May 13, 2014–January 8, 2017

Birth Recorder for Hana Oberholtzer

David Cordier (active c. 1805-1820) Encoders

Miami River Valley, Southwestern Ohio


Watercolor and ink on paper

7 3/4 x 12 1/4"

Collection American Folk Art Museum, New York

Gift of Ralph Esmerian, 2005.8.34

Photo by John Bigelow Taylor, New York

David Cordier (active c. 1805-1820)

Related Material

Birth Recorder for Hana Oberholtzer

Little is known about fraktur artist David Cordier, whose highly idiosyncratic drawings distinguish him from the majority of practitioners. Recent scholarship locates him in an area of Ohio settled primarily by Mennonite and other Pietistic Germans from Pennsylvania. Although the document he penned for the Swiss Mennonite Oberholtzer family is unsigned, his unique approach to the art is unmistakable. This example features a large heart containing text that records the birth of Hana Oberholtzer, in 1805. The document was written in 1816, perhaps to commemorate the date that eleven-year-old Hana was baptized and received into the Christian faith.

Cordier worked primarily in brown and black inks rather than the bold colors usually associated with fraktur. Eight faces float in the spaces within and around the heart. Two are contained in the bodies of large birds flanking either side of the heart; a winged head marked with tulips sits inside the interior point of the heart. There is a strong sense of apotheosis in this imagery, derived from the ancient Roman practice of releasing an eagle to ascend with the soul of the deified. The significance is unknown but may be related to births and deaths within the family.

Stacy C. Hollander, “Birth Record for Hana Oberholtzer,” 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.