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Winterthur announces landmark acquisition of Pennsylvania German decorative arts
Religious text by Andreas Kolb, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, c. 1785. Winterthur Museum purchase with funds provided by the Henry Francis du Pont Collectors Circle. Photo courtesy of Winterthur, by Jim Schneck.

WINTERTHUR, DE.- Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library announces a landmark acquisition from the estate of Pastor Frederick S. Weiser (1935‒2009) containing a large religious text signed by Andreas Kolb that is widely regarded by scholars and collectors as one of the greatest Pennsylvania German fraktur ever made. Fraktur is a Germanic style of decorative work on paper.

As one of the largest acquisitions in the museum's history, it includes 121 fraktur plus nearly 200 textiles and other items in addition to Pastor Weiser’s extensive research papers.

“Winterthur is honored to have acquired this exceedingly important collection. We thus preserve the legacy of an extraordinary scholar and establish Winterthur’s already excellent collection of Pennsylvania German decorative arts as among the top few institutional holdings,” said Winterthur Director Dr. David P. Roselle.

A prolific writer and longtime editor of the Pennsylvania German Society, Pastor Weiser is considered one of the foremost scholars and collectors of Pennsylvania German decorative arts. He published numerous books and articles on Pennsylvania German arts and culture in addition to directing several major research projects that resulted in publications and exhibitions.

"Pastor Weiser's exceptional collection will be preserved largely in its entirety at Winterthur, where it can be studied alongside his extensive research files, which were donated by his estate to the Winterthur Library," said J. Thomas Savage, director of museum affairs at Winterthur.

Assembled by Pastor Weiser over a span of more than forty years and with a careful eye to collecting the most significant or rare examples, the collection includes many objects acquired directly from descendants of the original owner or maker. Many objects were featured in Pastor Weiser’s publications, exhibitions, and lectures and represent a core group of well-documented pieces on which scholars rely.

Linda Eaton, Winterthur’s John L. and Marjorie P. McGraw director of collections and senior curator of textiles, added, “We are thrilled to bring the Weiser collection to Winterthur, where the historical and artistic significance of this exceptional collection will be preserved and made accessible to a broad audience.”

Additional highlights from the Weiser fraktur collection include a large alphabet made in 1795 by Jacob Otto, a joiner and fraktur artist who worked in Lancaster County; a spiritual clockworks attributed to itinerant artist Friedrich Krebs; several dozen small drawings that were given to students by their schoolmasters as rewards for good behavior or academic performance; certificates for birth, baptism, and confirmation; bookplates, writing samples (Vorschriften), and cutworks (Scherenschnitte); religious texts, tunebooks, and hymnals; and New Year’s greetings, valentines, and assorted drawings of buildings, people, flowers, and animals.

“This acquisition contains many important forms and artists not previously represented at Winterthur," said Lisa Minardi, assistant curator at Winterthur and a specialist in Pennsylvania German decorative arts who was mentored by Pastor Weiser. "In addition to his extraordinary fraktur collection, Pastor Weiser assembled a highly important group of Pennsylvania German textiles. Winterthur is now one of the leading institutions in the country for the study of Pennsylvania German decorative arts."

Among the textiles acquired by Winterthur are thirty hand towels—long, narrow linen panels embellished with embroidery and drawnwork that were hung on a door for decoration. Most were made by young Schwenkfelder and Mennonite women in Lancaster, Lebanon, and Montgomery Counties. Other noteworthy textiles in the collection include an embroidered handkerchief owned by Maria Huber of Lancaster County and dated 1768; two embroidered pockets, one dated 1781; rare articles of clothing with provenance; small cloth bags used by housewives to save garden seeds from year to year; and bedding—including pieced pillowcases that will help provide context for documenting the use of various printed textile patterns.

Other items include a redware mug stamped by John Bell of Waynesboro, Pennsylvania, and five Easter eggs that were dyed a reddish-brown color with onionskins then decorated by scratching designs through the coating to reveal the white shell. Owing to their extreme fragility, very few early examples have survived. One is dated 1816 and descended in the family of its original owner; another is embellished with the word “EASTER” and came from the area of Gettysburg.

Pastor Weiser had a longstanding relationship with Winterthur, beginning in 1969 when he cataloged and translated the museum’s fraktur collection. Four years later, Winterthur Portfolio published his seminal article “Piety and Protocol in Folk Art: Pennsylvania German Fraktur Birth and Baptismal Certificates.” This was followed by two articles on furniture from the Mahantongo Valley that he co-authored with Mary Hammond Sullivan, a longtime Winterthur docent, and published in The Magazine Antiques (May 1973) and with the Pennsylvania German Society (1980). In 1983, Pastor Weiser contributed a chapter on fraktur for the Winterthur book Arts of the Pennsylvania Germans, which remains a standard reference thirty years later. He was an active friend of Winterthur until his death in 2009, providing input for the museum’s 2011 exhibition, Paint Pattern & People: Furniture of Southeastern Pennsylvania.

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