Drawn with Spirit: Pennsylvania German Fraktur

“I think that when these pieces are finally hung at the museum, the public will see what an interesting, intelligent, creative group of people the Pennsylvania Germans were…People of German descent are still everywhere in the greater Philadelphia area, and I think they’ll relate to the collection and be proud of their heritage.” -Joan Johnson

As indicated at the end of my post on the exhibition, The Enchanted World of German Romantic Prints, the Philadelphia Museum of Art was to eventually house a collection displaying the colorful creativity of a very well-known form of American folk art (transplanted to Pennsylvania in the New World by German immigrants) known as Fraktur.

(As with the exhibition located at the link above, I used a camera phone to take these photos and so unfortunately most of them are blurrier than I would like. Twenty-four of the images below were found online and not taken by myself.)

Philadelphia Museum of Art:
Drawn with Spirit: Pennsylvania German Fraktur from the Joan and Victor Johnson Collection
February 1, 2015 – April 26, 2015

“Bold, bright, and rich with exuberant images and elaborate lettering, fraktur celebrate milestone moments and everyday joys in the lives of Pennsylvania Germans.

This exhibition celebrates a recent promised gift of more than 230 fraktur to the Museum from art collectors Joan and Victor Johnson. One of the most admired forms of American folk art, fraktur are decorated documents featuring brilliant colors and often whimsical imagery. Transplanted to Pennsylvania by German-speaking immigrants in the 1700s, these hand-drawn or printed works on paper are distinguished by a broken (or “fractured”) style of lettering. Most were executed in ink and watercolor and embellished with hearts, flowers, birds, angels, and other lively motifs. Small yet exuberant, fraktur celebrated important moments in the personal and domestic lives of Pennsylvania Germans. The most common types of fraktur are birth and baptismal certificates, writing samples, house blessings, bookplates, rewards of merit, family records, valentines, New Year’s greetings, and religious subjects or texts.

Philadelphians Joan and Victor Johnson have collected Pennsylvania German fraktur since the late 1950s. According to Joan Johnson, “Fraktur in those days was something we could afford, as my mother would say, with my ‘roast beef money’—anything left over from the budget that week. Whenever I saw something I liked, I bought it.” Gradually, over the course of more than fifty years, the Johnsons assembled one of the finest private holdings of this material in the country. In 2012 they promised all their fraktur to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, thereby more than doubling the Museum’s fraktur collection and exponentially increasing its breadth, depth, and quality. One of the first major American institutions to acquire Pennsylvania German folk art, beginning in the early 1890s, the Museum has one of the most important collections of this type in the United States. The Johnsons’ generous gift will place the Museum’s fraktur on a par with the rest of its Pennsylvania German art.

The exhibition presents works by many of the finest and best known fraktur artists, such as Johann Adam Eyer, Samuel Gottschall, Andreas Kolb, Friedrich Krebs, Henrich Otto, Durs Rudy, Johannes Ernst Spangenberg, and the anonymous scribe nicknamed the Sussel-Washington Artist. It includes examples from many counties of southeastern Pennsylvania—Adams, Berks, Bucks, Cumberland, Dauphin, Lancaster, Lebanon, Lehigh, Montgomery, Northampton, and York, among others—and from New Jersey, New York, and Ohio, as well as Ontario, Canada. A selection of Pennsylvania German decorative arts from the Museum’s collection, including painted furniture, redware pottery, and metalwork, is also on view.”

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Here is an article, Drawn With Spirit: Pennsylvania German Fraktur – From The Joan And Victor Johnson Collection, which gives some information on the couple whose donation to the museum made this exhibition possible. It contains some historical facts concerning this folk-art practice as well as a number of very beautiful images featuring Fraktur art in a home setting.

See also: Pennsylvania Dutch Barn Stars

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2 thoughts on “Drawn with Spirit: Pennsylvania German Fraktur

  1. Pingback: The Enchanted World of German Romantic Prints | Völkisch-Paganism

  2. Pingback: Pennsylvania Dutch Barn Stars | Völkisch Paganism

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