"In the Composition the Father had the same Way as in his Writings, viz : he suspended his considering Faculty, and putting his Spirit on the Pen, followed its Dictates strictly, also were all the Melodies flown from the Mystery of Singing, that was opened within him, therefore have they that Simplicity, which was required, to raise Edification." Peter Miller, Intro to Conrad Beissel's Ninety Nine Mystical Sentences.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Images of Paradise of the Pennsylvania Germans: Antidote to the Fall

In the end these images must be simplest, a linen cloth, plain dress, apron, wood bench, a paradise of the everyday that is real, so most of high color, ornate rhythmed fraktur is not indigenous.The short list of ornate is obvious, "tulips and hearts and stars and crowns and angels from peasant art, unicorns from the British arms and eagles from American heraldry" from "birth certificate to tombstone" (Weiser, xv). Hershey says "the predominant designs are taken from nature," with the exception of "the angel and heart motif," "more variations than one person could imagine, as well as birds of all feather and fancy" (52). The chief artists were children and teachers of children, parochial schoolmasters, Mennonites. Mennonite Christopher Dock began the traceable fraktur tradition along the Skippack in Montgomery County as This Teaching I Present: Fraktur from the Skippack and Salford Mennonite Meetinghouse Schools, 1747-1836, attests.They say the full flowering of this art ended in the mid 1830's when Pennsylvania decreed its public school system superseding religious instruction, but that is the difference between art and life. Paradise of simple lives on.
Fraktur Vorschrift were given to school children to reward good performance: you have done well, here is a picture of paradise. "We have heard how Christopher Dock prodded his pupils with such drawings. If he did not originate the practice, he is evidence that it was in use at an early date, for Dock wrote in 1750. These tiny scraps of paper with birds, tulips, other flowers and occasionally other subjects survive by the dozens" (Weiser, xx). In the greater tradition it had wider applications. It begs the question of individuality because little of this body was signed. It was communal, repeated again and again in images that migrated from paper to linen (show towels) to wood (decorated chests).

There are individual characteristics in various fraktur artists. Dock's are characterized by blocked designs, initial capital letters filled with swirls and stipples, as Hershey puts it (59f ). He includes an alphabet and numbers, in German and in English, with some scripture translated to English, bilingualism that mostly ended with him. Sometimes he runs a banner through the illuminated title or above it. His students imitate these features, establishing this style which is not as ornate as later examples. Borders are marked by whirls which also under gird the initial letter in descending spirals, another feature of Pennsylvania German signatures.

Blake's Illuminations

Images of birds, flowers, angels, crowns from "a prototype in the mother country" (Weiser xxvii) beg comparison with Blake's illuminations whose "decorations" also suffered in obscurity because they were neither adequately reproduced nor understood from his private system of vision. Any similar rejection of the relation of art and text stands out. Weiser says no matter what their beauty of illustration that "Fraktur existed for the sake of the texts" (xxvii), an especially Protestant dependence "on the text and a few selected images to convey the message," (xxviii) hidden from understanding because of a "preoccupation with death and religious themes." You sense here a defensiveness in the critic, such themes are omnipresent in English poetry. The decorations of fraktur have been treated as an end in themselves much as Blake's poetry had been elevated above its images. Fraktur texts are now ignored as much as his illuminations were.

Multiple fraktur had multiple authors, but critics cannot find a system of thought in fraktur texts or have not stepped back far enough to see it. Blake's system was not perceived as a unity comprehended in his visions. It is still difficult for critics to affirm the literal Jesus found everywhere in Jerusalem and not make the reference over into a theory of imagination cut off from the literal. Until Erdman or Frye, critics were affronted at system in Blake. How could the critical cousins swallow then an esoteric unity in fraktur texts? Stoudt started out to find such, but the discredited world view of pietists allowed little credence to the notion of a world in hymns of verse. Opponents argue that multiple authorship from disparate sources further prevents this, but any point about a unity of texts depends anyway on a communal not individual expression of unity, on Pennsylvania Germans manifesting personal transcendentalism maybe, and a celebration of nature in their hymns and art well in advance of the birth of these ideas in New England. [Coming here, consideration of German Literary Influences in the American Transcendentalists.]

