May 13, 2014–January 8, 2017

Religious Text with Two Women in Striped Dresses

Samuel Gottschall (1808-1898) Ingenuity

Salford Township, Pennsylvania

c. 1834

Ink, watercolor, and gouache on paper

12 1/4 x 8" Collection American Folk Art Museum, New York

Gift of Ralph Esmerian, 2013.1.36

Photo © John Bigelow Taylor, New York

Religious Text with Two Women in Striped Dresses

Fraktur was often made as a gift or reward from a teacher to a student. Although the incentive for this religious text is not known, the inscription speaks of a beautiful child and God’s love. Samuel Gottschall was the eighth son in a family of Mennonite schoolteachers and fraktur artists in Pennsylvania. His father, Bishop Jacob Gottschall, taught at two of the oldest Mennonite meetinghouse schools in Skippack and Franconia before opening his own school on his farm in Franconia Township. Fraktur writing and painting styles were often generational, passed from teacher to student. Jacob Gottschall was influenced by his schoolmaster, Johann Adam Eyer, when he introduced confrontal, elongated peacocks into an original composition. He in turn influenced his son Samuel, who continued to develop the theme of prideful peacocks in this drawing, which is anchored by two fashionably dressed women, referring to the parable of the five wise and five foolish virgins (Matthew 25:1–13). Samuel’s fraktur drawings are more powerfully colorful, stylized, and simplified than his father’s, stripped of decorative filler in the background, but they still include many of the same motifs, such as the small faces known as “Sophia” faces, symbolizing wisdom.

This is one of more than six related fraktur on this theme created during the years 1833–1836, when Gottschall was teaching in his family’s school. Also a weaver, he abandoned both activities in favor of establishing a grist mill and later a clover mill.

Stacy C. Hollander, “Religious Text with Two Women in Striped Dresses,” 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.