the watercolors of durs rudy new discoveries in...

The Watercolors of Durs Rudy New Discoveries in Fraktur GERARD C. WERTKIN Atfarg fat ...,.si.teloi g utig 24`a aVigi idkatti at. ts Cap. 3 4 AP. D T he great Pennsylvania anti- quarian Henry C. Mercer recalled being "astonished and delighted" in August 1897, when he saw a collec- tion of frakturs for the first time, as preserved in a Men- nonite community in central Bucks County.' A month earlier, Edwin Atlee Barber had acquired an 1804 Vorschrift for the Philadelphia Mu- seum of Art because of the striking similarity of its decorative motifs to those on examples of Pennsylvania pot- tery that he had collected for the Museum. 2 Before long, several pio- neering collections of Pennsylvania German folk art, a number of which were notable for the illuminated or decorated texts that Mercer called fraktur, 3 were formed. Today, newsworthy discoveries in the field of American folk art, par- ticularly in eighteenth- and nineteenth- century materials, are increasingly rare. This is especially true of those areas identified and collected early in the history of the field. Interest in the folk arts of the Pennsylvania Germans dates back at least one hundred years; while previously undocumented works of significance emerge from obscurity from time to time, highly important discoveries seldom occur, as they did when Mercer and Barber first encoun- tered examples of fraktur. BIBLICAL TEXT Lehigh County, Pennsylvania c. 1830 Ink and watercolor on paper 7 x 10' Private collection As in the other recently discov- ered works by Durs Rudy, this depiction of Christ's Crucifixion is a complex work. This recently found fraktur is rich in architectural details. SUMMER 1993 FOLK ART 33

Upload: trantu

Post on 11-Jun-2019




0 download


TheWatercolorsof Durs Rudy

NewDiscoveriesin FrakturGERARD C. WERTKIN

Atfarg fat ...,.si.teloigutig 24`a aVigi idkatti at. ts Cap. 3 4 AP. D

The great Pennsylvania anti-quarian Henry C. Mercerrecalled being "astonishedand delighted" in August1897, when he saw a collec-tion of frakturs for the firsttime, as preserved in a Men-nonite community in central

Bucks County.' A month earlier, EdwinAtlee Barber had acquired an 1804Vorschrift for the Philadelphia Mu-seum of Art because of the strikingsimilarity of its decorative motifs tothose on examples of Pennsylvania pot-tery that he had collected for theMuseum.2 Before long, several pio-neering collections of PennsylvaniaGerman folk art, a number of which

were notable for the illuminated ordecorated texts that Mercer calledfraktur,3 were formed.

Today, newsworthy discoveriesin the field of American folk art, par-ticularly in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century materials, are increasinglyrare. This is especially true of thoseareas identified and collected early inthe history of the field. Interest in thefolk arts of the Pennsylvania Germansdates back at least one hundred years;while previously undocumented worksof significance emerge from obscurityfrom time to time, highly importantdiscoveries seldom occur, as they didwhen Mercer and Barber first encoun-tered examples of fraktur.


Lehigh County, Pennsylvania

c. 1830

Ink and watercolor on paper

7 x 10'

Private collection

As in the other recently discov-

ered works by Durs Rudy, this

depiction of Christ's Crucifixion

is a complex work. This

recently found fraktur is rich

in architectural details.


For these reasons, the discoveryof three exceptionally well-preservedbut unrecorded frakturs attributed tothe gifted artist Durs Rudy recentlycaptured the imagination of scholarsand collectors alike. Apparently tuckedaway for years among the papers of anold Lehigh County, Pennsylvania, fam-ily, Rudy's illuminated biblical textswere discovered just prior to an estateauction to which the family's propertyhad been consigned.4 One of the newdiscoveries depicts Christ's Crucifixion(Mark 15:34), another, a baptism (Mat-

They are colorful, spirited,

and immensely appealing

works of art.

thew 28:19), and the third, the story ofthe Prodigal Son (Luke 15: 12-15).Each watercolor bears Rudy's initialsand one is dated 1830. Their appear-ance is especially noteworthy becausethey provide additional insights intothe work of an artist who has intriguedstudents of the field for many years, butabout whom there remains consider-able uncertainty.

