An amaz­ingly cre­ative folk art de­vel­oped in the New World

The Boyertown Area Times - - OPINION - Richard L.T. Orth

Here in the New World in a land of plenty, pi­o­neer im­mi­grants had the re­sources to de­velop an Amer­i­can style of folk art never dreamed about in the Old Coun­try, hence 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! Al­though the Plain Dutch, such as the Amish and Old Or­der Men­non­ites, sel­dom en­gaged in bold col­or­ful folk art as seen by the Church PA Dutch, both groups were known for their re­li­gious folk art writ­ings, known as Frak­tur, in the 17th and 18th Cen­turies. How­ever, many of the off­spring born in the New World were given col­or­ful folk art dower chests to cel­e­brate the be­gin­nings of that branch of the fam­ily in a land of free­dom of re­li­gion and lib­erty.

Al­though there are still a few iso­lated PA Dutch di­alect-speak­ing Plain Peo­ple still fol­low­ing prim­i­tive folk­ways, not ad­justed to mod­ern Amer­ica, many of these re­li­gious sects born out of Free­dom of re­li­gion are true-grit Amer­i­cans, sub­scrib­ing to the United States Con­sti­tu­tion. But, in shar­ing the mod­ern PA Dutch folk­life of lo­cal Ger­man Di­alect speak­ing de­scen­dants with any Euro­pean Ger­man vis­i­tors to our “Dutch Coun­try,” the con­clu­sion usu­ally drawn was how much we Dutch­men cher­ish our Amer­i­can ideals, and no longer have com­pletely re­tained our hard­core Ger­manic “eth­no­cen­trisms.”

And, in time, I found out that ex­cep­tional fron­tier dower chests and dec­o­rated fur­ni­ture could eas­ily bring well over $100,000 at high-end Auc­tion Gal­leries with spe­cial em­pha­sis on last month’s col­umn con­cern­ing the French Huguenot PA Dutch Bieber fa­ther-son team who cre­ated the 1775 Wardrobe for fel­low Huguenot De­turk that fetched just un­der a mil­lion on the auc­tion block. As other Pa­tri­ots in the Great, East Penn, and Oley Val­leys, some of our fam­i­lies played a role in the Amer­i­can Rev­o­lu­tion; and as farm­ers and Con­estoga Wagoneers haul­ing grain to Philadel­phia, they were in­flu­en­tial cit­i­zens of our young Re­pub­lic all the while keep­ing records of new­born fam­ily mem­bers recorded in dec­o­ra­tive Ger­man script. Some of these our fam­ily had re­tained as heir­looms, with a dec­o­ra­tive PA Dutch dower chest or two, and a Penn­syl­va­nia Long Ri­fle from our early Amer­i­can pe­riod with pow­der horns.

My im­por­tant his­toric me­mories as I age too be­come the times I spend with my Grand­mother and Dad who re­vealed our PA Deitsch her­itage that par­al­leled my Amer­i­can cit­i­zen­ship, as a de­scen­dant, who was given the best op­por­tu­nity to fill my life as a Ger­man-Amer­i­can from the Rhineland un­der the 1776 Dec­la­ra­tion of In­de­pen­dence. Be­sides hav­ing other proud Penn­syl­va­nia Dutch­man (the Victor Millers, Dick Mach­mers, Ge­orge Meis­ers, Carl Sny­ders, et al) and neigh­bors to as­sist in my PA Dutch col­lec­tion of Americana, none as im­por­tant as the Shan­ers! I was for­tu­nate to have met Richard Shaner as my folk­lore men­tor, who per­son­ally made me aware of the mag­nif­i­cent PA Dutch cul­ture on a na­tional level, as did his men­tor be­fore him, famed Dr. Al­fred L. Shoe­maker. All the more, this made me aware of the fact that the Dutch Coun­try was not just an eth­nic cul­tural is­land, but the heart of Amer­i­can folk­life. It in­deed rep­re­sented the best of our Amer­i­can so­cial cus­toms and our unique ru­ral folk art and fur­ni­ture.

Amer­ica’s na­tional mu­se­ums have com­peted with each other to build an in­ven­tory of clas­sic Amer­i­can works of art dis­play­ing 18th Cen­tury folk art fur­ni­ture, doc­u­ments, util­i­tar­ian ob­jects, etc. that best de­scribe the unique life of eth­nic Amer­i­can cit­i­zens in their early Amer­i­can pe­riod. Ev­ery eth­nic im­mi­grant group which came to the New World for life, lib­erty, and pur­suit of hap­pi­ness had cre­ated unique house­hold fur­ni­ture and items that rep­re­sented the love of gen­er­a­tions of their eth­nic peers.

Amer­ica’s na­tional mu­se­ums have com­peted with each other to build an in­ven­tory of clas­sic Amer­i­can works of art dis­play­ing 18th Cen­tury folk art fur­ni­ture, doc­u­ments, util­i­tar­ian ob­jects, etc. that best de­scribe the unique life of eth­nic Amer­i­can cit­i­zens in their early Amer­i­can pe­riod.

Ev­ery eth­nic im­mi­grant group which came to the New World for life, lib­erty, and pur­suit of hap­pi­ness cre­ated unique house­hold fur­ni­ture and items that rep­re­sented the love of gen­er­a­tions of their eth­nic peers.

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