Calendars, zip code charts, and other Amish wall decor

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.”

amish calendar
Inspirational scenes and sayings feature heavily in Amish wall decor

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.

lancaster amish zip codes
This chart in Lancaster County features zip codes for Big Valley, Smicksburg, and other PA Amish communities

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.

amish horse wall photo
Useful for remembering what your horse and buggy look like

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:

amish painting

Photo credit: New York Amish painting–Karen Johnson-Weiner

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    30 Comments

    1. Al in Ky.

      The calendar with humorous scenes you mentioned
      may be the Truck Patch news calendar and the
      artist is Christy Otto from Topeka, Indiana. The
      calendar can be purchased at the Mt. Hope Produce Auction. By the way, I think it would be interesting to read a post sometime about the Truck Patch Connection which is an organization of Amish and Mennonite produce growers. Also, I love the artwork of D. L. Miller, an Amish artist from Munfordville, Ky., who paints scenes on turkey feathers as well as canvas. I have seen his paintings for sale in Amish stores in several states.

    2. Love the zip code idea – how cute!!

    3. As Plain Anglicans, we have had this dilemma – how do we decorate our house? Our tastes run to simplicity anyway, but our marriage and rearrangement of housing meant I sold some “worldly” paintings. We do have wall ornaments that Erik would recoognize – icons and cricifixes, which one would never see in an Amish house!

    4. Jessica

      I noticed the “Family Bible Library” volumes in “plain” view in one of those pics there. 😉

    5. kristin jager

      The zip code chart is lovely. I never considered the idea that these type of adornments or wall decorations would need to be “useful ” in order to be displayed. The Amish are really so practical. I think it is wonderful that they display calendars featuring God’ creation. I loved reading your article and viewing the photos.

    6. Al in KY, that rings a bell. Now I wish I had picked one up myself but I guess I don’t have quite the instinct for calendars that Amish do 🙂 D.L. Miller I have heard of but don’t think I’ve yet seen any paintings of his…hey and maybe you are the one to write the post on the Truck Patch!

    7. Magdalena you are of course correct–crucifixes and icons figure greatly in the Catholic church, which is a 180 from what you’ll find among Amish.

      I am always struck by the contrast between Mass in an elaborately decorated medieval Cathedral (like in Krakow, PL) vs. Amish service in a cinder-block basement.

    8. Beth, Kristin, glad you enjoyed it.

      I won’t say that every decorative thing you find in an Amish home has a useful purpose, but usefulness helps.

      And of course the more conservative the group the plainer the decor tends to be.

    9. Jessica, good eye on the FBL 😉 This is actually a set that my friend picked up used (not from me, but I’ve forgiven him 🙂 ), thus the slightly worn look. The books you see here are just a sliver of his library.

      Alas, I don’t have my own library card here, but when I’m staying over I at least get to use the reading room!

    10. Kate Hastings

      Erik,
      I can’t comment on the outhouse, but phone shanties definitely have calendars. An Amish friend recently experienced a brush fire on her farm, and when the wind shifted and the fire threatened her phone shanty, she risked immolation to run to the shanty and rescue the calendar (and homemade phone book). The calendar had all the childrens’ doctor appointments on it along with which driver was hired for each appointment.

    11. Kate, I guess sometimes you’ve got to take those risks…probably saved a lot of work re-gathering phone numbers and reconfirming drivers and appointments! Glad she made it okay though.

    12. Hi Erik — You are right about the calendars; they are in every room, and sometimes several in one room. I have a pair of photos I took during my recent visit. In the first photo you can see the dining room table and there are three calendars visible. I turned around on the spot to take the next photo of the adjoining kitchen area, in which you can another photo. At least one of the calendars is from us, featuring nature scenes from California. The others are either nature-related or feature horses. In years past I’ve seen “hillbilly” calendars with comic scenes hanging in their kitchen. I wonder if they might be by the artist mentioned above?

      I don’t recall ever seeing a zip code calendar, but birthday calendars are in almost every home. They list the birthdays of the most immediate family members. I took a photo of one from my March trip that has 106 birthdays listed.

      Another common wallhanging is antler trophies. Almost every Amish home has antlers hanging on the walls mounted on simple, hand-made wooden plaques. Many have the year noted under the antlers, either hand-carved or with sticker numbers, like the kind you would use on a mailbox. They double as coat or hat hangers.

      I’ll post photos of the things I’ve mentioned on your Facebook wall so it will be easier to understand.

    13. Keith–much enjoyed what you shared here. You’re right you do see antlers a good bit. The fact that they make nice coat/hat hangers is nice cover 😉

      In fact I can recall a couple Amish homes I’ve been in that must have had a TON of hats!

      And great photos on the AA Facebook page. Maybe I need to do a follow-up post?

    14. Debbie Welsh

      Hi Erik & Everyone,

      I have hanging right next to me a big calendar advertising Zook’s Quilts, Crafts, & Furniture on Gap Road in Strasburg (Lancaster County, PA, for those who don’t know), and it depicts real photos of the Amish at work, school, and play, and I was wondering if they would hang something like this in their homes, or if it was produced just for tourist?

      At any rate, it has gorgeous photos taken by a photographer named Terry Ross from Marietta, PA, and when the calendar is done I plan to frame alot of them.