So what if Pennsylvania Dutch art is a product of "a spirit of mirth, of play...a love of beauty and a fantastic impulse to embellish" , painted furniture, carved wood, Christmas cookies cut "in hundreds of designs," inlays, embroideries with "the play and glee that only a man at peace with life can relish" (Frederick S. Weiser in The Pennsylvania German Fraktur of The Free Library of Philadelphia, 1976), xv)? The man of peace was at war with his divided self? The man of peace at war may be the genius of his muse.

Shaker Analogy

Images of Paradise imply a heavenly art translated to earth, as among the Shakers where "the peculiar grace of a Shaker chair is due to the fact that it was made by someone capable of believing that an angel might come and sit on it" (Thomas Merton, 85). The key is "capable of believing," prescient Milton taking dictation from the Holy Spirit to write Paradise Lost, or as Merton says, "Shakers believed their furniture was designed by angels--and Blake believed his ideas for poems and engraving came from heavenly spirits" (85). Merton likens the Shakers to Blake's protests "at the blindness of 'single vision' which saw only the outward and material surface of reality, not its inner and spiritual 'form and the still more spiritual 'force' from which the form proceeds" (74).

Merton's Shaker approaches the Pennsylvania Dutch mind: "the work of the craftsman's hands had to be an embodiment of 'form.' The form had to be an expression of spiritual force. The force sprang directly from the mystery of God through Christ in the Believing artist" (79). Merton says Shaker art has "something to do with what Blake called 'the secret furniture of Jerusalem's chamber'" (74), that "a work-a-day bench, cupboard, or table might also and at the same time be furniture in and for heaven" (74). It is obvious for Merton that "Shaker inspiration was communal...due not to the individual craftsman but to the community spirit and consciousness of the Believers" (76). Indeed that the Shaker forms were "a better, clearer, more comprehensible expression of their faith than their written theology" (76). This mythology sees the outward material surface through an inner spiritual form and still more the "spiritual force from which the form proceeds" (74).

Renewing Mind

So we make the case that Pennsylvania Dutch images of paradise celebrate the natural fruition and birth of plant and animal, find for the human a place amid these images, called here the way into the flowering heart, frakturs covered with lilies in the shape of a tulip, images of a tulip blooming from a heart, a rooster as a celebration, a flower-star and any field or haystack transformed by this renewing mind. The spider, the fly, the rooster, the child, and why not the cow, the farmer, the sky, the grass show plain dressed and unplain people, Gothic or not, ornate in their inner lives, "their only advertisement was the work itself" (Merton, 79), field, orchard and plant. Dutch celebration of life was by all means opposed to the surrounding English cultures whose domination of peoples and empires were commercial enterprises. Spiritual conditions made out of the natural set Pennsylvanians apart.

Recapturing the Lily Age might be like trying to live out the prophecies of Blake. It is all inside the mind's archetypes, giant forms to meditate. The Lily has as much to do with artifact as the seraphim with the hex. Nothing. Both are round. You can't get to the Lily by turning it into a counterfeit. It is not about nostalgia however for a thing that once existed, for stone pullers, horseback riders. A proper understanding of paradise requires the concession that it is not an external state. Paradise is interior, matching something we can't see, mirrored in what we can, connected to an organic field called the Kingdom of God, meaning the ground out of which the Lily grows which is completely within. Field, sky, sun and lovely plant in this world proceed on vegetative time, as a tree planted by rivers of water. Artifacts may be said to leave a trail of crumbs for the external mind , give it an illusion that it belongs. A pewter pitcher of nineteen hundred may be a clue.

Dominant English culture however saw nature as a mine, an exploitation, but the lily age celebrated nature for itself in behalf of Christ, a different kind of utility, as though legislating protection for the whale because God loves it. Were the salvation of nature so desired this might be forgiven by secularists. The Pennsylvania Dutch paradigm of the conservation of the biosphere is actual. It was once thought that the first principle of creative art and life among these peculiar people was "the divining of nature" which resembled the beating of swords into plough shares as a shorthand of that paradigm. "Peculiar" is a compliment connoting unworldly, uncommercial. Substitute the sword with the plow, commercial exploitation with conservation, and electric companies will be decommissioning dams to restore riparian habitat (Fossil Creek, AZ) when earth enters its final age of peace.

