May 13, 2014–January 8, 2017

Probably Lehigh County, Pennsylvania
c. 1810
Watercolor and ink on paper
6 1/16 x 3 11/16"; 6 1/8 x 3 3/4"; 6 3/16 x 3 3/4"; 6 3/16 x 3 11/16" (closed)
Collection American Folk Art Museum, New York
Gift of Ralph Esmerian, 2005.8.43
Photo by John Bigelow Taylor, New York


The metamorphosis, also known as a “turn-up” and similar to today’s flip-up book, was an early teaching tool intended to provide religious and moral instruction to children in an approachable manner. Metamorphoses were handmade in both German- and English-speaking communities and were based on printed prototypes. It is not clear whether this example was made by Durs Rudy senior or junior; both were schoolmasters and fraktur artists in Lehigh County, where the family settled by 1809. As teachers in Pennsylvania German meetinghouse schools, they taught academics within a religious environment. When each flap is lifted up or down, a figure morphs or a scene evolves, often with a comical twist—the intention being to delight young charges while instilling good values. Although the colors in this example are bright and flowers abound, and it features the cedar trees that appear often in the work of the Rudys, the narrative is considerably more somber than that found in English metamorphoses. The gist of the message, however, remains the same: revere God rather than riches, and lead a moral life; the reward in death is salvation through Christ.

Stacy C. Hollander, “Metamorphosis,” 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.