Studio B Fine Art Gallery ‘On the Road' with Exhibit ‘Elements of Fraktur'

Studio B Fine Art Gallery takes its artist members “On the Road” with an exhibit entitled “Elements of Fraktur,” scheduled to open on Sunday, Oct. 13, at Schwenkfelder Library and Heritage Center, Pennsburg, PA, at a reception from 2 p.m.to 4 p.m.

The exhibit runs through Jan. 17, 2014, and is part of Studio B’s annual Fall into Winter Artists’ Studio and Gallery Tour, scheduled for Nov. 23-24, inviting visitors to seven artists’ studios and galleries.

The Challenge: Susan Biebuyck, gallery director at Studio B--Boyertown’s Fine Art Gallery, encouraged the studio’s 80+ artist members to be inspired by the colorful folk art known as Fraktur, popular with the 19th century Pennsylvania German folk culture, and to submit work using fresh and creative approaches for an exclusive exhibit to be held at Schwenkfelder Library and Heritage Center entitled “Elements of Fraktur.” Light refreshments will be served during this “Meet the Artist” opportunity.

While fraktur properly takes its name from the text or wording of hand-drawn documents that recorded births, baptisms, marriages, deaths, house blessings, for example, the fraktur maker almost always embellished his work with drawings of various birds (real and imaginary), tulips, angels, mermaids, soldiers, animals, and geometric patterns and designs of his fancy. Adapting the 19th century folk art style by 21st century artists for modern audiences has proved to be a most rewarding and instructive challenge for the artists and promises a most interesting show.

The mission of the Schwenkfelder Library & Heritage Center is to collect, preserve, exhibit and interpret books, manuscripts and artifacts related to the Schwenkfelders, the people of southeastern Pennsylvania in general and the Perkiomen Valley in particular.

The Heritage Center offers a variety of tours and programs for groups of all ages specifically on a selected area of interest. Facilities can also accommodate groups for lunch. In addition to tours at the Heritage Center, programs can be held off-site. Current tour and program topics include:

* Fraktur–A Pennsylvania German Folk Art

* Early Pennsylvania Immigration as told through the Schwenkfelder immigration story

* Pennsylvania German Culture–focusing on the Upper Perkiomen Valley Area

* Schwenkfelder History–Upper Perkiomen Valley History

* Caspar Schwenckfeld & Schwenkfelder Theology

Schwenkfelder Library & Heritage Center is located at 105 Seminary Street, Pennsburg, PA 18073. Contact Us: info@schwenkfelder.com, 215–679–3103

Fraktur: Then and Now

~Robert Wood

During the one hundred years between 1720 and 1820 well over 100,000 German-speaking immigrants entered Pennsylvania, most of them through the port of Philadelphia. In just five, the years between 1749 and 1754, nearly 37,000 Germanic immigrants came through that port and spread throughout Pennsylvania and beyond. During that century, some townships such as New Hanover, which then extended to the Schuylkill River and included the present Potts groves and Pottstown, were almost exclusively populated by German-speaking residents.

Although they came from many different Germanic states (there was no German nation until 1871), they settled close together so their traditions and dialects blended to form the Pennsylvania German folk culture. This Germanic heritage found expression in all aspects of their lives: farming methods, clothing, food, speech, architecture, church, school, and, colorful folk arts, one of which specifically is our theme today---fraktur (pronounced frok-tour).

Fraktur is the term for the colorful, highly artistic and frequently elaborate illuminated folk art executed in ink and watercolors on paper. The term “illuminated” refers back to the pre-printing era when the initial letter or word in a manuscript was decorated with elaborate tracery and miniature designs executed in bright colors. “Fraktur” has the same root as fracture and refers to writing wherein the letters are broken from each other, or as we would say “printed,” rather than written in cursive.

Consequently, fraktur properly takes its name from the text or wording of hand drawn documents that recorded births, baptisms, marriages, deaths, house blessings or other such matters. The fraktur maker almost always embellished his work with drawings of various birds (real and imaginary), tulips, angels, mermaids, soldiers, animals, and geometric patterns and designs of his fancy.

Today the term is used a little more loosely and also describes all sorts of folk art on paper. The most common fraktur that survive today are probably the printed “certificate” forms that were filled in and painted. Even before 1800 certificates for births, baptisms and weddings were commercially printed with borders and outlines of birds, flowers and other decorative designs with blank spaces left for the names. These printed forms were often sold by itinerants and at rural stores. A skilled calligrapher, perhaps the itinerant himself, would fill in the information and maybe do the painting. Although not strictly speaking “certificates” since no one in authority had signed them, they have been regarded as legal documents. Framed, these today adorn the walls of many proud descendents.

Baptismal certificates, “Taufschein” in the dialect, are of particular value to genealogists since in addition to the name of the child there are recorded the names of the father and mother, with her maiden name, the date of birth, the place of birth, usually the county and township being given, the name of the officiating clergyman with his denomination and the names of the witnesses.

Other than these printed certificates, there all sorts of naïve folk drawings, and paintings without text that are found on bookplates (the blank pages at the front of books), inside book covers and on all manner of paper such as journals, stand alone drawings or even as mere doodles. These are prized today by collectors.

Finally, thousands of frakturs have been created by Lutheran, Reformed, Mennonite, and Schwenkfelder school teachers and later public school teachers as rewards to students or as writing models.

Aside from the pre printed birth and baptism forms filled in by a calligrapher, the creation of Fraktur art diminished in the nineteenth century with practically none made after about 1850.