It is not toohard to accept the Pennsylvanians as an antidote to the destruction of nature, treasuring it so within to foster the underpinnings of a more caring world against the outer one that transforms everything to itself. The irony upon the elegant is that liberation comes from a people Franklin called brutish, who rejected the outer ethic of exploitation and "original sin" of slavery that is now the stuff of presidents. Commissions of an even greater original sin than slavery rebound along demolished salmon coasts in the demolition of buffalo and prairie, a sin against nature as old as Cotton Mather's infection of new worlds

New England vs. Pennsylvania
Concepts of nature and the world thus underlie the two competing American philosophies of the Puritan and Pennsylvania Dutch. What they thought of themselves they thought of nature, equivocated as human nature not the natural world. "World" was likewise a place of temptation, not the eco-sphere. Both projected an image of themselves outward.

New England puritans conditioned by their fear took the view that "the world," meaning nature, would contaminate them. Many such ideas were misapplied by the mind of the believer. The baggage of puritan beliefs was more toxic unloaded in the austere climate and soil of New England. Garrisoned against the natural they would have welcomed the Pennsylvania genius inviting nature indoors, as they did a century later in the guise of transcendentalism, had they not feared the unknown that lurked at the clearing's edge. By 1850 transcendentalism made them long for the pond, but two centuries earlier New England believed that the savage Indians, wild men and their own sins were only kept at bay by fear of the soil and its growth, which explains natural demolitions such as clear cutting the forest three and four centuries later. Prevent sin and make a profit.The idea of sin in nature perverted creation in their souls. Against the evil they found in themselves, projected outward and wolfishly portrayed, they erected a theology of dominion and racial superiority. In a new puritan age, "this spiritual imagination is impotent, sterile, or dead, is necessarily going to be an era of violence, chaos, destruction, madness, and slaughter (Merton, Seeking Paradise, 85).

It is no joke that racism and biological extinction lay like wolves at the door of the Puritan and the English in general. Question more deeply the house and those within if you dare, but for their own reasons the Dutch were not so afraid. Many had faced their adversary in the old world tortures. Here, in the milder circumstance of Pennsylvania they domesticated nature, invited it indoors, befriended it in their own natures, and while they spoke little of this faith, painted it, embroidered it, sculpted it and threw it on the forge. Thus domesticated, Pennsylvania didn’t produce a Scarlet Letter or spooky stories, but decorated chests and barns.

One cannot say the puritan hid his malaise. He legalized it, celebrated it with intellectualism. Jonathan Edwards, Cotton Mather drew sharp lines. If you disagreed with the governmental/pastoral views you had better be quiet about it. These things are thrown into sharper contrast compared with the milder governmental/pastoral conditions of Pennsylvania, where the English were and still are the majority party. Making literature into sociology tempts the effects of depravity upon nature from Hawthorne, "virgin soil as a cemetery" (Scarlet Letter, ), "the pine trees, aged, black, and solemn, and flinging groans and other melancholy utterances on the breeze, needed little transformation to figure as Puritan elders; the ugliest weeds of the garden were their children"( ).

There are any number of statements to the effect that "to the Puritan, nature was not benign. The wilderness was a place of terror"“ (Broyles), or as William Bradford put it (1620) "a hideous and desolate wilderness, full of wild beasts and wild men." Michael Broyles makes the telling observation that "much of the story [of Pilgrim's Progress] is set in America...it was the metaphorical terrain the believer had to traverse...,' which he says to differentiate the kinder nature of Puritan composer William Billings, opposed to his fellows (The New England Psalm Singer, 1770) see Mavericks and Other Traditions in American Music, 25). A great deal more than this has been said of the Puritan fear of those first two centuries.

