Tall Case Clock
The two names that appear on this coffin-case clock reveal lives intertwined through marriage, culture, place, and artistry. The area of Shenandoah County, Virginia, that came to be known as Masanutten was settled in the 1720s by eight families of Swiss Mennonite heritage. The clock case bears the name Jacob Strickler, a fraktur artist and Mennonite preacher whose family was included among these original pioneers. It also reveals the name Johannes Spitler, previously known only by the initials “j.SP” that appear on a group of more than twenty related pieces of furniture distinctively paint-decorated using red lead, white lead, Prussian blue, and lampblack pigments. Each piece is primed with red lead, and the design elements are lightly scored into the surfaces. This clock is painted with motifs, such as the upside-down hearts, that are strongly associated with fraktur by Strickler, Spitler’s neighbor. Unlike the other examples of furniture that are meticulously crafted using a variety of sophisticated and skilled techniques, the name and front panels on this clock are not framed but are instead laboriously made from single boards that have been carved to simulate panel construction. Spitler and his family relocated sometime after 1805 to Ohio, where he died, in 1837.
Stacy C. Hollander, “Tall Case Clock,” 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.