Although the term "fraktur"gained currency in the field of Ameri-can folk art following its adoptionby Henry Mercer in 1897, its useis recorded in Pennsylvania muchearlier.5 Originally a reference to astyle of ornate "broken" lettering, theterm today encompasses a wonderfulvariety of illuminated texts, includingwriting samplers (Vorschriften), deco-rated baptismal certificates (Taufscheine), and a host of other formsboth sacred and secular, from book-plates to house blessings.6 Frequentlyrendered in brilliant watercolors andsharing a traditional corpus of folkmotifs, frakturs provide a colorful rec-ord of Pennsylvania life, faith, and artfrom the mid-eighteenth through themid-nineteenth centuries.

Durs Rudy was first identified inprint as a creator of fraktur by Donald

Shelley in 1961.7 However, since the

name was borne both by a father andhis son, some uncertainty exists as towhich Durs Rudy is to be associatedwith the fraktur attributed to this hand.The Rudy family arrived in Americaaboard The Commerce in 1803, disem-barking at the port of Philadelphia.8

13 t itsc( tt tip o 11C o (jt—tu u t



Lehigh County, Pennsylvania


Ink and watercolor on paper

7 x 10"

Private collection

One of three newly discovered

frakturs by Rudy, this work

illuminates the story of the

Prodigal Son, which is found in

Luke, Chapter 15. It reads

clockwise from the bottom

right. Durs Rudy has initialed

and dated this work.

Durs Rudy, Sr. (1766-1843), was Swissin origin; his son (1789-1850) was bornin Baden.° According to longstandingfamily tradition, Durs Rudy, Jr., was anartist "who sketched and painted [the]local countryside."I° Although it is tothe younger Rudy, tavern owner, shop-keeper, and organist at Neff's Church,N.Whitehall Township in Lehigh Coun-ty, that the most ambitious of thesefrakturs have been attributed, Freder-ick S. Weiser warns that we must becareful not to assume that the son cre-ated them all." Indeed, according toWeiser, Durs Rudy, Sr., was the moreskilled artist and penman of the two.I2

Most recorded frakturs attrib-uted to Durs Rudy fall into one of twomain categories. In the first, consistingof Taufscheine, bookplates, and a houseblessing, the text clearly dominates thecomposition. Rendered expertly in adistinctive German cursive hand withsplendid initial letters, these fraktursare rather formal certificates, reminis-cent of European examples. Framingthe text of each Taufschein, the houseblessing, and at least one of therecorded bookplates is a distinguishingpair of columns with transom, deco-rated in a restrained fashion with smallflowers and, occasionally, other ele-ments. Of these, the birth and bap-tismal certificate of William Deibert(c. 1815), formerly in the noted collec-tion of Henry S. Borneman and now atThe Free Library of Philadelphia, isthe most exuberantly drawn and in-cludes a floral garland and the initial"W" richly bedecked with flowers.I3However, an unrecorded Taufscheinmade for Michael Finck and now in aprivate collection lacks Rudy's charac-teristic columns.

The three newly discoveredfrakturs by Durs Rudy fall into the sec-


itc-i.Vg/c fitS) e'Pet "WU fe rift -t-ta fitd5"Offes be, T•iffet4 offit$ itub`De$ 03eitiseit, ei es. BATHE 26 59.

057,\<_9Y AN±Y \5--t3 (3\Nos

ifa icgtitleitt o ittit tutu-men

t Et1c wit .')V i Ulm ( )3 59. D

ond category of this work. Unlike theTaufscheine, these drawings are fullydeveloped compositions based on bib-lical narrative and presented eitherseparately, in series, or, in severalknown examples, as a metamorpho-sis.14 In these, it is the imagery, ratherthan the text, that is emphasized. Theyare colorful, spirited, and immenselyappealing works of art.