Divide and conquer is the oldest rule of opposition. Quakers aside, they had more in common with the pacifist sects that with those who came to rule in Pennsylvania before the Revolution. These English exploited difference among the Pennsylvania German peace lovers, what admittedly the colony had been founded to pursue. Relations with the "world" were a sticking point for immigrants of the Lily who held differing taxonomies of Church and Sect, celebrated to this day as insoluble, the churched vs. the plain. Should they be in love, half in love or not at all? The divided separate but equal existence of Germans alongside the English in American civilization came to an end after the Civil War, for even though the Dutch were still divided they were assimilated. Some people think the Amish are the last bastion of the "separated" and that these differences existed even in 1950, that is, speaking German, farming, going barefoot, everything the matriarch, Anna Mack, despised, and the Amish may exist in 2050, but assimilation got all the rest.

CompromiseFor a long time Pennsylvania Germans sought to show that even if they were German they really did belong. Millard Gladfelter in his Foreword to Pennsylvania German Fraktur demonstrates this view when he refers to the persistent contests among cultures for retention of custom and language" (ix). His "contests" are a cultural cold war between the English "on the Delaware and Schuylkill Rivers" and the Germans of "outlying countrysides." In the same volume Weiser is at pains to make the Dutch American. He broadens the mandate of Penn's colony into "the much-celebrated openness of the United States...to receive into its midst persons and cultures of widely disparate origin" (xiii). But it was not the United States that did so but Penn's Quaker Pennsylvania. American is a misnomer here for the English and Puritan, but it has to be, for the English never welcomed the disparate, the range given by Gladfelter from "Negro Spirituals to Pennsylvania German Fraktur" (1x). Quite otherwise, they exploited them. So in order to fit in, assimilate even in the bi-centennial world of 1976 that these volumes commemorate, Weiser constructs a rhetoric that celebrates the whole for its part, the United States for Pennsylvania, but it was only Pennsylvania that welcomed the diverse. Weiser's Introduction of Fraktur is worth attending because he expresses transparently the attitudes and prejudices in the background of paradise art.

There is a perennial defensiveness in Pennsylvania German writing about the survival of its folk culture. "We are richer for it,' says Weiser. Instead of celebrating the dishes and language for themselves, it has to be for "the tolerance of American polity" (xiii), almost apologizing for being. Welcoming the diverse may be what America says of itself today on the Statue of Liberty, but to the extent it is true, the only practical example was among the Pennsylvania Germans in Philadelphia when the American rhetoric hatched that all men are created equal. It is a Pennsylvania dream of equality that Weiser celebrates "in styles at variance with the majority" (xiii), not an American one, even if it becomes so, and it was not "the majority," it was the English! Reading all these continual apologies for their Dutch defensiveness, it isn't that they are false to the fact, so much that they apologize for being what they are. Keyser, commenting on the texts of fraktur in his Preface to Hershey's book, doesn't have to add that "none of this little-studied body of folk poetry is fine literature" (8), he could easily have said, "these texts are an invaluable window into the mind of their art."

Borrowings From Betters

Even friends of fraktur feel they must not seem partisan. Weiser says that "with some exceptions, the motifs of Fraktur are simply embellishment and have no esoteric meaning or function beyond the beautification of the piece" (xxvii). Hershey defends fraktur as cultivating the beautiful, "a process that stretches the imagination and pushes the artist toward an appreciation and even a love for things beautiful"(52). Even! Why are such things said? Answer with a question, "Why else would this large body of folk art...have been preserved and so obviously treasured?" It is only the Dutch who can doubt their beauty while everyone else celebrates it. After examining a thousand piece of fraktur Hershey says that in some cases the design illustrates the text, but mostly they are "lovely compositions," pretty pictures if you will that "convey religious meaning equally as well as they communicate the value of beauty in everyday life" (56). One feels like a frog in the tepid.

The abstraction of image from text proliferated from fraktur through the other folk art genres of linens, chests, pots, ironwork and barns. This encouraged the divorce of meaning from text, Stoudt's point, that the images derive meaning from the hymns, etc., but their later abstraction does not sever connection to origin. Weiser wants the images to be an imitation of the nobility by the middle class, folk art, a"cultural sinking from the tastes of upper levels of society" (xxviii), not a rising from the unconscious or from the hymns. He uses this failing social/political analysis in his Preface to the Pennsylvania German Decorated Chest, an omnipresent Dutch defensiveness that the brutish boors peasants can do nothing creative but imitate in bastardy their betters.

