Drawn with Spirit: Pennsylvania German Fraktur from the Joan and Victor Johnson CollectionFebruary 1- April 26, 2015
Philadelphia Museum of Art
The Ruth and Raymond G. Perelman Building, Special Exhibitions Gallery, first floor
This winter the Philadelphia Museum of Art presents Drawn with Spirit: Pennsylvania German Fraktur from the Joan and Victor Johnson Collection, an exhibition featuring bold, bright, and captivating drawings and manuscripts that celebrated important life events among the first European immigrants to settle in Southeastern Pennsylvania in the 18th century.
The exhibition represents the most comprehensive study of the last fifty years to be devoted to fraktur, one of the most iconic forms of American folk art. It celebrates the promised gift to the Museum of more than 230 works from this important collection, and will be accompanied by a landmark publication. The Johnson Collection of rare and exquisite works on paper will more than double the Museum’s distinguished holdings of fraktur, making it among the finest collections of its kind in the United States. Timothy Rub, the George D. Widener Director and CEO, stated: “The Johnson collection has been assembled with great care and is widely admired by those who appreciate the rich artistic legacy of the Pennsylvania Germans. We are deeply grateful for this promised gift and are delighted to be able to share it for the first time with our visitors. It brilliantly complements the Museum’s rich collection of Pennsylvania decorative arts, and we are thankful to Joan and Victor Johnson for their exceptional generosity.”
The exhibition encompasses the period from 1750 to around 1850 and includes works by many of the finest and best known fraktur artists: Johann Adam Eyer, Samuel Gottschall, Andreas Kolb, Friedrich Krebs, Henrich Otto, Durs Rudy, Johannes Ernst Spangenberg, and the anonymous scribe nicknamed the Sussel-Washington Artist. On view will be works that originated from southeastern Pennsylvania counties including Adams, Berks, Bucks, Cumberland, Lancaster, Lebanon, Lehigh, Montgomery, Northampton, and York.
Drawn with Spirit explores the inspiration folk artists took from each other and how designs were transferred to new locations. In addition to its focus upon Pennsylvania, the Johnson Collection includes works made in New Jersey, New York, and Ohio, as well as Ontario, Canada.
Among the earliest works in the exhibition is a hand-drawn sheet of music from a manuscript hymnal made in Lancaster County at the Ephrata Cloister, a pietist community founded in the 1730s that produced some of the first printed fraktur in America. It will be shown near works from the 1780s which were made at the Cloister and then decorated and completed by artists such as Henrich Otto and Friederich Speyer.
Another exceptional piece is a watercolor of Adam and Eve, dating to 1834-35, attributed to Samuel Gottschall, a Mennonite schoolmaster from Montgomery County, whose works are often characterized by brilliantly colored images. Also on view will be a delightful birth and baptismal certificate with lively borders of flowers and figures made by Johannes Ernst Spangenberg for Anna Maria Oberle, who was born in 1798 in Northampton County. Joan and Victor started collecting fraktur over sixty years ago, attending small country auctions and shops across Pennsylvania where they acquired exquisite pieces that had just come out of family ownership.
As Joan Johnson notes: “The Philadelphia Museum of Art had a group of fraktur long before anybody else did and one of the reasons we decided to give our “treasures” to the Museum is its superb collection of Pennsylvania German art. It’s an illuminating combination, and I think the public will see what a creative group of people the Pennsylvania Germans were.” The Johnson Collection complements the Museum’s renowned collection of Pennsylvania German redware pottery, textiles, ironwork, and paint-decorated furniture. Joan Johnson commented: “The same decorative motifs that you find on fraktur are also seen on the [Museum’s] redware and furniture, so these pieces mesh beautifully.”