THE FOUNDING OF THE KUTZTOWN FOLK FESTIVAL BY FOLKLORIST DR. ALFRED L. SHOEMAKER

Footnote Page

1. In World War II, Dr. Shoemaker served his country working for Army Intelligence in Europe.  He became a pacifist after seeing the wholesale destruction of cultures and intense violent hatred of peoples for one another.  Forced to carry a weapon, he carried it unloaded.  He experienced depression as a prisoner of war.

2. During the World War II years many bilingual Pennsylvania Germans out of courtesy to the United States Government spoke only English and did not speak their native German dialect.  The Kutztown Folk Festival was one of the first post war events of a large scale where Pennsylvania Germans were encouraged to speak and be proud of their Colonial heritage. Speak and listen, they did as they came to the Kutztown Fairgrounds in droves to celebrate America’s melting pot.

3. Dr. Arthur D. Graeff’s report to the members of the Pennsylvania German Society in 1955, Volume XXI Pennsylvania German Folklore Society, Allentown, PA.

4. In the modern atomic age of post war America, educated Pennsylvania Germans, proud of their station in life, were embarrassed about superstitious stories promoted by infamous metropolitan newspapers of yesteryear.

5. Viola Miller is best remembered as the person whose mother-in-law had the famous “drechter kucha” (funnel cake) recipe which was served at the very first festival.

6. The judge who presided over Dr. Shoemaker’s bankruptcy case appointed a Lancaster attorney, Mark R. Eaby Jr., to oversee the affairs of the Kutztown Folk Festival until creditors in Lancaster County were satisfied.  Mr. Eaby proved to be a good businessman and remained in charge of the festival up to 1995.

7 The numerous field research files of Pennsylvania Folklife are in the Myrin Library of Ursinus College, Collegeville, PA.