Keyser says "none of this little-studied body of folk poetry is fine literature" (This Teaching, 8), an odd determination if it is little-studied and the designation of "fine" means Mozart, but not Kafka or Borges who though entirely irrelevant also apply for "fineness" in vain. Has such a claim been made of other folk art? "Their copies of upper class, from furnishings to portraits, to attire, are frequently grouped together under the name of folk art" (Chest, 13). Weiser's "constant cultural sinking from the tastes of upper levels of society" so that "fine engravings and prints owned by the elite found their country counterpart in the drawings of schoolmasters and itinerants" (Fraktur, xxviii) are an old discredited assumption. He cites the lion and unicorn from British arms and the eagle from American, as borrowings from betters. Everything has context, but it is patently post hoc to say that because they preceded them they caused them. Images have to be allowed their own world outside social milieus. The Dutch eagles are a supreme delight in their interpretations, hardly copies. Do you say Navajo weavers imitated their betters when they wove chief blankets or railroad trains at the behest of traders?

Rationalizing art is a hard road divorcing text and context the same, which was argued of Blake, whose illuminations were "mere embellishment." It would be better for critics to admit they cannot see any connection and consider the impediments to their seeing.

Spiritual Transfer

Technology, philosophy and religion promoted assimilation. Early twentieth century transfers of decorative images from chest to barn were a "last flowering" (Yoder, Hex Signs, 3) of this art, but the compromise of Dutch ways is tracked in every activity, from song to speech. "Did any of the now common English choruses originate among the Pennsylvania Dutch and spread, through translation from German to English...? Yoder answers his own question, "the type of spiritual transfer that took place--one might almost call it spiritual osmosis--was from the greater to the lesser body. Anglo-American religious patterns were adopted by the Pennsylvania Dutch, rather than vice versa (Pennsylvania Spirituals, 348). But it wasn't just the permeable membrane of song, it was the stenciling of patterns instead of free-hand painting (Fabian,63), "machine made ware from England [Gaudy Dutch china] resulted in driving out local potteries" (Frederick, 257). "English ideas about furniture finishes, printed birth certificates, and Victorian popular designs, the Pennsylvania Dutch lost interest in the artifacts of earlier generations. In time, the chests, pottery, and pie safes were relegated to the attic or barn" (Hex Signs, 37).

Substitution of English ideas in the Americanization of the Pennsylvania Dutch touched the flower-star and the images on barns transferred from household decorations. These images had a contentious history, but they came from everyday relations with nature, sun, animals, plants. For all the debate of the origin of the hex sign, the twelve pointed star, the image comes from gardens, it is the image of a double tiger day lily, a duplicate of its shape. This is easy or difficult to find in the borders and plots of day lilies. The deeper legacy must involve a use of earth, design of internal landscapes, a spirit of acceptance that permeates mind and spirit, a spiritual force symbolized by the natural.

Spiritual Demise

Stoudt says the images are mandalas, after Jung, but gets no credit for it from Yoder. The images painted on furniture, embroidered on linen, drawn on paper are "a full range of celestial and earthly subjects. Stars and birds, both identifiable and unrecognizable, are seen along with the plump heart..." (Fabian, 58). With the toasting couple, the unicorn, equestrian figures and mermaid Fabian describes techniques, "the unicorn painters of Berks County, for example-also had templates for the major elements of their designs" (62), but "after the second decade of the nineteenth century, however, stenciling is frequently used in lieu of freehand painting. It is obviously used as a time-saving device and as such is one of the heralds of the decline of the traditional arts of rural Pennsylvania" (63)

But the most usual popular treatment rouses superstition before dashing it to the ground. Pennsylvania Dutch Country, (Irwin Richman) invokes amulets and symbols, "askew crosses," scratched into lintels, "almost invisible except to the knowing eye," "symbolism and magic" (53) before taking Yoder's Hex Signs as proof against this voodoo. Having his cake and eating too, the author dances with popular modern hex signs, but allows little if any "iconic meaning to the decorations found on fraktur," the quintessential Pennsylvania German Artifact," with every one of those barn symbols and then some, "flowers, vines, animals and birds...hearts, crowns, angels and compass stars" (56).