...most fraktur artists

preferred to address

religious doctrine

Symbolically rather than

directly. Durs Rudy is not

typical in this regard.

In seeking to distinguish be-tween the two artists, it is tempting toassign one format to the father and theother to the son. All of the documentedTaufscheine and bookplates were cre-ated between 1806 and c. 1821. Thedated drawings, on the other hand, arefrom 1830 to 1842. At first blush, itwould appear that these are two sepa-

rate bodies of work, each executedwithin circumscribed periods of time.A further consideration of the contentof these frakturs, however, underminesthis assumption. The use of the distin-guishing columns and crosspiece toframe the textual portions of the Tauf-scheine is a common feature of severalof the biblical drawings as well.Indeed, it is the use of this almost iden-tical device in both categories of com-position that clearly binds the twoformats together. Other stylistic sim-ilarities are present as well, includingthe use of a closely related group ofdelightful architectural elements insome examples of both categories ofRudy's watercolors. While several ofthe Taufscheine contain somewhatmore refined and carefully drawn cal-ligraphy than the frakturs of the latergroup, the style of writing is remark-ably consistent throughout Rudy'swork. Although it may be possible thatfather and son worked closely togetheror even collaborated on some frakturs,I believe that it is difficult to sustain aclear and convincing case for twoartists.

Until a dated example is foundwhich places that object clearly outsidethe possible working life of either Durs


Lehigh county, Pennsylvania

c. 1830

Ink and watercolor on paper

7 x 10'

Private collection

In this newly found illumina-

tion of Matthew 28:19, Rudy

returns to a favorite theme. A

similar depiction of a baptism

by Rudy may be found in a

fraktur now in the museum

of Fine Arts, Boston, but with-

out the architectural detail

shown here.

Rudy, Jr., or Durs Rudy, Sr., or someother form of documentation appears,it will be difficult to make a positiveidentification. Notwithstanding thisuncertainty, Rudy family tradition andthe weight of scholarly opinion holdthat Durs Jr. created the extraordinarybiblical drawings that are the emphasisof this essay.

Among the various categories ofPennsylvania German frakturs, de-tailed renderings drawn from biblicalnarrative are among the most rare.Although illustrated Bibles and printedreligious tracts were commonly avail-able during the period that fraktursflourished in Pennsylvania, hand-drawn depictions of sacred historyare very infrequently encountered. Tobe sure, occasional examples of thiskind of material may be found in thegreat manuscript illuminations of theEphrata Cloister and from the hand ofsuch fraktur artists as Friedrich Krebsand Arnold Puwelle, as well as LudwigDenig, whose hand-drawn illustratedBible was recently published by theMuseum of American Folk Art and thePennsylvania German Society in asso-ciation with Hudson Hills Press.15 Thefamiliar imagery of Adam and Eve inthe Garden of Eden is also not un-


t ti.51110uletneq

Attztust V..tuar e.4

VeCciitt 'Wtv'ett

aq,46it jut Zgeor.



Probably Lehigh County,


c. 1815-25

Ink and watercolor on paper

8Yox 121/4"

Private collection

Taufscheine were occasionally

commissioned well after the

birth and baptism of the child.

This Taulschein includes archi-

tectural elements typical of

Rudy's work.

4sittit. ICflLflC1 ta it,stigtto tit geipcut

tut), 44eit la; tted, 5e.tvAtircieNgteV I

vets- )8 - • raa9


+if/tuft ill ,t3Stircit ot4i.t•mitVr inifitart) $itittiCktP1



Probably Lehigh County,


c. 1810

Ink and watercolor on paper

81/4 x 61/4

The Free Library of


An illumination of one of

Rudy's favorite biblical texts

(Matthew 28:18-19), in which

Christ sends his disciples forth

to preach the Gospel.




