Drawn with Spirit: Pennsylvania German Fraktur from the Joan and Victor Johnson Collection

February 1- April 26, 2015. The Ruth and Raymond G. Perelman Building, Special Exhibitions Gallery, first floor.

This winter the Philadelphia Museum of Art will present 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 will explore 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.”

The exhibition Drawn with Spirit: Pennsylvania German Fraktur from the Joan and Victor Johnson Collection is organized by Ann Percy, the Mainwaring Curator of Drawings at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Catalogue

A catalogue of the most comprehensive study of fraktur will be published by the Philadelphia Museum of Art and distributed by Yale University Press. Written by Lisa Minardi, an assistant curator at Winterthur Museum and a specialist in Pennsylvania German art and culture, the book includes an introductory essay that sets the Johnson’s promised gift within the context of the Museum’s Pennsylvania German collection and highlights major new discoveries in the field. Also included is an interview with Joan and Victor Johnson about the collection and its formation, conducted by Ann Percy. The catalogue is available for $65.00.

Sponsorship

The exhibition is supported by The Arlin and Neysa Adams Endowment Fund. The accompanying publication is made possible with a gift from Joan and Victor Johnson. Additional support has been provided by The Andrew W. Mellon Fund for Scholarly Publications at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Exhibition Hours

Tuesday through Sunday: 10:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m., Wednesdays and Fridays until 8:45 p.m.

Admission

General admission. Adults ($20), Seniors (65 & over):$18, Students (with valid ID): $14, Youth (13-18): $14, Children (12 & under): Free, Members (Join): Free

Fraktur related exhibitions and programs

In addition to the exhibition of the Johnson Collection at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library, the McNeil Center for Early American Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, and the Free Library of Philadelphia have planned related exhibitions and programs in the season ahead.

Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library

A Colorful Folk: Pennsylvania Germans & the Art of Everyday Life March 1, 2015 to January 3, 2016

Free Library of Philadelphia

Quill & Brush: Pennsylvania German Fraktur and Material Culture
March 2-July 17, 2015
Hand-drawn and printed fraktur along with important manuscripts, ephemera, printed books, and artifacts highlight the breadth and depth of the Free Library’s renowned Pennsylvania German collection.

Word & Image: Contemporary Artists Connect to Fraktur March 2-June 14, 2015

Reflecting the colorful world of the Pennsylvania Germans through more than 125 examples of fraktur, textiles, and pottery, the exhibition highlights recent acquisitions and works from private and institutional collections. www.winterthur.org/colorfulfolkart.

This exhibition focuses upon seven contemporary artists who combine images with text. Work by Marian Bantjes (Canada), Anthony Campuzano (United States), Imran Qureshi (Pakistan), Elaine Reichek (United States), Bob and Roberta Smith (England), and Gert and Uwe Tobias (Romania/Germany) will be on view. www.freelibrary.org/framingfraktur.

McNeil Center for Early American Studies, University of Pennsylvania

Fraktur and the Everyday Lives of Germans in Pennsylvania and the Atlantic World, 1683-1850 March 5-8, 2015
A three day conference, collaboratively organized by the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Free Library of Philadelphia, and the McNeil Center for Early American Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, with participation of the German Society of Pennsylvania, brings together an international group of scholars to discusss the historical and cultural contexts in which fraktur were created. Topics to be addressed range from patterns of migration, education, and religious practices to music, farming and medicine. The conference is supported by a Generous Academic Program Grant from the Terra Foundation for American Art and the Center for American Art at The Philadelphia Museum of Art. Admission to the conference is free. Registration is required. To register please visit www.mceas.org/fraktur.

The Ruth and Raymond G. Perelman Building at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

Shelley Spector: Keep the Home Fires Burning

March 7-September 25, 2015
A forthcoming exhibition by Philadelphia-based artist Shelley Spector will play off a Pennsylvania German inspired embroidery in the permanent collection by Frances Lichten. Spector’s sculptural installations evoke themes readily associated with folk imagery and themes: home, hearth, and the universal desire to belong.

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