May 13, 2014–January 8, 2017

East Petersburg, Pennsylvania

c. 1790

Watercolor and ink on cut paper

13 1/4" diam.

Collection American Folk Art Museum, New York

Gift of Ralph Esmerian, 2005.8.37

Photo by Schecter Lee


During the Revolutionary War, approximately one quarter of the forces fighting on behalf of the British were hired units of Hessian soldiers. Johann Christian Strenge was one such soldier, in the regiment of Grenadiers. He arrived in New York in 1776, and was captured when George Washington crossed the Delaware. He was released to the British, but when the regiment returned to Hesse-Cassel in 1783, Strenge was not among them. As did many Hessian soldiers after the war, he deserted and remained in the newly formed United States, establishing a life as a schoolmaster, scrivener, justice, and property owner in Lancaster County; he also taught in Chester County. Strenge made many forms of fraktur, including bookplates, writing samples, birth records, presentation frakturs, tunebooks, and Liebesbriefe—or love letters.

This is one such example, in the circular form favored by Strenge. The center and each of the sixteen hearts are beautifully inscribed with inked sentiments of undying love and faithfulness. The cut-work includes urns, flowers, and leaves as well as hearts, and it is further embellished with floral and other motifs in watercolor and ink. Such tokens of affection were given on days not necessarily related to February 14, Valentine’s Day. Neither the giver nor the recipient of this Liebesbrief is noted; however, love letters of this nature were an accepted way for a young man to express his devotion to a girl of his choosing.

Stacy C. Hollander, “Liebesbrief,” 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.