May 13, 2014–January 8, 2017

Schoharie County, New York


Paint on pine, with iron hasp, key, and hardware

19 3/4 x 47 x 21"

Collection American Folk Art Museum, New York

Gift of Ralph Esmerian, 2013.1.31

Photo by Gavin Ashworth

Dower Chest

The Kniskern family was among the Palatine Germans who arrived in the Hudson River Valley around 1710. By 1730 they had relocated to the Schoharie Valley where they became prominent members of a growing community. The year 1778 marked on this chest proved to be one of devastating significance in the life of Schoharie County and for the Kniskern family. Brothers Johannes and Jacob joined the Patriot forces through the Albany County militia; Jacob was captured by Loyalist forces and taken to Canada before escaping and making his way back to Schoharie. The same year, British campaigns laid waste to the area, destroying homes, properties, and lives. 

This is one of three chests made that year, possibly by Johannes Kniskern for his brother’s family. It comprises the most important early surviving group of decorated Germanic chests from the region. Construction details include a bracket base with a medial third foot and molding around the edge and architectural elements that appear to be unique among New York German chests. Also unique is the motif around the key escutcheon that suggests the figure of a seated dark-skinned man.

Stacy C. Hollander, “Dower Chest,” 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.