Facebook circa 1800

How did early Pennsylvania German settlers record the stories of their lives? If you think the answer is a two syllable word beginning with the letter F, you are right. Fraktur is a font and a decorative form of storytelling.

“A Colorful Folk: Pennsylvania Germans and the Art of Everyday Life” exhibit of folk art opens this weekend at Winterthur. The objects in the exhibit tell two stories. They tell of the individuals, families and community which created the artwork. There is also the story of reunion of objects once estranged in history.

Exhibit curator, Lisa Minardi, has created the exhibit from the collections of Henry Francis du Pont and Frederick S. Weiser in addition to objects from more than a dozen private collections. In 2014, Winterthur purchased 121 fraktur and nearly 200 textiles from the estate of Frederick S. Weiser.

The exhibit is arranged in sections: Introduction, Looking Closely, Home, Church, School and Nation. Each section has a full wall sized fraktur. Minardi said those walls, particularly “The Schoolmaster,” would be a great background for a selfie.

birth certificatesBaptism certificates were often rendered as fraktur. They were designed to convey the genealogy of the family as well as a being a work of art. Fortunately for preservationists, families often kept these ornate documents in drawers thereby protecting them from environmental degradation. The certificates for four siblings are exhibited together. In the case in beneath the certificates are the tools used to create the artwork.

Alphabet Sampler



Upper case Fraktur refers to the font which was used in printing the Gutenberg bible. Lower case fraktur refers to the decorative manuscripts. The “Alphabet Sampler” shows the letters of the Fraktur alphabet in the upper left corner. Underneath are the Roman and script alphabets.

Many of the texts contain severe religious admonitions, for example, “O noble heart, bethink your end.”  So common was the expression it often appears as OEHBDE (O Edel Herz Bedenk Dein Ende).


Ready for a catch



Some of the art is whimsical. The Flowerpot for Sarah Bixler is attributed to Absalom Bixler or his brother Jacob from Lancaster County. "Ready for a Catch" is printed on the side of the pot as the cat is ready to pounce.

The exhibit goes beyond fraktur to include furniture, metal work and pottery.



The Nation




The section entitled "The Nation" records the assimilation of the Germans into their new country. The eagle was the subject of many forms of art fraktur, wood carving, metal working and pottery.





Minardi has been studying the German language, culture and art since she was a pre-teen. Minardi is in the final stages of her doctoral dissertation at the University of Delaware. She has stories and detailed knowledge of each piece.


ThCooking Utensilse set of six cooking utensils had been separated. Three pieces were in the du Pont collection and the other three were in the Weiser collection. They are now reunited as part of the permanent collection at Winterthur. The handles have little hearts on them and were probably given as a wedding present.



Winterthur is one of three fraktur exhibits will be open by next Monday evening. The Philadelphia Museum of Art exhibit "Drawn with Spirit” is already open and will run through April 26. The Winterthur Exhibit opens Sunday and runs through January 3, 2016. The Free Library of Philadelphia’s exhibit opens Monday, March 2 and runs through July 18. Minardi has worked on all three exhibits.

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About Emily Myers

Emily Myers has lived and worked in Chadds Ford for over thirty years.  She founded the parent company of Chadds Ford Live, Decision Design Research, Inc., in 1982.  ChaddsFordLive.com represents the confluence of Myers' long time, deep involvement in technology and community. Myers was a founding member of the Chadds Ford Business Association and currently serves on its board of directors.  Her hobbies include bridge, golf, photography and Tai Chi. She lives with her husband, Jim Lebedda, in Chadds Ford Township.



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