ORTH: Ex­quis­ite folk art found through­out Kutz­town.

The Community Connection - - FRONT PAGE - Richard L.T. Orth

His­tor­i­cally, one must re­call that at the time of the Louisiana Pur­chase (1803) and there­after, Amer­i­can agri­cul­ture was pros­per­ing and farm­ers be­came flam­boy­ant in their build­ing habits. The prac­tice of in­dus­tri­ous farm­ers putting ar­chi­tec­tural hex signs on their barns might very well be a sign and legacy left be­hind from the Repub­lic’s an­te­bel­lum days of agrar­ian wealth! Fur­ther­more, of the fash­ion­able hard­wood dower chests found in the Kutz­town area, the 1783 Maria Kutz chest with in­lays on black wal­nut wood is re­mark­able ex­am­ple of folk art decoration. This chest pos­si­bly made by the same Colo­nial joiner who also crafted the in­cred­i­ble Hot­ten­stein in­laid wal­nut wardrobe for David Hot­ten­stein in 1781. The dower chest it­self was dis­cov­ered on the Sell farm out­side of Bow­ers, near Kutz­town.

In 1761, (“Max­atawny”) Ge­orge Bieber had di­vided his 302 plus acres of land be­tween his son, Di­et­rich and son-in-law, Ge­orge SELL, where this chest was found. This beau­ti­ful folk art chest with in­laid grasshop­pers and tulips over three draw­ers was no doubt been cov­eted by fam­ily mem­bers in the Kutz­town area. Since there were few crafts­men in the early days of the Repub­lic in the Max­atawny area, farm­ers ea­gerly sought wood­work­ing crafts­men to meet their fur­ni­ture needs; so it is pos­si­ble that more than one crafts­man was rep­re­sented in the rare ma­te­rial wealth that sur­vives in the Kutz­town area. Like­wise, I’m con­vinced young ap­pren­tices that worked with the compass folk art of the Ja­cob Bieber wood­work­ing fam­ily took their jour­ney­men skills to other com­mu­ni­ties as with Kutz­town.

Ac­cord­ing to Max­atawny tax rolls of 1779, they list only two join­ers: Paul Hert­zoge and Philip Hey­man, but by 1784, Ge­orge Esser was now also listed and Chris­tian Den had moved into Max­atawny from Green­wich Town­ship all of which, these Penn­syl­va­nia Dutch­men were in­spired by their na­tive folk art de­signs.

Kutz­town’s founder, Ge­orge Kutz, had mar­ried into the his­toric Bieber fam­ily tree of wood­work­ers when he mar­ried Mar­garet Bieber (1730-1796). Bieber folk art dec­o­rated fur­ni­ture pieces with hex sign mo­tifs have been found in the Kutz­town area through­out the years, and Ge­or­gian ar­chi­tec­tural farm man­sions built at Kutz­town of­ten had cir­cu­lar gable-end at­tic win­dows with four wooden key­stones equally spaced, but do not in­cor­po­rate any hex sign de­signs or medal­lions re­cessed into their gable end ex­cept for a rare barn or two! The fact that a farmer would go to the ex­tra ex­pense of ar­chi­tec­turally set­ting one of these Ge­or­gian-type medal­lion ma­soned cir­cles in his barn gable-end wall and high­light it with a col­or­ful hex sign, ei­ther tells one about his wealth or the cul­ture in which he lived in.

One of the most en­chant­ing mo­tifs on dower chests, whether from the area or not, were un­usual sev­en­pointed barn­like stars, hex signs, or large sun­bursts painted in yel­low and or­ange-red on each end of a chest with bold or­ange cen­ters un­like usual 6 or 8-pointed stars. Most as­suredly, this was the sun­burst-type de­sign Frances Lichten had at­trib­uted to the orig­i­nal arche­o­log­i­cal sun cult idea of hex-sign mo­tifs she had seen over­seas in the Rhineland Val­ley when vis­it­ing in the early 1900s. The styl­ized famed Bieber flat hearts, an Al­sa­tian de­sign from Europe (pic­tured), is per­haps the most en­chant­ing folk art mo­tif to me; this ex­am­ple be­ing out­lined in red paint.

As the prob­a­ble builders of the 1783 David Hot­ten­stein man­sion, just out­side Kutz­town along route 222, I am of­ten re­minded of the de­mure twin flat hearts in­scribed at the bot­tom of the 1783 man­sion date stones. It was here where its’ col­or­ful paint­dec­o­rated Frak­tur cham­ber room was re­moved and in­stalled at Henry Fran­cis DuPont’s Win­terthur Mu­seum in Delaware and could eas­ily be the prod­uct of this Bieber fam­ily. An­other of (John) Bieber’s sig­na­ture de­signs- a vari­a­tion of egg and dart- was carved on the ped­i­mented door­ways in the cen­tral hall­way of the Man­sion show­ing his pro­fi­cient compass skills. How­ever, to an early PA Dutch Huguenot, the idea of carv­ing five ab­stract Je­sus fish shapes over the thresh­old to a door­way of a Chris­tian Rhinelander ob­vi­ously had some re­li­gious sig­nif­i­cance.

This beau­ti­ful folk art chest with in­laid grasshop­pers and tulips over three draw­ers was no doubt cov­eted by fam­ily mem­bers in the Kutz­town area.

This col­or­ful paint­dec­o­rated Frak­tur cham­ber room was re­moved and in­stalled at Henry Fran­cis DuPont’s Win­terthur Mu­seum in Delaware.

The David Hot­ten­stein man­sion fea­tures these de­mure twin flat hearts in­scribed at the bot­tom of its date stones.

Carv­ing five ab­stract Je­sus fish shapes over the thresh­old to a door­way of a Chris­tian Rhinelander ob­vi­ously had some re­li­gious sig­nif­i­cance.

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