By Richard H. Shaner

            During the dark days of World War II, when the local term for German toast, “Oyer Brode” was changed to “French toast,” and the Pennsylvania German dialect tongue was silent in U.S. public buildings, there emerged a dynamic Pennsylvania German scholar, Alfred L. Shoemaker, a son of a farmer from Schnecksville, Lehigh County.  He eventually became the nation’s leading ethnologist, and founder of the first Department of Folklore in America in 1948.
Alfred earned his Ph.D. researching the Pennsylvania German language and folklore among the Amish of Arthur, Illinois and received his degree at the University of Illinois in 1940.  Coming back to Pennsylvania he joined the staff of Franklin and Marshall College, Lancaster, Pennsylvania where he founded America’s first Department of Folklore. 
              During the post war period, he had compiled a checklist of Pennsylvania German imprints (books) for both the Lehigh and Northampton County Historical Societies.  While at Franklin and Marshall College, Dr. Shoemaker’s Folklore Department published an eight-page academic newspaper entitled, The Pennsylvania Dutchman, with his folklore colleagues, Dr. J. William Frey and Dr. Don Yoder.  The Dutchman with a biweekly circulation of 12,500 was widely read by citizens in southeastern Pennsylvania, and later a national audience, who wanted to learn about Pennsylvania Dutch culture as Dr. Shoemaker’s scholars researched it.  Reading about their ethnic heritage in an academic context, Pennsylvania German people gained great esteem for their American accomplishments and overcame anti-German embarrassment cast upon them during the WWII years.
            Later when Dr. Shoemaker published his folk cultural studies, Eastertide in Pennsylvania and Christmas in Pennsylvania, the public realized the degree to which America has assimilated Pennsylvania German folk customs, crafts, and culinary arts but wanted to learn more.  However, Dr. Shoemaker went beyond academic studies when joined by his two F&M folklore colleagues, Yoder and Frey, their love of country and native heritage brought about the founding of the Kutztown Folk Festival in 1950 at the Kutztown Fairgrounds in Berks County, Pennsylvania.
            Dr. Shoemaker’s Folklore Center at Franklin and Marshall College used proceeds of the first Pennsylvania Dutch Folk Festival in 1950, which ran for four days ending on the patriotic 4th of July, for further folklore publications.  Various folklorists and Pennsylvania Dutch humorists shared the unique outing at the Kutztown Fairgrounds with demonstrations, folk games, seminars, and dialect storytelling.  Obviously, the public came to see the three doctors of folklore they had read about in The Dutchman newspaper, and the folk festival attendance swelled to 30,000 people the very first year.
            The timing of the folk festival coincided not only with the patriotic 4th of July but with the grain harvest season for the vast number of Pennsylvania German farmers, who also participated at the folk festival, harvesting a four-acre wheat field adjacent to the fairgrounds, demonstrating with old-fashioned grain cradles.  The festival celebration was greatly enhanced by farmwomen wearing their usual “Dutch” bonnets and men their big brimmed straw hats under the sweltering summer sun.  This traditional dress has continued to be in vogue at the Kutztown event even up to the present.
            As the folk festival developed, one of Dr. Shoemaker’s greatest assets was the Herbert Miller family who lived near Kutztown.  Herb’s sons, who understood and spoke the dialect, had a working knowledge about farm activities Dr. Shoemaker planned for the folk festival.  Today, Herbert Miller’s son Lester still provides hoe-downing groups to entertain the public at the current Kutztown Pennsylvania German Festival.
            It was perhaps the overwhelming readership of their bi-weekly newspaper among the ten counties of Pennsylvania German people, which convinced Dr. Shoemaker and his staff that such a festival showcasing folklore and folklife practices would be received favorably by the American public.  The open-air museum activity was not popular among all the academic community, but from its very first inception the public was excited about the Dutch food, seminars, and rural activities which made it a wonderful experience.
            The time was right: the decade of the 1950’s was the booming modern age of push button living, television, and urban high rises.  People caught up in cultural shock were yearning to get away from TV dinners and rediscover home cooking and country life.  Year after year, the Annual Kutztown Folk Festival sponsored by Dr. Shoemaker’s F & M Folklore Department at the Kutztown Fairgrounds grew larger, and his bi-weekly newspaper became a successful quarterly magazine.  The large tourist trade of Lancaster County also benefited from guidebooks and booklets published by the Folklore Center on Pennsylvania German dialect and short subjects.
            Always concerned with academic excellence, the material Dr. Shoemaker published was well received by the public.  Meanwhile, the week long Kutztown Folk Festival had become a major tourist attraction drawing beyond a hundred thousand people annually by 1955.  Having been able to travel abroad and observe the folklife studies movement in the British Isles and on the Continent of Europe, Dr. Shoemaker updated the name of the Dutchman magazine in 1958 to become Pennsylvania Folklife, which expanded its scope to include all folklife practices.
            By the decade of the 1960’s, the Kutztown Folk Festival encompassed many more surviving folklife craftsmen and practitioners in the contemporary local culture, but foremost interest for tourists was the family styled eating tents featuring homemade Pennsylvania German food.  Admired for his academic dedication, “Doc” was joined by many folklife researchers like Vincent Tortora, Robert Bucher, Clarence Kulp Jr., Alan G. Keyser, Donald Roan, and Russell and Florence Baver.  All of whom wrote articles for the Pennsylvania Folklife magazine, including myself.
            The Kutztown Folk Festival had now become the largest in America and an American tourist institution whose open-air seminar tents provided amusement and education to tens of thousands of people who wanted to enjoy and understand this colorful rural culture.  A man of the people, Dr. Shoemaker never endorsed the bookish term “Pennsylvania German.”  He referred to it as foreign to the culture and used only the term Pennsylvania Dutch which is the only way natives speak of themselves, because it is a time honored colloquialism in the Pennsylvania Dutch psyche.
            Revenue from his successful folk festival allowed Dr. Shoemaker to establish a Pennsylvania Folklife Society office on the Main Street of Kutztown.  In the modern age of the 1960’s folklife studies were relatively unheard of in America and some elitist Pennsylvania Germans were fearful that Dr. Shoemaker might expose the backwards side of the “dumb Dutch” to the American public.  Nevertheless, the public was delighted to share our home cooking recipes, quaint customs, unique craftsmanship, folk music and dancing, and did not find any dumb Dutch people!
