Fuctional art celebrates Amish customs
Posted Dec. 1, 2006

Maria Villalpando

Creating a cookie decoration with clay, Erin Kilpatrick, a senior, tries one of the “hands-on” exhibits using traditional Pennsylvania Dutch tin cookie cutter shapes. Pitzer College’s Nichols Gallery presented an exhibition on Dutch folk arts. Kilpatrick heard about the event from a dorm resident.


A unique art exhibit was held at Pitzer College in honor of Pennsylvania Dutch Folk Arts and Artisans on Nov 14.

The Pennsylvania Dutch refers to people of such religious faiths as Amish, Lutheran and Anabaptist who descended from German immigrants, arriving in Pennsylvania before 1800.

The Amish are the most conservative members of the Pennsylvania Dutch tradition and the most well known sect in society.

Anthropology Professor Sheryl Miller and her students hosted this museum-like gallery to show a side of American culture that has long been hidden.

As part of the Museums and Material Culture course at Pitzer College, students were given the opportunity to become curators.

“This was the perfect way for [our professor] to introduce us to culture and museum studies,” said Camille Frazier, an anthropology major at Scripps College.

Various artifacts, linens and household materials were lined along the walls of this small gallery.

Each material held a meaning that has influenced modern life.

The artifacts are not intended to be works of art, but to represent functional forms and design.

The exhibit was dedicated to the memory of the Amish girls who died in last month’s Lancaster County schoolhouse shooting.

“It’s a really good learning experience for students,” Miller said.

“[It] took a long time to conceptualize the plan, then finally make everything happen,” she added.

Wrought iron styles were a big part of the exhibit.

Elaborate door hinges and handles were presented on simple wood door planks.

Also, all wrought iron utensils made by blacksmiths were given typical Pennsylvania Dutch hooks so that they could be hung on the hearth.

The cookie cutters display was an interesting and popular exhibit.

This American invention became a big hit in the Pennsylvania Dutch culture with various shapes and sizes relating to biblical terms.

For a hands on experience, guests were given the chance to cut out shapes of clay with the cookie cutters to make Christmas ornaments.

“ I love the cookie cutters and what that represents about families, mothers and children,”  said Catherine Grier Carlson, chaplin of the Claremont Colleges.

Sheryl Miller said the Pennsylvania Dutch culture appealed to her because her great grandfather was a blacksmith.

Miller began collecting folk arts about 10 years ago when she became fascinated with the Amish culture.

Most of her pieces came from antique shops from Pennsylvania, and from friends.

Even though these pieces are for everyday use, Miller said she found them to be extremely beautiful.

The exhibit presented an overall unique set up. This was not your ordinary “ come and look at what I can paint or draw”  type of event.

This was life in a hands-on setting.

“ This exhibit showed that products were used over and over in the past instead of the throw-away mechanism we have today,” Miller said.

The exhibit will run until Dec. 8 in the Nichols Gallery at Pitzer College.

Allison Farole can be reached at allison.farole@yahoo.com.

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