In today’s post, Janneken Smucker discusses Fraktur, an art form once popular among the Pennsylvania German people.
Fraktur and Family Records
Among the decorative items in some Amish homes—both today and in the past—have been ornamental family records, some stitched, some inked, some produced on painted glass (a unique genre that clearly deserves its own post!). These records mark marriages, births, and baptisms, and are acceptable ways to add decoration to Amish homes.
The Philadelphia Museum of Art currently has on exhibit a remarkable collection of the precursors to these contemporary family records in the form of Fraktur, decorative documents made by Pennsylvania Germans. Those who owned, commissioned, or created Fraktur include the Amish and other sectarian groups, as well as the much larger Lutheran and Reformed groups, who interacted regularly with Amish and Mennonites in their shared German dialect through the 18th and 19th centuries. The exhibit, Drawn with Spirit: Pennsylvania German Fraktur from the Joan and Victor Johnson Collection runs through April 26.
The Fraktur on display include many family records, as well as book plates, such as this one created by the so-called “Weaverland artist” (many Fraktur artists have not been identified by name because few signed their work, but scholars have been able to classify Fraktur by style and attribute it to unnamed artists) as well as drawings of the natural world, whimsical creatures, and scenes from contemporary life.
Along with the beautiful Fraktur examples, the Museum has on exhibit many related Pennsylvania German decorative arts, where we can see shared motifs, such as the ubiquitous distelfink birds, tulips, and hearts, decorating redware plates, painted chests, small boxes, and even cookie cutters. My favorite is a small tape loom created by John Drissell for Elisabeth Stauffer in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, in 1794. Such a loom could be used to weave ribbon and binding.
While not included in this exhibit, some Amish continued to create Fraktur into the 20th century. Perhaps most regarded is Barbara Ebersol (1846-1922) of Lancaster County, whose work as a Fraktur artist has been documented in Louise Stoltzfus’s Two Amish Folk Artists: The Story of Henry Lapp & Barbara Ebersol (Good Books, 1996) and David Luthy’s Amish Folk Artist Barbara Ebersol: Her Life, Fraktur, and Death Record Book (Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society, 1995).