Thursday, October 14, 2010

Hail Germania

Folk sculpture, at its best, intrigues, surprises, and delights with its mastery of pure form. Such is the case with the works of John Scholl (1827-1916) whose large piece titled “Mary’s Star” (68" tall) is featured in the Fenimore Art Museum’s new exhibition, “Picturing Women.”

Scholl was born in Wurtenburg, Germany and immigrated to (where else?) Germania, Pennsylvania in 1853. The were forests in the region which provided plenty of wood from which to build a community, and Scholl was a consummate worker in wood. He cleared his land and built his own house, and then proceeded to build the village church, the general store, and a local brewery. He worked with his hands for his entire life, and in his later years created elaborate decorations for local houses by making gingerbread trim with a bandsaw.
This latter activity likely led to his artistic career, which did not even begin until he turned eighty! At that age he finally decided to retire and devote himself to using his jack knife and bandsaw to express his identity, his heritage, and his deeply held beliefs. Between 1907 and his death in 1916, Scholl created dozens of human-scale sculptures comprised of an astoundingly intricate array of evocative shapes.

The pieces celebrate his Pennsylvania German heritage with their inclusion of hearts, birds of paradise, doves, flowers, and crosses.  These sculptures are remarkable in their overall visual unity. Each piece has a theme. Our “Mary’s Star” celebrates Christmas with its abstracted female form underneath a large, elaborate star. Scholl’s adopted American identity is also present here, in the distinctly Victorian shape of the base of the sculpture and the red, white, and blue color scheme. We have two other pieces by Scholl: another large sculpture with a military theme called “Song of Victory” (seen in our folk art gallery below) and a small toy-like Ferris Wheel.

These creations were not meant to serve any purpose, and were never sold or even given away. They adorned the Scholl home and were meant simply to engage and delight visitors. A period photo of Scholl’s parlor shows what a visitor to his home might have seen in the early years of the 20th century. You might notice our "Song of Victory" in the corner. A jaw-dropping sight, indeed. 

In the 1970s, Cooperstown Graduate Program student Katherine Grier wrote her thesis on Scholl, and did an exhibition and catalogue entitled “Celebrations in Wood.” His works are in important collections, including ours and that of the American Folk Art Museum in New York. And, it was nice to find out, Scholl’s descendants are still out there calling attention to his work on a great website and producing art of their own.

The quote they ascribe to the artist is a fitting summation of his life and his impetus for creating art: "When a man works steadily and faithfully for sixty years, idleness is an unwanted stranger."


  1. This was one of my favorite pieces from my trip there last week. My wife and I drove up from Brooklyn for our 1 year anniversary. We came just for the museum and I was not disappointed!!!

  2. So glad you liked it, and this piece in particular. How do you like my new masthead? :-)

    Do come back and see us again. We change most of exhibits every year. And congratulations on your anniversary!

  3. I is truly heart warming to hear the positive comments. John Scholl is my great grandfather. My grandmother use to play in the room above.

    1. I would love to be in contact with you "Anonymous" as I am his great great grand daughter. Please respond to


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