            A graduate of Kutztown State College, I met Dr. Shoemaker in 1960 and began researching Berks County folklife for his Pennsylvania Folklife magazine.  This was at the height of the magazine’s popularity, and I considered myself very fortunate to have him as a mentor.  I introduced Dr. Shoemaker to my eccentric uncle, Freddie Bieber, who made a living making split oak baskets on a “schnitzelbank.”  Dutch as sauerkraut, and a good basketmaker, Freddie was featured in Pennsylvania Folklife in 1964.  If it were not for Dr. Shoemaker’s excellent command of the Pennsylvania Dutch dialect this Pennsylvania German recluse would never have left the hills of the Oley Valley to demonstrate at the folk festival that year.
            Dr. Shoemaker’s secretary in his Kutztown Main Street office was Herb Miller’s wife, Viola, from a farm North of town.  When the New York Times editor verified the annual festival dates by phone and would ask her to speak Pennsylvania Dutch, she obliged him in the dialect that he had indeed communicated with the heart of the “Dutch Country.” The outstanding feature of the Kutztown event was the fact that these people were not portraying a pageant of America, but were portraying themselves in everyday life!
            The early success of the folk festival had a lot to do with Alfred Shoemaker’s amicable personality.  He wanted to share with America not the fact that the Pennsylvania Germans are different, but in our diversity, we remain a unique part of American versatility.
            Having witnessed the holocaust in Nazi Germany, Dr. Shoemaker established a meaningful relationship with Louis Schlosberg, a Jewish wire editor on the staff of the Reading Eagle newspaper.  Louis was a key advisor, who assisted the folklife society in advertising their folk festival in important metropolitan newspapers, and made sure the wire service carried the event over the week of the 4th of July.
            Paul R. Wieand, a folklorist from Lehigh County, brought his exceptional dialect singing group to perform at the folk festival.  He also created a large general store in one of the Fairgrounds exhibit buildings, complete with a potbelly stove and a cat in the cracker barrel! Educational photographic display boards were produced by Olive Zehner-Merritt, an art teacher from the Reading School District, which accompanied several folklife exhibits for visiting tourists to learn at a glance the local Pennsylvania German culture in-depth.  If the tourists got a laugh out of the Dutchified Kutztownian, the opposite was true, too.  Some urbanites did not know the difference between straw and hay nor a mule and a horse, but everyone laughed together, and the world became smaller.
             A feature of the Folk Festival for which Dr. Shoemaker was immensely proud was a huge 18th Century two-screw wooden cider press, which was turned by hand.  This farm apparatus stood ten feet tall and about twelve-foot long.  The roof of the press was thatched with rye straw, which added to the crushing weight of the apple pomace.  The rustic press was the property of the Berks County Historical Society, where Dr. Shoemaker served as curator from 1947 to 1948.  Among the Berks County farmers who made the Folk Festival come alive was John Fox from Bernville, who still farmed with horses, and brought a six horse team to the festival to drive his Conestoga wagon around with a jerkline tied to the lead horse.
            Ellsworth Bieber, a Lions Club member, remembers how “Alfred” did not want commercial french fries on the fairgrounds and told them about the good old days when mother cut slices from a potato and fried them on the stove top of an old cast iron kitchen stove.  One of the men figured out how to make a machine to slice the potatoes and the Lions Club has been selling “Dutch Fries” ever since.
            Each 4th of July, the week of the summer that the Annual Folk Festival is held, George Adam one of our local farm participants threshes rye and builds a tall grain stack in the middle of the grass commons, which after the traditional 4th of July parade of festival craftsmen is topped with a United States flag.  Some years the grain stack consists of 600 sheaves of rye reaching a height of near twenty-feet which Howard Geisinger and family helped thresh.
            Over the years many of Dr. Shoemaker’s original folklife demonstrations continued even though the Kutztown Folk Festival was acquired by Ursinus College, Collegeville, Pennsylvania and operated as late as 1995 under their sponsorship.  His 18th Century fieldstone bakeoven at the fairgrounds still fills the air with the aroma of fresh baked bread since the Folk Festival at Kutztown was acquired by a joint committee of the Kutztown University Foundation and Kutztown Fair Board in 1996.
            Although the original Pennsylvania Folklife Society no longer exists, folklife practitioners around Kutztown continue to paint hex signs on their Swiss bank barns, and the churches and farm granges still serve large family styled dinners of Pennsylvania German food.  Since the 1950’s, eighty-five Old Order Mennonite families have settled in the Kutztown area from Lancaster County and drive to market with their wagons and buggies.  Their presence portrays Kutztown as a model Pennsylvania German community.  It hardly seems like folklife practices in this historic community have changed, as we continue into the twenty-first century. 
            Dr. Shoemaker’s crowning achievement in his lifetime was hosting the nation’s people at the highly successful Annual Kutztown Folk Festival to dance, sing, and taste our mouth watering country food.  His desire later to establish a permanent ethnic Pennsylvania German open-air museum in the heart of Lancaster County’s Amish territory in the 1960’s caused the bankruptcy in 1963 of the Pennsylvania Folklife Society and eventually the loss of his leadership.  The foremost researcher of Pennsylvania German folklife, his excellent scholarship still inspires others to observe the diversity of American lifestyles.
            Although Pennsylvania Folklife paid off its bankruptcy debts honorably, the loss of Alfred Shoemaker’s leadership of the Kutztown Folk Festival during bankruptcy receivership brought about his mental depression.  Forced into early retirement at age fifty during these years, attorney Mark R. Eaby ran the Pennsylvania Folklife Society to pay off creditors.  Dr. Shoemaker was at first put up in the Hotel Brunswick in Lancaster City, then later transferred to the state hospital at Allentown, Pennsylvania for treatment of his mental depression.
            Meanwhile, the Pennsylvania Folklife Society open-air museum on route thirty, east of Lancaster City, with a plain Dutch farmstead in place and a model “fancy Dutch” farmstead just begun, fell into ruin.  However, its real estate was quite valuable.
            Not quite able to come to grips with himself, Alfred wondered aimlessly to the City of New York looking for a folklife benefactor, where it is presumed he died in spite of friends who tried to reach out for him.  On occasion, he did make a bus trip back to Berks County and visit Viola Miller, who now lived in Lenhartsville.
Today, Dr. Shoemaker’s academic monument consists of more than a hundred field research folklife articles, and the Pennsylvania Folklife Index of Pennsylvania German Culture comprised by him over the years which consists of over 50,000 entries.

