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Curator Lisa Minardi discusses the elaborately embroidered cotton and linen hand towels that were often hung from hooks on the outside of a cupboard door for display.
One summer when she was a child, Lisa
Minardi attended a “Colonial craft” day camp at the historic Peter Wentz
Farmstead near her home in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, where
activities focused on local German culture and early American farm
Unlike the state history she remembered from school — mostly William
Penn, Philadelphia and the Quakers — she learned that Germans also lived in earlyPennsylvania.
In fact, there were a lot of Germans, who by 1790 made up 40 percent
of the population in the southeastern part of the state. And they all
seemed to have a tradition of surrounding themselves with brightly
colored and whimsically decorated items.
“I was totally hooked,” says Minardi, now a University of Delaware
alumna and doctoral student, who is curator of a new exhibition at
Winterthur Museum titled “A Colorful Folk: Pennsylvania Germans and the
Art of Everyday Life.” The exhibit features many examples of fraktur, a
decorated type of manuscripts and documents such as birth and baptismal
certificates, as well as household items ranging from tiny pincushions
to an elaborately carved tall-case clock.
“These people decorated everything,” Minardi says she soon realized.
“Cooking utensils, the cloth hanging behind the cooking utensils to
protect the wall from dirt … if they could paint a tulip on it, 20
tulips were better.”
Minardi pursued her fascination with the Pennsylvania German (also
known, less accurately, as Pennsylvania Dutch) culture throughout her
academic career. After undergraduate studies in history at Ursinus
College, she earned a master’s degree in 2006 from UD’s Winterthur Program in American Material Culture and is a current doctoral student in the Department of History.
Now an assistant curator at Winterthur, she created “A Colorful Folk”
primarily from objects that are part of the museum’s collection. Many
were collected by Henry Francis du Pont, who first opened the family
home as a museum, and in 2013 Winterthur greatly expanded that
collection by acquiring items from the estate of Pastor Frederick
Weiser, who led Lutheran congregations in York and Adams counties and
died in 2009, was a noted scholar and collector of Pennsylvania German
fraktur and folk art. He was also a mentor to Minardi, who says she
first contacted him after reading his books on the subject while she was
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Minardi points to an example of fraktur, the colorfully decorated documents such as baptismal certificates that are a hallmark of Pennsylvania German folk art.
In all, Winterthur purchased 121 fraktur and almost 200 textiles from
Weiser’s estate, which also donated his papers to the Winterthur
Minardi is a student in the UD history department’s History of
American Civilization program, where she is focusing her research on
Germans in 18th century Philadelphia.
She notes that, contrary to what many people believe, Pennsylvania
Germans lived in urban as well as rural areas and that 90 percent of
them belonged to Lutheran or German Reformed churches, while only a
small proportion were members of such religious groups as Amish or
She is the author of Drawn with Spirit: Pennsylvania German Fraktur from the Joan and Victor Johnson Collection.
More about the region’s Pennsylvania German exhibits
“A Colorful Folk” opened at Winterthur on March 1 and will run through Jan. 3, 2016.
Its focus is on the use of decorated objects in daily life, including
such items as cloth bags to hold garden seeds, embroidered towels,
painted wooden chests, weather vanes and other metalwork, quilted
pillowcases and a 2.5-inch-diameter pincushion sewn together from 86
tiny pieces of printed fabric.
Despite the colorful designs, often featuring birds, flowers and
hearts, most of the objects were typical household items, although some
were displayed “just for nice” rather than being in everyday use. The
fraktur, also richly decorated, hang in frames in the exhibit, but
Minardi says that in most households they were considered private
documents and kept out of sight in a desk drawer or cupboard.
Related exhibitions of Pennsylvania German fraktur and decorative art
are on view at the Philadelphia Museum of Art through April 26 and the
Free Library of Philadelphia through June 14. Minardi is guest curator
of the Free Library exhibition.