A Look Back in History: Colonial ‘Grossa Schranks’ and Paint-Decorated Furniture

Perhaps the most outstanding wardrobe the father-son duo created was the eight flat heart decorated kas they painted for Martin Eisenhauer in 1794, discovered in Greenwich Township, Berks County near historic Kutztown, a few miles away from their Oley Township water-powered sawmill.
Perhaps the most outstanding wardrobe the father-son duo created was the eight flat heart decorated kas they painted for Martin Eisenhauer in 1794, discovered in Greenwich Township, Berks County near historic Kutztown, a few miles away from their Oley Township water-powered sawmill.
Jacob and John Bieber were sought after carpenters who operated a Colonial sawmill run by the Bieber Creek in Oley Township and among several commissioned French Huguenot artists who decorated their homemade furniture for many fellow PA Dutch families in the area of Lobachsville founded by fellow Huguenot, Peter Lobach. They would eventually migrate to the Lehigh Valley of the Dutch Country and continue to make furniture for other Germanic pioneers in Salisbury Township by 1786.
Jacob and John Bieber were sought after carpenters who operated a Colonial sawmill run by the Bieber Creek in Oley Township and among several commissioned French Huguenot artists who decorated their homemade furniture for many fellow PA Dutch families in the area of Lobachsville founded by fellow Huguenot, Peter Lobach. They would eventually migrate to the Lehigh Valley of the Dutch Country and continue to make furniture for other Germanic pioneers in Salisbury Township by 1786.

Because few Germanic homes had closets, clothing was kept in a “Grossa Schrank” (Colonial wardrobe) made of either walnut hardwood or more commonly from a soft poplar wood or pine. However, since these Deitschers enjoyed colorful decorations, quite often the poplar wood was stipple-painted to break up the monotony of rustic pioneer interiors. Therefore, in the multi-colored DeTurk wardrobe which brought nearly one million dollars was most likely part of the Isaac Deturk estate and is another good example of a Colonial Schrank/Shrank/Kas/Wardrobe done in the Oley Valley-Alsatian Hills fashion of colorful interior furniture, and quite large dating 1785. Dower chests, on the other end, were commonly put at the foot end of a bed.

Wardrobes made in walnut, instead of painted poplar wood, were often more revered than folk art decorated ones in Georgian mansions of the Federal period with other Chippendale furniture. But nowhere were the artistic homemade crafts of the PA Dutch people as Germanically-inspired as in the heart of the Dutch Country, where Pennsylvania Dutch cupboards were brimming full of sgraffito and earthenware slip designs made by local potteries. Even the 18th century cast iron waffle irons were indicative of German Rhine Valley designs made by local iron furnaces as well ecclesiastical church pewter communion cups and plates to honor their freedom of religion way of life.

The variety of European immigrants who pioneered the Oley Valley brought with them a large numbers of early settlers to this American folk frontier region, but the vast number from the Rhine Valley of Europe soon developed the unique folk style of the region. Their Germanic Dialect, very popular in central ethnic folk art styles of this agrarian locale, was spoken by people who hailed from the Europe, specifically Germany, who gathered from areas of Switzerland to France and the Netherlands. Thereby, these PA Dutch immigrant natives whose religion was written in German were well known for Pennsylvania German folk art documents that were gaily colored and inscribed in 18th Century lettering to document their baptisms announcements. And these colorful Fraktur and marriage drawings of tulips, carnations, and distelfinks were transferred onto their dower chests and early American wardrobes together with stylized stippled raised panels on local furniture.

The English Quakers rarely decorated dower chests for their newborn children other than lettering their name and the date of a child’s birth or the presentation date on the front of a dower chest. However, Rhinelanders, who decorated birth certificates (Fraktur) and religious broadsides for their children, enjoyed expressing their parental love by paying a folk artist to design a lavish Americana folk art chest for their children to hold their dowry until they got married. Few children were in need of a wardrobe until they got married. And since family wardrobes were then a necessity, these large hardwood or softwood paint-decorated parlor pieces were also often elaborately decorated and most often the most beautiful centerpiece found in a hallway or parlor, especially if the home was a very large manor house or Georgian mansion. Some folk artists in the Dutch Country even paint decorated the interior doors and rooms of our most stylish interiors, as well as fireplace mantels and corner cupboards.

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