Exfoliations of the lily in this spiritual flower garden, "died when the point of view which created them—the faith of Pennsylvania’s radical religious sects—was killed by the advent of religious liberalism” (Stoudt, 24), the introduction of English in schools and the death of home-crafts by the industrial revolution (Stoudt, xviii). Stoudt already rules out a huge segment of the population when he says "sects." But Yoder also allows that the decline of fraktur "can be found in the nineteenth-century disintegration of the folk culture of the Pennsylvania Germans, particularly (1) the disappearance of institutional elements such as the parochial school, which had produced the Vorschrift, (2) the shift to the English language, which brought with it an inevitable loss of German devotional literature as the wellspring of fraktur symbolism, and (3) the decline in the very meaning of baptism, which had produced the Taufschein." The decline of baptism "can be partially attributed to the impact of the revivalist movement, which invaded the Pennsylvania German churches and sects from the world of Anglo-America." It was a complete conquest: "Fraktur was part of the old-style colonial culture, which, especially in the field of religion, was being challenged and reshaped through acculturation with Anglo-American forms" (280). Reshaped through acculturation here means denatured. So the decorative art of the lily, its expression of an inner state, abstracted completely out of its origin, became the so called “prayer acts” of Wentz (24) and the lily was exhausted.

How much a meliorist one wants to be about this is a choice to celebrate the past from the majority point of view of the English or lament the passing of the Dutch? Going from the island to the continent of the majority gives so many rewards but foreordains the peasant inferior to the Ph.d., begs the question of what the rural folk benefits were, if impossible to recapture, when everyone suddenly wishes the garden were back again that has been sacrificed to progress.

What is the meaning of the flowering heart, its iconography and philosophy in itself? Who are the suspects in its demise? Were, as Stoudt argues, whole classes of these people [German-American] transcendentalists one hundred years before Emerson? Where are the studies of that text from the many sources that remain untranslated of the 3151 books and almanacs printed in the German language in America between 1728 and 1830? What devastations wreaked upon these people in the interests of social control need correction?

The Lily

According to Stoudt, the Pennsylvania Dutch desire to transfigure the world is the substance of its imagination and symbolism. Borrowing from frequent biblical metaphors, images on chests, fraktur, embroidered linen, china, ironwork were symbols of Christ, the branch, the corn of wheat, the pelican sanctifying natural existence by symbolic presence. With the tulip/lily as the principal image of this art, creation was a manifestation of God: "the earth is the Lord's," a divine aspect of the natural, "it was good." Because they were redeemed nature was too. Through these symbols they saw their lives in natural context. Personified as grass and flower, tree by the stream, such a view would become an antidote to botanical and biological demolition. But it is not a literal tulip on show towels, quilts and chests even if it looks like one. This lily is from hymns and gardens, an image from the Song of Songs before elaboration in the writings of Boehme (1575-1623) and subsequent celebration in German works of colonial Pennsylvania transported there by the Ephrata Cloister. The hymnals sang of die unfgehende lilie, the opening lily, the lilen-Zweig, the lily twig and the wohlriechenden lilen, the fragrant ones (Stoudt, 85, 89, 95). So the Pennsylvania Dutch imagination of the eighteenth century had its “lily age,” where the images from hymns and gardens conferred on artifacts an internal state. Generations that seemed to shun demonstration, thinking outward celebration worldly, were silent about this inner world even while they went about day to day in faith contemplating the flower of an “uncontaminated good within natural reality.” (Stoudt, 101).