(Post script)
            The late Dr. Don Yoder, author and retired professor of the University of Pennsylvania, whose dedication to the American folklife studies movement has never wavered over the years, continued to provide new insight for Stackpole Books who had reprinted some of Dr. Shoemaker’s books.


FOR FURTHER READING


Bronner, Simon J. “Shoemaker vs Shoemaker” Der Reggeboge, Volume XXX Nos. 1&2.  Pennsylvania German Society, Birdsboro, Pennsylvania, 1996.

Hamilton, Dr. Milton W.  “ Dr. Alfred L. Shoemaker New Curator of The Historical Society of Berks County,” The Historical Review of Berks County, Volume XIII No.1, October, 1947

Klees, Frederic, The Pennsylvania Dutch. Macmillan Company, 1950.

DeChant, Alliene S.  Of The Dutch I Sing.  Kutztown Publishing, Kutztown, Pennsylvania, 1951.

Yoder, Dr. Don, “Twenty-five Years of the Folk Festival,” Pennsylvania Folklife, Folk Festival program for 1974.

Shoemaker, Dr. Alfred L. Pennsylvania Dutch Hex Marks. Intelligencer Printing Company, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, 1950.

Shaner, Richard H.  “The Oley Valley Basketmaker,” Pennsylvania Folklife, Volume XIV No. 1, 1964.

Yoder, Dr. Don, “Kutztown in America,” Pennsylvania Folklife, Volume XIV No. 4, 1965.

Shoemaker, Dr. Alfred L.  Three Myths About The Pennsylvania Dutch Country. Intelligencer Printing Company, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, 1951.

Shoemaker, Dr. Alfred L.  Checklist of Pennsylvania Dutch Printed Taufscheins. Intelligencer Printing Company, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, 1952.



