Mary Jane Lederach Hershey
The Mennonite Heritage Center holds a large and significant collection of Mennonite fraktur from Eastern Pennsylvania. Throughout the year, works from the collection are on display in the Mary Jane Lederach Hershey Fraktur Gallery.
Schoolmaster Christopher Dock introduced this form of folk art to eastern Pennsylvania Mennonites in the Colonial Period. Earlier known as fraktur schriften (literally broken, or fractured writing), this was a type of decorated or illuminated religious writing which has origins in the monasteries of medieval Europe. Dock taught at the meetinghouse schools of the Skippack and Salford Mennonites during the 18th century.
Other schoolmasters who followed Christopher Dock and continued the fraktur tradition in Mennonite schools in Montgomery County include Huppert and Christian Cassel, Henrich Brachtheiser, Andreas Kolb, Jacob Gottschall, Jacob Hummel, Isaac Z. Hunsicker, Martin & Samuel Gottschall, and Henry G. Johnson. Bucks County schoolmasters whose work has been identified include Johannes Meyer, John Adam Eyer, Samuel Meyer, David Kulp, Rudolph Landes, Jacob Oberholtzer, and Jacob Gross.
The use of fraktur schriften played a significant role in the educational process. A writing example, called a vorschrift, was used to teach the students to write the alphabet and numbers, and to learn hymns and scriptures. The texts on the vorschriften encouraged and admonished the children to fear God, lead pious and obedient lives.
The schoolmaster also drew colorful birds and exquisite flowers on small slips of paper, which he gave to industrious children. He decorated bookplates for handmade hymn-tune notebooks. Later, in the first half of the nineteenth century, schoolmasters created many delicate bookplates for printed hymnals, New Testaments and other devotional books.
Fraktur writing flourished in this community from approximately 1750 to 1845. The reluctant acceptance by the German-speaking townships of the state sponsored public school system in the 1840s brought the decline of fraktur writing in the schools. These vibrant treasures were cherished by the children, safeguarded in family Bibles, and passed from one generation to the next.
A group of birth and baptismal certificates from the MHC Collection have been matted, framed and placed on display in the Gallery. Most of these have never been exhibited before; a number of them are from local Mennonite families. Most are from the 19th century (before 1865) and were printed in small quantities in print shops in southeastern PA, then hand-colored, perhaps by an itinerant. Many were then filled out in calligraphy lettering by an itinerant artist. Some are signed and/or dated by the artist; many are not.
Birth and baptismal certificates (also known as taufscheins) were commonly used by families of Lutheran, Reformed and other Protestant groups in Pennsylvania who practiced infant baptism to record the birth and baptism of their children. Although not common among Mennonite families, when they did use these documents, they often didn’t record the baptism of the child, since that event generally happened later, in the teenage or young adult years. So, taufscheins from Mennonite families that record both birth and baptism are fairly uncommon. Several examples in the display fall in this category.
A selection of Bucks County fraktur from the Mennonite Heritage Center’s collection has also been installed. These include vorschriften (penmanship models), family records, and fraktur-style pictures (some of which may have been given as school rewards).
Please stop in and see the treasures “old and new” that are on exhibit in the Fraktur Gallery.
Hours: Tuesday through Friday, 10 am to 5 pm; Saturday 10 am to 2 pm
$5.00 Admission Donation. Handicap access to exhibits.