The lily was an image of uncontaminated nature among the Pennsylvania Dutch, a physical flower transferred to spiritual life, renewing the physical by association. The Puritans went the other way, the physical contaminated the spiritual. Uncontaminated does not mean clean land fills, it means uncontaminated by the inner spiritual world. In the context of total depravity, the Puritans transferred sin from themselves to the dark forest that hid the predator. It was a motive for cutting the trees, but Pennsylvanians took nature as a manifestation of their inner redemption. The most accessible example of their belief occurs in Boehme: "as a fair flower grows out of the rough earth, which is not like the earth but declares by its beauty the power of the earth, and how it is mixed of good and evil; so also is every man, who, out of the animal, wild, earthly nature and quality, is born again so as to become the right image of God. For those who are a growth of such a kind, and are shooting forth into the fair lily in the kingdom of God and are in process of birth, have we written this book .” (Jacob Boehme, Six Theosophic Points, 4)

The flower that emerges from this soil is like the image of God that emerges from the animal man, pietistic outcomes hard to obtain, the silence of devotion, the acceptance of suffering, the union with God, the union of this inmost birth, consummation of their heart’s desire imaged in “the blossoming of the lily.” Its rejection was always disguised in apparent acceptance, saying one thing and doing another among adversaries who spoke of the glory of God and destroyed his handiwork. Christ was that lily that grew from their hearts where the believer compounded a paradise. The destruction of the earth, clothed in progress, and a hardheartedness against the poor were, in other words, merely the rejection of Christ.

Many realizations of their identity were hidden in hymns that transmit Boehme and Arndt to the linens, “lost in obscure German books which no one reads today” (Stoudt, 92). It helps even less if we have to go all the way back to Jacob Boehme to understand how Pennsylvania German folk art had a textual origin for organic shapes created by generations. It was always the English grievance against the Dutch that they were uneducated. Germans reveled in it to some degree, boasted they were peasants, resisted learning even while faulting themselves for not having it. So Boehme was their perfect master, a shoemaker with visions, “one of the most remarkable untrained minds” (Rufus Jones, preface to Stoudt’s tr. vii). The shoemaker was like the baker (Beissel) who founded Ephrata. There was room for farmers and peasants of all kinds in the Dutch artifact of original thought, even if Boehme influenced Milton, Newton and Emerson and had his writings early translated to English (1647-1661).

The celebration of the garden within, this terrestrial paradise, was also present in in medieval Catholic writers from celebrations of love in the German Minnesong and baroque German religious poets (Stoudt, 56) to Bernard of Clairvaux and in Dionysian Neoplatonism. But how did the lily get onto the linens and into the chests? The train of descent seems to be that the image in Boehme transferred to the hymnists and “escaped to illuminated writings, to the decorated chest, and to pottery” (92). So a four fold progression accounts Bible, Boehme, hymns, folk art or, starting from the end result, “Pennsylvania German folk art is basically spiritual in concept and the motifs and designs used are non-representational expressions of traditional Christian imagery” (Stoudt, vii). All this is merely to say this art is wholly religious and that its symbols are intellectual conceptions of its faith.

If it is a lily why does it look like a tulip? Because the lily is not from nature but from art, that is to say, it is not drawn to look like a real flower but represents an internal state, an internal flower, a flowering heart. Of course it’s not a lily either, that is, it is a symbol of the internal. A fourfold discernment is traced by critics, philosophy, hymns, gardens and kitchen, and then in household effects. It is a course in interior design, the most quintessential Dutch practice. In actuality the flower is a series of devotional attitudes and states of mind. That being the case, while they name the lily they perhaps do not best describe it, which honor may fall to Johann Arndt in his Wahres Christenthum. Stoudt documents the lily in its folk representations, but we would want to find out its origin in folk life outside of Boehme.

Access to this occurs in their folk art: frakturs, embroideries, chests. The inescapable Dutch “tulip” that looks like a tulip, indeed we would say it is a tulip, is Christ (Stoudt, 106). heavily medieval in this praise in the “inarticulate belief in the artist’s heart” (Stoudt, 15). Critics have been pretty quiet about this iconic mind filled with decorations and gardens, a “use of natural events and objects to describe spiritual conditions” (Stoudt, 100), interpreted with hymns and flowers, stars, lilies and roses on pottery and linens. The lily “dominates the poetry and the literature; tulips appear rarely in verbal form.” These collective biblical images underlay their minds with faith. But the mind is not separate from the body or from the emotions. The Pennsylvania Dutch “produced an American decorative art which, with few minor exceptions, is the only indigenous art of its kind in our land”(Stoudt, 3).