  
The Bird Whistle Potter, James Christian Seagreaves
  
By Richard L.T. Orth

  The passing away of James Christian Seagreaves on May 11, 1997 at his Breinigsville residence on the Berks-Lehigh County line east of Kutztown, Pennsylvania has brought about a new resurgence among Pennsylvania German collectors and antique dealers alike to seek out the remaining pieces of his almost fifty year career in the art of pottery making.  It has also called for a re-evaluation of other 20th century contemporary Pennsylvania German Renaissance (1) potters such as Russell R. Stahl, Lester P. Breininger, and Ned Foltz to name a few.
The field of contemporary Pennsylvania German Renaissance pottery, which has occurred since World War II may very well be, attributed to Russell R. Stahl the last potter of the Stahl family whose shop was located at Powder Valley in Lehigh County.  When Russell returned home from World War II without any other job prospects in a booming post war economy, he decided to resume his family apprenticeship with his father Isaac Stahl (2).  He became a very competent master craftsman to continue the family business, even though the popular postwar “modern style” did not seem a likely time to sell ancient Pennsylvania German redware.
A significant number of others soon followed him inspired to revive this earthenware art and diligently acquire the skills of slip and sgraffito decoration, and like all other 20th century revival potters (3) who took the gamble with Stahl, James Christian Seagreaves combined the new clean cut modern fifties style of pottery with the more traditional type to create his own unique style which was accepted by his customers.
Seagreaves beginnings as a serious potter can be tracked back to his experimenting on the rear porch of his home at Alburtis in 1948 (4) when much of his creative artistry was influenced by the modern style, which was coming in vogue during the decade of the 1950’s.  Having developed a successful style, he decided to build a pottery shop on route 222 half way between Kutztown and Allentown at Breinigsville in 1951.  During these early years an itinerant Greek potter named George Karras from the Aegean Islands of Karpathos would stop in Jimmy’s shop (5).  His father had a pottery shop making tiles, bricks, and dishes in the old Country.  He would visit the Breinigsville wayside shop and share his journeyman’s secrets with Jimmy, one potter to another, and threw objects on Jimmy’s pottery wheel.  That was Jimmy’s only training as far as technique, and with the scientific approach of pottery such as the firing process, Jimmy’s learning had become mostly from reading books, etc.  Seagreaves’ reputation preceded him and met with Russell R. Stahl for a one-time visit.  Jimmy had also met with another revival folk potter, whom he shared his technique of using copper oxide in glaze (6).  Seagreaves and Breininger did later collaborate to replicate some redware fat lamp stands.
Having moved the shop to a more traveled location, Seagreaves had still another eventful visitor during those early years.  A local farmer by the name of James Fetterolf from the small town of Fetherolfsville near Kempton stopped at his Crossroads shop and offered Jimmy as much native clay as he wanted in exchange for a piece of pottery.  Jimmy had only ever used local clay as opposed to commercial clay, most of which came from the Fetterolf farm, now owned by Joseph and Barbara Freeman.  He asked a friend, Jimmy Epler, to dig and load up bins and bins full of this good quality clay.  Jimmy keeping his end of the bargain made the farmer a magnificent presentation piece of a sgraffito-decorated plate with the design of a cow in a pasture.  Pleased with the quality of the clay from the farmer, Jimmy made a duplicate of the bartered plate and kept it in remembrance of James Fetterolf which is still in the hands of his beloved widow today.  Verna, his wife, says that this plate is the only one that he had ever duplicated.
Jimmy was proficient on the potter’s wheel, and made elaborate fat lamps, mugs, jars, dished, and a select number of miniatures.  Of all the techniques Jimmy did, his love of the sgraffito style (7) of decorating as opposed to the slip art method compelled Seagreaves to create many more bowls and plates and other objects.  Jimmy’s wife Verna also recounts that Jimmy really enjoyed spending hour after hour carving intricate sgraffito designs in his shop and was sure that he probably mad fewer slip decorated plates because of that.  Seagreaves quality sgraffito works with Pennsylvania German motifs coincide with the outstanding examples of early sgraffito wares popularized during the 18th century (8) and his love for the sgraffito technique allowed Jimmy to excel in this art form over any style he attempted.
The rustic Seagreaves pottery shop for Sunday drivers in the 1950’s and of course all of those travelers going between Allentown and Reading.  In later years, the shop was moved 3 miles closer to Kutztown on the north side of 222 in the shadow of the massive Bell Telephone Laboratories is now Lucent Technologies.  Unlike all other contemporary potters seeking to produce Pennsylvania German earthenware facsimiles in the 1940’s and 1950’s, the Seagreaves interpretation of this ancient Pennsylvania German art had a unique “ultra Germanic twist” (9) which made his ware both desirable and unusual.  The Seagreaves school of pottery was as definite and individualistic as the wares of the original master craftsman he sought to replicate.
Perhaps the Pennsylvania German bird craving on the tops of wooden walking canes made by Simmons and Schimmel (10) caught Jimmy’s eye in those days, and with almost the same simplicity and amusement, he began to make stylized bird whistles by the score.  Pennsylvania potters have always had a great deal of fascination and amusement making animal whistles, rattles, and ever water whistles (11).  Seagreaves was no exception and produced a great number of bird whistles of varying sizes but always artistically executes with colorful glaze.  Jimmy also created owl and fish whistles but only a rare few.
John H. Snyder (12) of Mohrsville, Berks County was known for making duck whistles in the 1850’s and many potters before him bearing the same name produced earlier bird whistles using the initials JS on their wares at the same location.  The John Drey (13) pottery in Rockland Township, Berks County, famous for their beautiful slip tulip plates, made bird whistles as early as 1809 at Dryville, Pennsylvania.  The early bird whistles made in Berks County were free molded and rarely incised with designs.
