May 13, 2014–January 8, 2017

Athens, Pennsylvania



6 x 9 x 6"

Collection American Folk Art Museum, New York

Gift of Ralph Esmerian, 1997.17.2

Photo by Gavin Ashworth

Michael Rothloff (1855-1930)


Michael Rothloff, an emigrant from Leitzburg, Germany, came to America in 1880 and settled with his wife, Anna, in Athens, Pennsylvania, where they had eight children. Rothloff was an expert cabinet maker—an ébéniste, or veneerer—by trade, and was employed for many years by a local furniture company. Among the woodcarvings he created, most during the 1920s, are animals, historical figures like the suffragettes and American presidents, native American figures, devils, and human skeletons. This miniature bed is ornamented with meticulously executed animals: alligators, dogs, snakes, a deer, an eagle, a pig, a cat, a fox, a rooster, a hare, and a ram. A spiritual and elemental dimension emerges from this intimate piece. Could it be the incarnation of a rite of passage, like the eternal rest or the tragic loss of a child (he lost two children during his lifetime)? Or is it simply a dreamlike scene illustrating the active life of our unconscious?

Valérie Rousseau, “Bed,” exhibition label for Self-Taught Genius: Treasures from the American Folk Art Museum. Stacy C. Hollander and Valérie Rousseau, curators. New York: American Folk Art Museum, 2014.