A Look Back in History: 
Henry “Hank” Kauffman educated a nation with his numerous books on the PA Dutch

Submitted photo by AFI Always a practical people, very seldom will you find ìfancyî adornments on the farmsteads of Plain People. This specimen is a rare example.

Over the years I have met a few authorities and folk characters on the PA Dutch Culture, but the first book I was given by my folklore mentor, Richard Shaner that laid the foundation for me was by Professor Henry J. Kauffman. The book titled The Pennsylvania Dutch: American Folk Art written in 1964, reprinted many times over soon was added to by a growing collection on my end eager to read and learn as much as I could on heritage. Kauffman did a very thorough, prolific job and was a descendant of the Oley Valley where his ancestors, the 1766 Jacob Kauffman’s farm house is located and famed Petersheim cannon.

Affectionately called “Hank” by his former Millersville University students and friends, he was a very knowledgeable professor on our near 330+-year-old American frontier culture. He also realized our native Pennsylvania Deitsch pioneers were famous worldwide for their quaint PA Dutch folk culture, and as a professor of folk crafts and paint-decorated folk furniture was proud that our PA Dutch immigrants had developed a unique form of American folk art more famous than any other ethnic group that had immigrated to Colonial America.

A collector, himself, of early American antique folk art furniture, “Hank” and my mentor shared a lifelong quest with his Oley Valley neighbor, Dr. Donald Shelly, the retired head of the Ford Museum of Americana material civilization, collecting rare and outstanding pieces of folk art whether Fraktur or furniture and continue on the American folklife movement Dr. Shoemaker had created. Also, as a devout reader of Dr. Alfred L. Shoemaker’s old Pennsylvania Dutchman and later Pennsylvania Folklife magazines I now had access to, I became very familiar with the vast examples of PA Dutch Fraktur folk art designs, as well as 17th and 18th Century early PA Dutch decorated furniture.

A dedicated professor, teaching in the Metal Arts program at Millersville State College in those early days, he was also a writer for Dr. Shoemaker being very proud of his Pennsylvania Dutch heritage. His immigrant ancestors were also known for decorating their furniture in early American folk art style, as the frequently referenced nearby Bieber family, which they had brought over to America from the Rhine Valley of Europe. But here in the New World in a land of plenty, all had the resources to develop an American style of folk art never dreamed about in the Old Country. Thereby, the creativity of these Rhinelanders blossomed into an amazing folk art form that was nurtured by freedom of religion and free private enterprise, thus becoming American Folk Art.

In Dr. Kauffman’s American Folk Art book, he pictured several colorful folk art dower chests that were representative of the different counties of the PA Dutch people, according to their folk art motifs. But the barn stars he referenced or more popularly known as “Hex signs,” that were boldly painted on the Church Dutch barns outside of Lancaster County he wrote were inspired by native Fraktur religious documents such as baptism certificates, shared by many authorities. Prior Kauffman’s Pennsylvania Dutch American Folk Art book by only a few years, neighbor, Dr. Donald Shelley did an amazing research study published in 1961 titled Fraktur Writings and Illuminated Manuscripts of the Pennsylvania Germans.

Henry Kauffman, at first, was reluctant to claim our ethnic folk art as American, since as early American pioneers were so widely known as the PA Deitsch people that spoke and wrote a German dialect. But regardless of the fact that we spoke a German dialect, our folk art symbols of Fraktur designs and decorated dower chests were early American. In Dr. Kauffman’s folk art book, he also included butter print carvings, as well as PA Dutch tin cut-out cookie cutters that were among the acculturated examples adopted by the American public, but of course, the hex signs painted on our Swiss bank barns throughout the Dutch country were classic examples adored.

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