Works Cited

The Adams-Jefferson Letters. Edited by Lester J. Cappon. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1987.
Jacob Boehme. Six Theosophic Points. Translated by John Rolleston Earle. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1958.
F. George Frederick. Pennsylvania Dutch Cookery.
Mary Jane Lederach Hershey. This Teaching I Present: Fraktur from the Skippack and Salford Mennonite Meetinghouse Schools, 1747-1836. Intercourse, PA: Good Books 2003.
Monroe H. Fabian. The Pennsylvania-German Decorated Chest. Pennsylvania German Society, 2004.
John Joseph Stoudt. Pennsylvania German Folk Art. Allentown, PA: Pennsylvania German Folklore Society. 1966
John Joseph Stoudt. Jacob Boehme's The Way to Christ, In A New Translation. New York, London: Harper, 1947.
Frederick S. Weiser and Howell J. Heaney. The Pennsylvania German Fraktur. Breingigsville: The Pennsylvania German Society, 1976.
Richard E. Wentz. Editor, Pennsylvania Dutch Folk Spirituality. Sources of American Spirituality Series. New York: Paulist Press, 1993]
Don Yoder. Discovering American Folklife. Mechanicsburg: Stackpole Books. 2001
Hex Signs (with Thomas E. Graves) Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2000.
Pennsylvania Spirituals
. Lancaster, PA: Pennsylvania Folklife Society, 1961

SummaryParadise may be reconstructed after the discovery of harm from the dominion of a science, commerce and art inspired for profit. But it is also science, commerce and art that explores paradise.


The lily in the garden is the tulip grown from the heart.
We may say that the mind is to its surroundings and upbringing as folk art is to its tradition. If Pennsylvania German folk art receives its meaning from the literary tradition which accompanies it, the mind also received meaning from its surrounding culture, portrayed not only in the artifacts and also in the family literary tradition of the Pennsylvania German, the Bible, German medieval and Pietistic hymnody and Pennsylvania German hymnals. They say art was not favored in Mennonite families. That’s how they were “plain.” But even that prejudice is disproved by the “tulips” and their celebration of the Pennsylvania Dutch way into the flowering heart.

Afterword - Did You Find Paradise Today?

Told it doesn't exist you long for paradise. When it was in the interest of scholars they believed, not that they personally thought it existed or its art in the mountain sunset or the mouse. Were paradise free speech or whatever pleases, the three harvests and hot tubs of the captives of pleasure could have private paradises too. But the art of paradise is not about us, it's about the creatures that inhabit it, wild or domesticated in a green Shade. Paradise kept with hands brings the natural to the human.

Free of the separation which we reckon occurred when the serpent came to America, myth before discovery, besieged by enemies in a colonial fantasy of sexism and racism so called, thinking makes it so. Serpents destroy forests, prairies and animals, take dystopia over utopia, symbols of destruction over innocence. It's hard to imagine paradise in an age that denies it but longs for memories of wholeness it forgot. Was there peace? Nobody wants Inferno, but nothing succors in the deconstruct.
We get over disbelief. The child believes, but the adolescent diminishes, imitates the adult. In their private paradise they go to pillage the garden. Ask if one believes and get a look. One believes in profit. One believes in success. But look for paradise if you believe it's lost. Find a piece of paradise. Evening conversations would begin, "did you find paradise today?" Everyone would be looking.

This fictive assumption presumes a restoration of earth was forming in the minds of artists with the industrial revolution, the chimney sweep of Blake, that paralysis immobilized agencies able to effect remediation. In reinvention, but the paralysis is also metaphorical, we rise in the night, thoughts start before four AM. So would creation travail with the problem sons. You could wish they were out of the way, but not if worse were in store. We may go on with daily life, right to the end, shibboleths of the past argue, as though they meant something. Doctrines of false imagination finish the day, sleep another night in evasion and deny.

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