, but he especially concen­trated on recording scenes that were changing and dis­appearing, from old dying willows along the river to the view of the Lehigh from Nisky Hill before the construc­tion of the first buildings of the Bethlehem Iron Company. Grider also exhibited still lifes at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, in the 1850s.

Grünewald trained Reuben Luckenback, the artist who succeeded him as drawing instructor at the Seminary. Luckenbach, a Bethlehem native and scion of a distinguished Moravian family, was originally a cabinetmaker who started his studies with Grünewald to learn to make fine painted furniture. He abandoned his original profession to paint and he taught at the Seminary from 1865 to his death in 1880. Like Grünewald, he was primarily a landscape painter, concentrating on scenes of the Lehigh River and paying special attention to certain areas such as Sand Island or the legendary pleasure island, Calypso. The site of numer­ous picnics and destination of boating parties, Calypso was probably the most frequently painted spot in Bethlehem during the nineteenth century. Totally destroyed around the turn of the twentieth century, the island is submerged by the waters of the Lehigh.

Bethlehem’s artistic heritage i:n the twentieth century begins with the arrival of artist Emil Gelhaar. Born in Sweden of a Dutch family, Gelhaar was the son of a musician who played with the Swedish National Orchestra. He studied in Stockholm, Paris and Lon­don before immigrating to New York in the 1880s where he established a studio with another artist. He arrived in Bethlehem in 1892 to teach at both the Seminary for Young Ladies and at Lehigh Univer­sity. He was a dashing, hand­some and personable figure about whom many stories are still recounted – a half century after his death. One favorite story is that Gelhaar took skis when he visited friends in the Poconos because he missed Nordic skiing; his skiing in the Poconos reputedly ignited the fad. Gelhaar gave away many of his paintings to friends, bestowing many as wedding presents. He lost his position at Lehigh dur­ing World War I, for reasons which are not clear from the record. He continued teaching at Moravian until 1930. During his tenure he restored the two Grünewald murals in the college’s Main Hall since they had begun to crack. He fell from a ladder during the restoration and broke his arm.

Emil Gelhaar was primarily a landscapist. His work links him with American artist Edwin Redfield and the American impressionists and with later Lehigh Valley painters such as Walter Emerson Baum, Ann Riley and Fred Bees. He was known particularly for the use of an intense turquoise blue, a color seen in Penn­sylvania on brilliant, cloudless days when the weather is cold and dry, as in October or in the early spring. Gelhaar’s paint surfaces are rich and brushy. One of his best paint­ings, in the Moravian College’s art collection, is a view of a steel mill on a river in which thick white trails of paint become the wisps of smoke bil­lowing from the smokestacks of the huge plant.

In 1930 Gelhaar retired from teaching and left Bethlehem for California and, later, Hawaii. He had hoped to sup­plement his pension by the sale of his paintings, but apparently found little market for his work in the days of the Great Depression. He was visited in Honolulu by traveling Bethlehemites in November 1934 who enjoyed his characteristic charm. They did not surmise that there was any problem, but the next day, at the age of seventy, Gelhaar tied a satchel of rocks around his waist and jumped from Koko Head into the sea. Even then fate was unkind to him: the fall evi­dently caused the satchel to open and, instead of being lost at sea, as he had appar­ently wished, his body washed ashore.

Bethlehem’s artistic tradi­tion spans three centuries, but it is hallmarked by a great shift in values and tastes. Eighteenth century Bethlehem supported Valentine Haidt, essentially as a city painter, in the tradition of his German counterparts. His work was integral to the city’s life, not to its “cultural life,” but to the very way it defined itself. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries the rift between the artistic and civic life of Bethlehem grew as the city became more secular and indus­trial. The support of Bethle­hem’s artists was relegated to schools and concerned individuals.

Eighteenth century Bethle­hem’s character as a Mora­vian settlement made Valen­tine Haidt’s position among American artists unique. He enjoyed the most powerful aristocratic patronage in a fron­tier community that sup­ported his documenting its progress and painting pictures for its edification and religious practices. Had he wanted to paint landscapes or still- life pictures, Bethlehem would have had little use for him, but, fortunately, he was a deeply religious man and an ordained minister and his community’s tastes coincided with his own interests. Very few American artists have been so harmoniously aligned with their environment.

With the secularization of Bethlehem in the nineteenth century, Bethlehem artists ceased to enjoy the support Haidt had received. Grünewald (from 1831 to 1868) and Gel­haar (from 1892 to 1930) made only meager Livings by teach­ing in Moravian schools in Bethlehem and selling occa­sional works. Even if they had produced religious works and portraits, instead of the landscapes for which they are known today, Bethlehem would have offered no better support for them. The Moravian origins of Bethlehem left the city with a desire for beau­tiful music which the original settlers had supported as they had art, but support for art and artists had declined. Music, after all, is a communal enterprise, and even after the secularization of Bethlehem the Moravian musical heritage remained strong.

In its attitudes toward painting and the other non-craft oriented visual arts, how­ever, Bethlehem became little different from other growing industrial cities. Provincial in its outlook and limited in economic resources, it saw art as a private matter, a luxury to be made and enjoyed by only a few. The extra­ordinary determination and resiliency of artists John Valentine Haidt, Gustavus Grünewald and Emil Gelhaar has to be admired, for in spite of seemingly insurmount­able difficulties, they be­queathed Bethlehem a heritage of beautiful images by which to remember itself and them.

 

For Further Reading

Engel, Charlene S. Paintings by John Valentine Haidt. Catalog from inaugural exhibition al Payne Gallery. Bethlehem, Pa.: Moravian College, 1982.

Levering, Joseph Mortimer. A History of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, 1741-1892. Bethlehem, Pa.: Times Publishing Co., 1903.

Martin, John Hill. Bethlehem and the Moravians. Privately printed, 1873.

Nelson, Vernon. John Valentine Haidt. Catalog from exhibition at Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Collection. Williamsburg, Va.: Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Collection, 1966.

The Pennsylvania Germans: A Celebration of Their Arts, 1683-1850. Catalog. Philadelphia: The Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1983.

Yates, W. Ross, et al. Bethlehem of Pennsylvania: The First One Hundred Years, 1741-1841. Bethlehem, Pa.: Bethlehem Cham­ber of Commerce, 1968.

____. Bethlehem of Pennsylvania: The Golden Years, 1841-1920. Bethlehem, Pa.: Beth­lehem Chamber of Commerce, 1976.

 

Charlene S. Engel most recently served as assistant professor of art and art history at Moravian College, Bethlehem, and acted as exhibitions coordinator for its Payne Gallery and curator of the college’s art collection. Dr. Engel earned her Ph.D. in art history from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, in 1976. She currently lives in Newport News, Va., and is a painter and freelance art consultant.