In her guest post last Friday, Kate Hastings pointed out how common calendars are in Amish homes. Kate noted that while visiting an Amish friend, “I realized that I could see six picture calendars from where I was sitting in the kitchen.” The calendars “featured horses, barns, lighthouses, bluebirds, and wildflowers.”
While you won’t find family portraits on Amish walls, you will find a range of wall decor. Calendars feature heavily, and there’s a reason why. In The Riddle of Amish Culture, Donald Kraybill explains: “Decorative artwork displayed on walls is disdained because it is not useful and because it encourages vanity” (Riddle p. 47).
Ever-useful wall calendars are thus common adornments in Amish homes despite their decorative nature. They often feature images from the natural world–photos of God’s creations, or Norman Rockwell-esque country scenes. And while nature scenes are common, that can vary. My favorite, which I’ve found in a few places, is a calendar featuring cartoon Plain folk in a variety of humorous situations. It seems to be a hit as I’ve seen it in a couple of different states already.
Calendars are useful in another sense. Amish businesses such as buggy shops often give away calendars as an advertising tool. With the number of calendars tacked up in Amish kitchens, basements, and shops, there is no chance of ever forgetting what day it is. I haven’t seen one in an outhouse yet, but then again I haven’t spent much time in Amish outhouses. But you never know when you might be struck by the urge to know what day it is.
Calendars are not the only wall decor you’ll find in Amish homes, however. Many Amish homes feature charts listing zip codes in the home settlement and its related communities. The zip code chart fulfills a useful function (there we go again) and often features a colorful design. Embroidered family registers which list parents and children along with their birth dates (useful, useful–who hasn’t forgotten kid #8’s birthday?) also may contain modest images such as flowers.
Some homes may have framed drawings or plates (not for eating off of, though hey, that would be kinda handy) personalized with the names and birthdates of each newborn baby. These may sit as furniture-top decor or hang on the wall.
And you will also see examples of photos or other images incorporated into what we might call “religiously useful” decor. Framed inspirational sayings or Biblical verses are common in bathrooms; the Ten Commandments may hang over a dinner table.
While this post hits much of the typical wall decor in Amish homes, we are not considering Amish teenagers’ rooms here. That would be another post altogether.
And while some wall items are machine-manufactured, Amish do create much of their own decor, such as the family registers and zip code charts mentioned above. Artistic fingers find other outlets besides these, however. Kraybill notes that “Practical expressions of art are encouraged in quilting patterns, recipes, flower gardens, artistic lettering in Bibles, toys, dolls, crafts, and furniture designs” (Riddle p. 47).
In a few instances Amish have even become painters (the best-known probably being Susie Riehl, a Lancaster watercolor artist). The winter scene below was created by a New York Amish paint-slinger. I’m not sure how many of these he hangs on his own walls, but this one, like his others, is for sale:
Photo credit: New York Amish painting–Karen Johnson-Weiner