Lehigh County, Pennsylvania

C. 1815

Watercolor and ink on paper

71/4 x 13

The Free Library of


Despite the formality of this

certificate, which records the

infant's birth and baptism in

1814, it exemplifies Durs

Rudy's colorfully exuberant


commonly seen. These, however, areexceptions to the rule. Perhaps adher-ing to Protestant scruples against idola-try, most fraktur artists preferred toaddress religious doctrine symbolicallyrather than directly. Durs Rudy is nottypical in this regard. He turned regu-larly to the principal events of the NewTestament and to the promulgation ofreligious doctrine.

The use of fraktur by Durs Rudyto promulgate the Christian faith maybe seen in the texts he chose to illumi-nate. These include Chapter 28 of thegospel of St. Matthew, in which Christsends his disciples forth to preach thegospel, one example of which was for-merly in the Borneman collection andis now at The Free Library of Phila-delphia; a representation of Adam andEve formerly in the Unger collectionand now at Winterthur; and a depictionof a baptism originally in the collectionof Elie Nadelman and Maxim Karolikand now at the Museum of Fine Arts inBoston. To these important examplesmust now be added the three wonder-ful watercolors discovered last year.

As is common in other fraktursof the era, Durs Rudy's figures arepresented anachronistically in thedress of the late eighteenth centuryrather than in that of the perioddescribed. Generally drawn in profile,Rudy's figures each have characteristi-cally large, square jaws and large eyes.His is a colorful world. The threenewly found frakturs are especiallyinteresting for their architectural fea-tures as well.

Each of the three recently dis-covered frakturs shown here illustrate adifferent theme from one of the threeSynoptic Gospels, themes to which theartist regularly returned. The Cruci-fixion, for example, is closely reminis-cent of a panel in a Lehigh CountyHistorical Society metamorphosis byRudy; the baptism recalls the Rudyfraktur in the Boston Museum of FineArts; the Prodigal Son theme mir-rors another Rudy metamorphosis.Despite the similarities, these imagesare more complex and more fully de-veloped than those of the previouslyrecorded frakturs.

When Donald Shelley first doc-umented the work of Durs Rudy hereferred to the artist as "mysterious,"perhaps because his work is so dif-ferent from that of other fraktur artists.


Since 1961, when Shelley made this

observation, however, we have come to

know Rudy better, from the richness

of the legacy he has left. The three

frakturs recently discovered serve to

confirm the conclusion that he was a

richly gifted artist who was committed

to church and community.*


1 Henry C. Mercer, "The Survival of theMediaeval Art of Illuminative Writingamong the Pennsylvania Germans," Ameri-can Philosophical Society Proceedings 36(September 17, 1897), p. 425. (Also issuedby the Bucks County Historical Society asNo. 2 in its "Contributions to AmericanHistory" series.)2 Barber Correspondence file, Letter toJohn T. Morris, July 8, 1897. ResearchArchives, Philadelphia Museum of Art.Quoted in Jack L. Lindsey, "SelectedWorks by African-American Folk Artists:A Recent Installation at the PhiladelphiaMuseum of Art," Folk Art, vol. 17 (Winter1992/93), p. 63.3 Mercer, op. cit., p. 424. Mercer andother early scholars used the spelling"fractur."4 See Dick Cowen, "Folk artist's tractsbring $156,000 bid," The (Allentown)Morning Call (February 8, 1992), pp. B3,B17; Dick Cowen, "High bid attributed tofrakturs' content," The Morning Call (Feb-ruary 19, 1992), p. B4; Lita Solis-Cohen,"A Folk Art Find," Maine Antiques Digest(April, 1992), p. 36-B. The auction tookplace at Zettlemoyer's Auction Center inFogelsville, Pa. on February 6, 1992. Thesellers chose not to be identified.5 See William M. Fahnestock, "An Histor-ical Sketch of Ephrata; together with aConcise Account of The Seventh Day Bap-tist Society of Pennsylvania," in FelixReichmann and Eugene E. Doll, EphrataAs Seen by Contemporaries (Allentown,Pa.: The Pennsylvania German FolkloreSociety, 1953), p. 168. Originally publishedin 1835, the article refers to the Fracturschrifften at Ephrata Cloister: "large sheetsof elegant penmanship, or inkpaintings, —many of which are texts from the scrip-tures, done in very handsome manner, inornamented gothic letters..."6 For a discussion of the origin and use ofthe term "fraktur," see Donald A. Shelley,The Fraktur-Writings or IlluminatedManuscripts of the Pennsylvania Germans