    15. Kate

      Keith,
      I wouldn’t say almost every Amish home have antlers hanging. The Amish around here (multiple districts) are not allowed to have any antlers or any deer hangings. For them hunting isn’t a sport but for food (though I would say between the young boys and youth it’s more for fun than necessity) and I can easily see how hanging antlers could become a pride issue for the boys. These are Old Order Amish that don’t allow it here but I’m sure many do allow it.

      I haven’t seen a zip code calender but I too have seen the birthday ones. Normally, in this district, the couples will have a big picture of scenes and a clock or something. Then they will write their names & wedding details along with who had part. Those are commonly hung up in Amish homes here. Calenders aren’t as big here but I imagine in the areas with more Amish they would be because there would be more businesses that make them. Some are so pretty!

      Kate

    16. Hi Kate – My friends in southern Michigan are Old Order Amish also, but I think there are many variations on community restrictions. In that area they only display the antlers mounted with a patch of fur-covered skull, never the whole head, or at least not that I’ve ever seen. I suppose if an individual community begins to sense there are pride issues with hunting season trophies they deal with them in the best ways they can.

    17. Kate

      Keith,
      That explains it 🙂 The Amish in Southern MI are a little more liberal than the West MI Amish though they’re both Old Order. The Amish here don’t allow much wall ornaments. I can see why they would allow the antlers though for practical reasons.

    18. Marcus Yoder

      Some of the Amish are big on different clock’s. I have an Amish cousin that has clock’s that the number’s will move around on the hour, and play a tune. Marcus Yoder

    19. Good point Marcus, I did leave clocks out, though they can be pretty decorative (and musical). Also, grandfather clocks, which I guess technically isn’t “wall decor”.

    20. Kate and Keith, definitely right on the variation between communities. The 2 places I’ve personally seen the most antlers are northern Indiana and Holmes County. Also many larger Amish settlements will have an Amish taxidermist.

    21. Debbie, that kind of calendar would be less likely to be hung in an Amish home, though I am pretty sure you could see it in some.

      Since Zook’s is a retail quilts place, there is a good chance that your calendar was intended to be F.E.E. (For English Eyes) 😉

    22. Mona

      Nice article Erik…..as always…..’
      Just visited an Amish General Store & Bakery in Bainbridge Tues. and noticed several teenagers riding bicycles like we ride ! Last year I was there, and only saw what looked like a bicycle but with no pedals…..they stood on a flat piece between both tires and pushed with the other foot…..so is this something new now ? Have they gone to pedal bicycles? So much faster than pushing with your foot !!!!! Just wondering…….and who gives to ok for them to use bicycles?????

    23. Mary Brandenburg

      In Holmes County Ohio, a popular wall hanging is a Sound & Motion Clock. Marcus mentioned this earlier and I am just adding to it. There is a great store on C. R. 77, north of Berlin, on the way to Mt. Hope, called Time & Optics. They carry a very large array of Sound & Motion clocks. It’s a great place to be every hour, on the hour…. except on Thursdays and Sundays – they are closed!

    24. Mona, you’ll have to remind me what state you are in–I am drawing a blank at this late (Polish) hour on Bainbridge.

      Sounds like last year they had scooters, this year bicycles…maybe these are different kids or maybe they are allowed now.

      Generally the scooters are considered a more conservative choice for 2-wheeled transportation.

    25. Time and Optics Amish shop location Ohio

      Mary I’ve since regretted that I didn’t get a chance to interview the Time and Optics owner for my Amish business book.

      I think it would have made a great addition as an interesting though uncommon Amish business. They have quite the selection of birdwatcher binoculars too from what I understand. Also clocks as you mention, and I believe sights? For those that are interested like Mary said they are right in the heart of Holmes County, Ohio, off CR 77.

    26. Mona

      Scooters eh? They looked just like a bicycly except no pedals, no seat…your foot did all the work…..that was in Ohio…….

    27. Mona

      Sorry mispelled bicycle…..we need an edit button on here Erik…….so we can edit before it sends the msg. thru…..hope you’re working on it 🙂

    28. Kristen

      Interesting discussion on calendars. We were at the Ethridge, TN settlement yesterday and my son asked about the plain calendar hanging in an Amish workshop. The Amish man said they didn’t allow any sort of pictures in their group. (Swartzentruber). He said it got so hard to find plain calendars that he finally asked his local bank to have them made especially for the Amish. So the bank produces these special calendars with a few word-only ads, but no pictures. He also went on to explain some of the Amish banking beliefs.
      We visited Lancaster last summer and the differences between these groups was amazing.
      Thanks for a wonderful site!

    29. Susan Schafer

      calendars

      The first time I visited Ethridge TN I was visiting with a nice young woman and somehow the fact that I am a Girl Scout came up. I had to explain to her what one was. She said she had always seen gs birthday on her calendar but never knew what one was. It was a learning experience for both of us since it had never occurred to me that someone would not know! She was very sweet and i try to make it by her place to buy some good jelly !

    30. Dwane

      Bainbridge , Ohio

      I have friends that I drive for occasionally and they are Old Order Amish.
      I recently took them to an appointment near the bakery you are speaking of and I asked my friend why these Amish rode bicycles. He told me this settlement is called by his settlement “horse and buggy Mennonites”.

      I’ve also noted that their clothing differs from Old Order in that some wear running shoes and store bought clothing along with machine made straw hats.

      Hope this helps, Dwane