Friday, November 30, 2012

Ferdinand Brader

About a decade ago, when we did the landmark exhibition on the German-American folk artist Fritz Vogt, we realized that there was a remarkably compatible artist who worked in Pennsylvania. his name was Ferdinand Brader, and he produced large and detailed graphite scenes of farm complexes mostly in the 1880s, just before Vogt's prime years of artistic production in the 1890s. I had seen fantastic examples of Brader's work in private collections and always admired them. They tend to be larger and even more detailed than Vogt's -- not necessarily better in a qualitative way, but different enough to distinguish the two men. We could not prove any link between Brader and Vogt, but it is not hard to imagine that one may have existed either in the US or Europe (Brader immigrated from Switzerland). By the way, our findings on Vogt are published and available here.)

Well, Brader will finally be given his due in 2014 at the Canton (Ohio) Museum of Art. An exhibition team lead by curator Kathleen Wieschaus has identified 194 surviving drawings and has uncovered loads of family stories that relate to the works. Their website, Brader Exhibit 2014, details their progress on an ongoing basis. Here is one of my favorite stories from one of the drawings in the exhibit. It reminds me so much of the Vogt project, I had to share it:

Just a few weeks ago, a resident of Stark County, OH, brought in his Brader drawing and told the story of his Swiss great-great-grandfather and the making of Swiss cheese on the family farm. The Brader shows the Cheese House at the center left, where area farmers are bringing their milk and a supply of firewood to cook the milk with rennet (enzymes from a cow's stomach which helps turn the milk into curds). Cool water pumped from a well just behind the Cheese House and funneled through the structure in troughs can be seen in the drawing. This water kept the milk fresh until enough was gathered to make the cheese. The curds would be pressed into wheels with the whey fed to the pigs. The cheese rolls would be placed on boards and carried into the house (the drawing shows one man doing t his) where they would be aged in the basement. Eventually the aged rolls would be taken to market and sold.

As with Vogt, Brader was a keen observer who left us with an extraordinary record of a time long gone. I congratulate Kathleen and her team for piecing this history back together and sharing it with all of us. Please keep an eye on her website for updates on the progress of the Brader exhibit.

And think about this drawing the next time you have some fine Swiss cheese.
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