(Allentown, Pa.: The Pennsylvania GermanFolklore Society, 1961) pp. 22-23. There isno general agreement among Americanscholars as to proper usage for the term orhow completely it is to be anglicized. Itoften appears with an uppercase "F," as itwould appear in German. In its pluralform, it appears with and without the final"s." In addition to Pennsylvania, the art offraktur flourished in other places wherePennsylvania Germans settled, includingVirginia and Ontario.7 Shelley, op cit., p. 121. Recognition inprint of Rudy as an artist, although notwith specific reference to fraktur, occurredmuch earlier; see Charles Rhoads Robertsand others, History of Lehigh County,Pennsylvania (Allentown, Pa.: LehighValley Publishing Company, 1914), vol. 2,p. 467.8 Ralph Beaver Strassburger, PennsylvaniaGerman Pioneers (Morristown, Pa.: ThePennsylvania German Society, 1934),vol. 3, pp. 132-133.9 Beatrice B. Garvan, The PennsylvaniaGerman Collection (Philadelphia: Philadel-phia Museum of Art, 1982), p. 367.10 Ibid.11 Scott T Swank and others, Arts of thePennsylvania Germans (New York: W.W.Norton & Company for the Henry Francisdu Pont Winterthur Museum, 1983), noteto Plate 34.12 Corinne P Earnest and Russell D.Earnest, Papers for Birth Dayes: Guide tothe Fraktur Artists and Scriviners (Albu-querque: Russell D. Earnest Associates,1989), p. 344.13 Frederick S. Weiser and Howell J.Heaney, The Pennsylvania German Frakturof The Free Library of Philadelphia(Breinigsville, Pa.: The PennsylvaniaGerman Society and The Free Library ofPhiladelphia, 1976), vol. 1, pl. 57.14 Beatrice B. Garvan and Charles EHummel, The Pennsylvania Germans: ACelebration of Their Arts 1683-1850(Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum ofArt, 1982), p. 163, pl. 120, p. 171. Onlyone documented drawing by Rudy doesnot have a religious theme. It is a charmingportrait of General Washington, now inthe collection of the Philadelphia Museumof Art.15 Don Yoder, ed., The Picture Bible ofLudwig Denig: A Pennsylvania GermanEmblem Book, (New York: Hudson HillsPress in Association with the Museum ofAmerican Folk Art and the PennsylvaniaGerman Society, 1990).

1111 '

I 7.c isau.

-Z5'7„1inr1rm rrrnicnn nrr6 . 1-a)inivtion rIftz. flirt n n,ct irinm nowt, t41.7rf rinnt 4.4,3

tuihrrt 16. • Tut, 1/4— 'lune (tfenuili a8111


Lehigh County, Pennsylvania

c. 1832

Ink and watercolor on paper

In four parts, each 4x 61/4"

Opens to 4 x 121/2"

Lehigh County Historical


Providing religious instruction

and lessons in Christian moral•

ity, the metamorphosis

allowed the reader to turn its

half pages up or down to view

a progression of changing



Title page

Lehigh County, Pennsylvania


Ink on paper, leather bound

6 x 11"

Lehigh County Historical


One of two hand-written music

books by Rudy in the collection

of The Lehigh County Historical

Society. Rudy, a Lutheran,

served as organist of a church

in N. Whitehall Township, Pa.



