A Look Back in History: 
Here and Abroad: colorful personalities interested and educated on our culture

Submitted photo - AFI Of the many colorful and knowledgeable proud Pennsylvania Dutchmen I had the privilege of meeting and some calling my friends, Dick Machmer used to throw out comments or his thoughts in order to elicit a response from me but really to test my knowledge on PA Dutch folk art, its authenticity and sometimes motifs, especially of pottery and dower chests. I certainly appreciated that looking back now but always found myself a little more prepared or formal in his presence as a 20-something year old back then.

A few years back when Dr. Michael Werner, editor of the “Hiwwe wie Driwwe” (translated Over Here, and Over There) German-American periodical, visited our American Folklife Institute offices in Kutztown, he was overjoyed to see a 19th Century issue of the “American Patriot” (Kutztown Patriot). Since we had a number of these historic original issues in our library, our Director, Richard Shaner gave him an original copy for his office. His newsletter that many Pennsylvania Dutch counties contribute to, including staff at American Folklife, is a small bilingual newspaper just like the Kutztown Patriot of yesterday and printed in German and English, as former American Patriot. Werner’s illustrated, non-profit, cultural newspaper highlights Pennsylvania German/Dutch Folklore to his primary German audience.

Furthermore, in December of 2012, our American Folklife offices had the pleasure of hosting a number of local PA Deitsch people in collaboration with the PA German Society with a number of technicians and producers all the way from Munich, Germany to record our German-American PA Dutch heritage; known simply as the ongoing “PA Dutch Folklife Culture brought to America,” that traced back as early as the 17th and 18th centuries at William Penn’s invitation. Familiar with various ethnic people whose ancestors also came to America to take advantage of democracy, it is realized the PA Dutch or Deitsch are not the only immigrants who have retained their ethnic heritage; but that this nation, filled with immigrants, had brought forth a unique Civilization of the best of the world’s ethnic heritages.

But, in sharing the modern PA Dutch folklife of local German Dialect-speaking descendants with these European German guests, the conclusion drawn was how much we Dutchmen cherish our American ideals, and no longer have completely retained our hardcore Germanic “ethnocentrisms.” However, these television technicians and producers from Munich were such Universalists, having mastered the English language; we 17th (and 18th) Century descendants were able to converse with them in English as though they were born here in the United States. Our PA Deitsch Dialect speakers shared with them their American humanitarian points of view that were American folkways, some of which had their origin in our historic, habitual Rhineland folk customs.

I was a young college graduate when I first realized I had a dual identity living in southeastern Pennsylvania, besides being an American citizen. But the importance of being a local PA Dutchman did not astonish me until I frequented a Lehigh County auction sale with charismatic Ralph Zettlemoyer auctioning off another urban PA Dutchman’s collection. Eager mostly to acquire some of his contemporary redware I was interested in, along with possibly bidding on primitives, I was successful in buying a piece or two of Seagreaves pottery. However, when I bid on a colorful, rare, early American decorated PA Dutch folk art baptism fraktur, I was upset that it went so overwhelmingly high that I could not afford it.

A very modest antique collector at the time, I quickly asked Dick Machmer, a well-known folk art collector and historian, why this hand done German lettered specimen brought such an amazing price among the local crowd gathered there in Fogelsville. A veteran antique dealer, whom I knew mostly from there but other auctions, as well, said to me “You’re Pennsylvania Dutch, aren’t you?” I replied, “My grandmother still speaks the German Dialect,” to which he summarized that this decorated birth certificate had remarkable folk art decorations, besides being lettered in a German script, known as Fraktur. He went on to say that this folk art PA Dutch example would bring four times as much as the bidder paid or more for it among rare high-end folk art collectors at Sotheby’s New York Auction Gallery. Another lesson learned!

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