Seagreaves took pride in creating elaborate folk bird whistles which were so attractive they astonished the prospective buyer that they were in fact whistles, and the hole at the end of the tail was to be blown into, so the buyer could hear its high pitch as well as anyone else who was visiting the pottery shop.  What Jimmy was to refining the traditional bird whistles from being simply a toy to becoming a work of art.
The hallmark of Seagreaves pottery is its uncommon Germanic character as well as its molded style.  Of the contemporary potters, no potter has done more press molding than Jimmy, and his animated freestanding birds with whimsical expressions have no equal.  Almost all of his glazed items are treated with bold Pennsylvania German colors.  His sgraffito plates are well balanced with authentic Pennsylvania German motifs and over laid with yellow slip.
Seagreaves collectors of yesteryears and today such as Richard Shaner (14) of Kutztown and Mary Snyder (15) of Reinholds who knew and observed James Christian Seagreaves using his natural talent attest to the fact that Jimmy was always a professional craftsman and his sgraffito art motifs such as the single or double headed eagles contained near perfect symmetry and were flawlessly carved.
Since it was impossible for antique pottery collectors to find authentic pottery dogs, birds, and other clay animal forms of their pottery collections, Jimmy did a thriving business press molding all types and sizes of free standing birds and animals.  These polychromatically glazed animals enhanced pottery collections; old and new, and today the better antique shops feature them for primitive collectors.
James Christian Seagreaves pottery pieces are signed on the bottom JCS with a rare few of them signed VAS, which were molded and painted by his wife Verna A. Seagreaves.  His earliest pottery only bore the initials JS (16) which are ever rarer and could be mistaken by a novice pottery collector for John Snyder.  Only very few of the Seagreaves pottery is dated.  Many of Jimmy’s birds other than his whistles were made from molds that were cast from his original work of art (17).  When Seagreaves died in 1997 almost all the molds were destroyed (18) so they could not be duplicated.  Although it would seem a temptation for the potter to mass-produce these works of art, that was not the case.  When in later life museums gift shops and the Kutztown Folk Festival begged Jimmy to go into production for their visitors, he refused, because he shunned publicity and felt that it took too much valuable time away from creating more original pieces.  So there is actually only a limited number of each work of art.
Jimmy’s true gift in the field of free molding pottery objects was in his imaginative genius to take a true life form such as a bird and innovate its features as true German folk artists did then take it one step further to accentuate its positive features in clay and later elaborate them again with colored glaze.  With this attention to detail it is rare for any two of his clay objects to be alike.  Even press-molded objects were creatively refined.
One of the rare forms made by Seagreaves is a Federal style house made into a bank complete with a pediment doorway on its front facade.  Some of Jimmy’s other rare pieced include his owl and fish whistles, other animal pieces such as a dog, candle holders which he thought were “too practical.”  Among his unusual pieces is the Voodoo (grotesque) jus complete with the devil’s horns on top and embossed with hex signs.  A learned scholar, Seagreaves utilized the best of Pennsylvania German folk art motifs as the North Carolina parrot and the flat heart.  Just as Jimmy’s bird whistles enticed the child in all of us to blow them and hear their high pitch, he seemed to have enjoyed purposefully giving his birds and animals whimsy expressions or “toy like” appeal just as early wood carvers did with their pieces to treat neighborhood children as well as previous redware potters before him (19).
Among the numerous potters replicating early Pennsylvania German Renaissance art than the late James Christian Seagreaves.  The Renaissance school of outstanding potters also include Robesonia’s Lester Breininger and Ned Foltz of Reinholds who each have developed their own pottery style and found a ready market, and like the earthenwares of James Seagreaves are today respectable collectibles at auctions and in the art world.
Just thirteen days before Jimmy’s death the famous Sotheby’s Auction House auctioned off at Kutztown, Pennsylvania a small grouping of Seagreaves pottery which sold for almost nine hundred dollars including commission from the collection of Richard S. and Rosemarie B. Machmer (20).  At Pennypacker-Andrews auction held at their Berks County Center at Gouglersville, Pennsylvania in 1998 a small grouping of Seagreaves Pennsylvania German styled pottery fetched triple its average value among a few eager buyers and antique dealers many of whom did not realize the potter was deceased.  Among the items that went under the gavel that day were prize sgraffito plates and several of Jimmy’s colorful folk birds one of which was a whistle which caused the auctioneer to halt the proceedings to demonstrate its loud shrill.  Not one of the two-dozen items sold brought less than the eager crowd expected (21).
A special mention must be made of Jimmy’s wife Verna whom he married in 1941 and is an artist in her own right and who has decorated some of his pottery very colorfully.  She is also a successful watercolor folk artist who never had any instruction and whose paintings were also featured in their shop.  Verna recalls how even though Jimmy loved creating pottery and carving sgraffito her water colored paintings were his favorite items to admire.  Many of his wife’s colorful paintings were of the local countryside and incorporated bold Pennsylvania German motifs and somehow reflected the romance their lives in this enchanted corner of Berks County.  James Christian Seagreaves pottery has been exhibited at the Lehigh County Historical Society Museum and the William Penn Museum at Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.  Almost every major pottery collection in the United States would not be complete without a Seagreaves piece.  The legacy left behind by this deceased potter of 84 years was one of joyous color for the world and the super whimsy expressions of his objects to lighten your heart.





