Colo­nial ‘Grossa Schranks’ and Paint-Dec­o­rated Fur­ni­ture

The Southern Berks News - - LOCAL NEWS - Richard L.T. Orth

Be­cause few Ger­manic homes had clos­ets, cloth­ing was kept in a “Grossa Schrank” (Colo­nial wardrobe) made of ei­ther wal­nut hard­wood or more com­monly from a soft poplar wood or pine. How­ever, since th­ese Deitsch­ers en­joyed col­or­ful dec­o­ra­tions, quite of­ten the poplar wood was stip­ple-painted to break up the monotony of rus­tic pioneer in­te­ri­ors. There­fore, in the multi-colored DeTurk wardrobe which brought nearly one mil­lion dol­lars was most likely part of the Isaac Deturk es­tate and is another good ex­am­ple of a Colo­nial Schrank/Shrank/ Kas/Wardrobe done in the Oley Val­ley-Al­sa­tian Hills fash­ion of col­or­ful in­te­rior fur­ni­ture, and quite large dat­ing 1785. Dower chests, on the other end, were com­monly put at the foot end of a bed.

Wardrobes made in wal­nut, in­stead of painted poplar wood, were of­ten more revered than folk art dec­o­rated ones in Ge­or­gian man­sions of the Fed­eral pe­riod with other Chip­pen­dale fur­ni­ture. But nowhere were the artis­tic home­made crafts of the PA Dutch peo­ple as Ger­man­i­cally-in­spired as in the heart of the Dutch Coun­try, where Penn­syl­va­nia Dutch cup­boards were brim­ming full of sgraf­fito and earth­en­ware slip de­signs made by lo­cal pot­ter­ies. Even the 18th cen­tury cast iron waf­fle irons were in­dica­tive of Ger­man Rhine Val­ley de­signs made by lo­cal iron fur­naces as well ec­cle­si­as­ti­cal church pewter com­mu­nion cups and plates to honor their free­dom of re­li­gion way of life.

The va­ri­ety of Euro­pean im­mi­grants who pioneered the Oley Val­ley brought with them a large num­bers of early set­tlers to this Amer­i­can folk fron­tier re­gion, but the vast num­ber from the Rhine Val­ley of Europe soon de­vel­oped the unique folk style of the re­gion. Their Ger­manic Di­alect, very pop­u­lar in cen­tral eth­nic folk art styles of this agrar­ian lo­cale, was spo­ken by peo­ple who hailed from the Europe, specif­i­cally Ger­many, who gath­ered from ar­eas of Switzer­land to France and the Nether­lands. Thereby, th­ese PA Dutch im­mi­grant na­tives whose re­li­gion was writ­ten in Ger­man were well known for Penn­syl­va­nia Ger­man folk art doc­u­ments that were gaily colored and in­scribed in 18th Cen­tury let­ter­ing to doc­u­ment their bap­tisms an­nounce­ments. And th­ese col­or­ful Frak­tur and mar­riage draw­ings of tulips, car­na­tions, and dis­telfinks were trans­ferred onto their dower chests and early Amer­i­can wardrobes to­gether with styl­ized stip­pled raised pan­els on lo­cal fur­ni­ture.

The English Quak­ers rarely dec­o­rated dower chests for their new­born chil­dren other than let­ter­ing their name and the date of a child’s birth or the pre­sen­ta­tion date on the front of a dower chest. How­ever, Rhinelanders, who dec­o­rated birth cer­tifi­cates (Frak­tur) and re­li­gious

broad­sides for their chil­dren, en­joyed ex­press­ing their parental love by pay­ing a folk artist to de­sign a lav­ish Amer­i­cana folk art chest for their chil­dren to hold their dowry un­til they got mar­ried. Few chil­dren were in need of a wardrobe un­til they got mar­ried. And since family wardrobes were then a ne­ces­sity, th­ese large hard­wood or soft­wood paint-dec­o­rated par­lor pieces were also of­ten elab­o­rately dec­o­rated and most of­ten the most beau­ti­ful cen­ter­piece found in a hall­way or par­lor, es­pe­cially if the home was a very large manor house or Ge­or­gian man­sion. Some folk artists in the Dutch Coun­try even paint dec­o­rated the in­te­rior doors and rooms of our most stylish in­te­ri­ors, as well as fire­place man­tels and cor­ner cup­boards.

Per­haps the most out­stand­ing wardrobe the fa­ther-son duo cre­ated was the eight flat heart dec­o­rated kas they painted for Martin Eisen­hauer in 1794, dis­cov­ered in Green­wich Town­ship, Berks County near his­toric Kutz­town, a few miles away from their Oley Town­ship wa­ter-pow­ered sawmill.

Ja­cob and John Bieber were sought af­ter car­pen­ters who op­er­ated a Colo­nial sawmill run by the Bieber Creek in Oley Town­ship and among sev­eral com­mis­sioned French Huguenot artists who dec­o­rated their home­made fur­ni­ture for many fel­low PA Dutch fam­i­lies in the area of Lobachsville founded by fel­low Huguenot, Peter Lobach. They would even­tu­ally mi­grate to the Le­high Val­ley of the Dutch Coun­try and con­tinue to make fur­ni­ture for other Ger­manic pi­o­neers in Sal­is­bury Town­ship by 1786.

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