Itnt',„ft;,ntr-.1, ..._. -III —

....., I.,IvA I. I


it Om 'de ead vs.1.1t

119alto e • Ic or

Top hal

f pa

ge opened



f pa

ges opened


:4'nu4-Z‘tt. 1.411 Ulf 1.110,1V0 crfrt Zjnult tut14 no? tptt tt,E0m-nalit iftttltterko.,11 Clot, attf tooKai toll': hIatt tot...0nttt

_,eic tint nto4 non --A-clnitt: tirattf,4d_ntneVOtt lAtktilltiOv .1%1 It 111.{,r1A

I .i.' tc 1:tox watb an.Jtinrott, it stittut1 unf unAltivIntIntittentxttettildatattLItoxel,

' int..5att rcilt 4,6besaAtider‘ltaerktnbte iS,

LInterno firm no att4at ttrottb<r.


ient ,)roximt- iit.ftAnt 9ettill; ittnolftlo. got :Zett.

atIr9t1,1t4en.,ntft1r oon oo On foot to, r otor ..,3et00

root co_i Mtii 1,11, lot

Ittnihr iiikaroau 6ritt4.Z.tittt 'trot nooRI,*tOrn3‘,Ettip4, tliatnnt iotaIon din faint ton Ott 900i10, Itt Ittl,'Dms'anYtet :lintItcteng--

Z.) itinttrr filintunne 64‘.4.stnnt .,t3o.,,,, ttnweff Itit`O Kg nut ittnAttfctnent .istit 1 I -'Jo Linn 1Z4nknox11 tut 9t•a: co kid, 'Orts• ttnbct i IRat Iltt.ttlt. N. -‘, N. t... N. "N. N. 1

._ — ----- — I

'0.4* latct,;furii mit') attatit<9...IttaAtt einn—t1IP me° gcrittritte ntan fterig nil

ytabRi i4n4it tilt( gert6nett .

f '-',cr ,cttfc-It1,0i...1110'11)0dt tII

1,loqo f m4 bo Iv ott c$ 1i. it ct. at(it I, tii,.-.-......._. :-..t....i' , 7....••,;-:;,22.E.

ttit Oronnorbor 0.41[)t6ttl 10 Iboortba tin tote ,tuteitattibtcreut.#tt.t.4<rt ft tit ltafb nick to attit


nilooro.0t1. LO.i11.11',1‘ft WO nab 66, 19taiiR Ott retoot l'etit tort tnrrtbobttlnttt#.tittll.. It bett 6atb niatt fira


jtuff:41;1A ibitini94141itrint,'ortntflongen4.<reheninur fo'beitolij.c$ilietttsatt'intsfeintt

1.t errActe, if oteinf4niciiitn41- tin lo`tt.

Half pag

es closed

r..Vnirt .1)Zotlel• tilt ntatatatIiNttea liaitt 1

iii#onatoiteltrt133oot r.o 310'ti !”.“4t . ticknIsr 'Z'. 6611 fe rav‘1, '6‘ jiliti Iv‘rl.ovi 'tic


%:747!g)̀,11:,':.Z t,1° ',.t,,,,, ,u.,<,., litts, Rei0( ii,t1l bit itc li5s,

t)(1., arnS 'ow., Vak -. ̀ .... N._ ‘.._,...

_E-f.ii‘i -man lutst c't t.Tti.t.t,t bcr,:i [ion It1 itiv4.3.e‘riettVttroloettefIllAlt tlytll1,46filt itt'ove) ou<n Red . Ault bull, )ctItt[)t omfluw VA. N. -,.._ N.,_ •,.:`,.._


(4.4((ill 'Do raIO WI' rob fifilD ift intort-0 wet teicootf ntic moltic1On natu.

OntIDtn16. /eV:.

'itttg<tt, ;<1.119 • 4ntinotto