 





                                                                 



TERMINOLOGY

SLIP: A light cream-colored liquid clay used in such methods of decoration as slip trailing and sgraffito art most likely found on plates.

SLIP-TRAILING: A method of decoration where slip is trailed, not painted, to make designs such as flowers and birds on the surface of newly formed pottery using clay or steel cup with a hollow turkey quill.  A cup with many turkey quills is used to make plates with wavy lines.

SGRAFFITO: After the plate is formed and sitting awhile, the same slip is painted on the entire surface of the plate.  After the slip dries, a sharp knife is used to cut through clay, leaving exposed red clay.  To add a touch of green to the pottery, a special glaze is used which is made from copper oxide.

ULTRA GERMANIC TWIST: Unlike many popular imitators of decorated earthenware in the 1950’s and later who often refined motifs of the early masters seeking to produce art which was less crude and more “pretty,” Seagreaves sought to enhance the geometric crudeness of these German motifs.  For example his boldly applied clay hex sign medallions placed on the tails of folk birds and other objects.
You can edit text on your website by double clicking on a text box on your website. Alternatively, when you select a text box a settings menu will appear. Selecting ‘Edit Text’ from this menu will also allow you to edit the text within this text box.


Footnote on Jimmy's Shop Locations:         
Alburtis                            1951
Crossroads Shop        1951-1961
Breinigsville                  1961-2000



PENNSYLVANIA GERMAN RENAISSANCE POTTERS: 
FOOTNOTES & CAPTIONS

Use native clay such as the early masters did, including New Jersey “white” clay for their slip decoration, as was the traditional custom.

Pennsylvania German potters create objects of utility, beauty and amusement from God’s earth.

Seagreaves hand molded “fish whistle” made from native clay dug at the Fetterolf farm outside of Kempton, Berks County.

In the Atomic Age of the 1950’s Americans seek hand made products, a backlash to the synthetic age.

A learned scholar, Seagreaves utilized the best of Pennsylvania German folk art motifs as the North Carolina parrot and the flat heart. 

Jimmy’s true gift in the field of free molding pottery objects was in his imaginative genius to take a true life form such as a bird and innovate its features as true German folk artists did then take it one step further to accentuate its positive features in clay and later elaborate them again with colored glaze.  With this attention to detail it is rare for any two of his clay objects to be alike.  Even press-molded objects were creatively refined.

Among the numerous potters replicating early Pennsylvania German Renaissance art than the late James Christian Seagreaves.  The Renaissance school of outstanding potters also include Robesonia’s Lester Breininger and Ned Foltz of Reinholds who each have developed their own pottery style and found a ready market, and like the earthenwares of James Seagreaves are today respectable collectibles at auctions and in the art world.

Just as Jimmy’s bird whistles enticed the child in all of us to blow them and hear their high pitch, he seemed to have enjoyed purposefully giving his birds and animals whimsy expressions or “toy like” appeal just as early wood carvers did with their pieces to treat neighborhood children as well as previous redware potters before him.


 
"Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do." 
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe