Sunday, December 5, 2010


Mennonite Heritage Center
Some time ago I read about a Pennsylvania German Art Sale at the Mennonite Heritage Center in Harleysville, Montgomery County, about 30 miles northwest of Philadelphia. Their Web site showed a list of craftspeople, and they were top notch. So, I mentioned this to a friend from Philadelphia, and he agreed to meet there to see the show and the heritage center.

Keith is actually a former student of mine from eons ago, when I taught in the middle school. He likes all things Pennsylvania German and is going to study their houses and furnishings (and other stuff) at a prestigious school in Philadelphia. He brought his friend Ken, who is an architect. I arrived a little late, having misjudged the time it would take to get there, even with the Box outdoing itself on the Northeast Extension of the turnpike.

Redware pottery
We looked through the wonderful pieces in the art sale, including redware pottery (some from Breininger pottery, of course), fraktur and scherenschnitte, hooked rugs, wooden painted cabinets, tin, textiles, and toleware. I had my eye on a wooden hanging cabinet but noticed some others across the room. When I got back to the first one, it was being sold to an elderly woman. I think I could have taken her and wrestled it from her frail and bony fingers, but I hesitated to jump on someone in a wheelchair.

Next we took a look at the oil painting exhibit, another with antique fraktur, a third with antique clothing, and finally, the permanent exhibit of Mennonite Church history. A quick stop in the gift shop completed the visit.

Ken, left, and Keith at Schwenkfelder Library
Soon we were headed down the pike to Green Lane to see the Goschenhoppen Historians' museum. They were having a sale of sorts, too. But it had to wait, as we whizzed by, missing the turn, and ending up at our third destination, the Schwenkfelder Library and Heritage Center.

Caspar Schwenkfeld von Ossig was a Protestant Reformer in 16th century Europe. His followers, known as Schwenkfelders, settled in southeastern Pennsylvania in the 1730s and still have churches in that area today.

The heritage center exhibits items owned and used by the Schwenkfelders, many of them from the 18th and 19th centuries. The center also tells their story and describes the current six congregations, all of them in the Philadelphia area, with 3,000 members. The Schwenkfelders never adopted a distinguishing form of dress, like the Amish or Mennonite groups did.

In the lobby, there was a sale of crafts by heritage center members, I think, and a small gift shop. Once again, we resisted buying anything. Two ladies inside the door were handing out delicious cookies and attempted to direct us back to Green Lane and Red Men's Hall, where the third Christmas exhibit was taking place. They were both so accommodating and talked over each other so much that I had to step away, fearing a stroke or brain aneurysm, and left Keith and Ken to figure it out.

Soon we headed toward Green Lane, stopping briefly to see a handsome stone house with brick trim and imagining how much better it would look without the aluminum columns and the plastic shutters.

Red Men's Hall in Green Lane
Making the right turn this time, we came across Red Men's Hall and followed signs directing us to the bank lot across the street. As we approached the building, we smelled the scent of peanuts roasting outside. A man gave us directions to see a museum General Store, the baked goods and lunch sale, the Christmas Market, and the general exhibit area on the top floor.

We checked out the baked goods and Christmas Market, then climbed a very tall flight of steps to see the general museum, filled with such goodies as iron stoves, a church pulpit, farm implements, home furnishings  -- just a very nice collection of old things from the area. Goschenhoppen Historians was formed when local folks realized that the things and activities associated with "the old days" had begun to disappear.

Chamber organ at Goschenhoppen
According to their Web site, "Goschenhoppen, correctly pronounced Gush'n hup'n, is one of the oldest existing, continuously Pennsylvania German communities in America. Settled in the early eighteenth century by Mennonite, Lutheran, Catholic, Schwenkfelder, Reformed and Dunker farmers and artisans, it was a center of Palatine German language and culture, with Alsatian, Swiss, Bavarian, and Hessian influences.

Many descendants of these early settlers live in the community today. Our concerned community members support the Historians in the collection, preservation, and dissemination of the history and folk culture of the Pennsylvania Germans in the Goschenhoppen and nearby areas."

Our final stop there was the General Store, where, with the smell of roasting peanuts wafting through the door, we saw all sorts of items one would find in a store about a hundred years ago. We were met at the front door by an effigy of the Belsnickel, Santa's evil counterpart, who scared kids into being good in the early Pennsylvania German communities.

It was very obvious throughout this visit that the people volunteering at these places were completely devoted to their missions of preserving and sharing their knowledge. While some of the institutions were more sophisticated than others, I really have to commend these folks for their work.

Don't let the Belsnickel get you!
By now it was one o'clock, so we stopped in a restaurant housed in an old building (what else?). We were assigned to a smallish dining room in which a couple of generations of a family were already eating, and having a loud and raucous time. So much so, in fact, that they were beginning to annoy me! I tried to get the other guys to go over and rough them up, but they declined. The food was so-so, but the company was fine.

As the Philly men headed off to buy a Christmas tree, the Box and I headed back to the northeast extension of the turnpike and arrived home after dark, having fought our way through a huge number of 18-wheelers that liked hanging out in the passing lane.

 The museum at the Mennonite Heritage Center.

The Mennonite kitchen exhibit.

 Vintage clothing on exhibit.

The art sale items were quite fine.

A beautiful scherenschnitte, or 
paper cutting.

Hand-made rugs are colorful.

 This woman was demonstrating scherenschnitte.

 And this one was hooking rugs.

Back in the museum, the bedroom display.

A fine cupboard houses china.

 China on a hutch at the Schwenkfelder Heritage Center.

 This jacquard coverlet hung near an antique loom.

 This organ (c.1825) must have been for
a home, since organs were not allowed
 in Schwenkfelder worship.


 Schwenkfelder chests made in Germany and
used to travel to the colonies.

Bed, chair, and decorated chest.

 Nineteenth century mourning attire.

A child's coffin, filled with ice or herbs for the wake.
It is sitting on a bier for carrying to the cemetery.

 The Schwenkfelder Center's putz or Christmas village.

Farm animals are a feature of the putz.

 They were serving lunch and selling baked
goods at the Goshenhoppen museum.

 Paper chains on a natural tree--
no shearing and shaping here!

 A candle "construction" with apples and boxwood.

 A branch wrapped with cotton and 
decorated with mid-20th century ornaments.

 Flag chains on another natural tree.

 In the museum, another pipe organ!

 A ten-plate stove cast at an iron furnace.

 A pulpit and table from an early church.

This decorated hutch held china.

As we left the Goschenhoppen museum, 
Ken and Keith try out the door's 
not-so-subtle peephole.

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