Thursday, December 18, 2014

Three Canton Exhibits Highlight Prolific Folk Artist Who Documented 19th Century Pennsylvania and Ohio

Ferdinand A. Brader, immigrated to America from Switzerland and for more than 20 years produced almost 1000 intricate pencil drawings. Most are accurate likenesses of farms and local houses from Eastern, Pennsylvania to Ohio.

The large drawings on craft paper have only been recently appreciated as both great folk art and a detailed look at rural life in the region.

From the Canton Art Museum exhibition page

"Ferdinand A. Brader was born in Kaltbrunn, St. Gallen, Switzerland in 1833. Many details of Brader’s early life are incomplete, but by the mid-1860s, he had married and had a son—and he had also likely begun drawing. Brader came to the United States in the early 1870s (according to research, possibly following a brother) and traveled extensively in Pennsylvania and Ohio. As payment for room and board, he created large pencil drawings of the farms and properties where he was given temporary residence. Families have passed down stories that he slept in a barn or other outbuildings.

Brader’s monumental drawings (30-by-40 inches and larger)—using paper and graphite pencil, which were readily available at the time—are dramatically accurate scenes, and they are mostly portrayed from an elevated perspective. Brader’s first drawings of farms and homes were made in Pennsylvania and dated 1879. Brader presumably created several hundred drawings in the counties of Berks, Lancaster, Montgomery, and Lebanon and as far west as the counties of Somerset, Beaver, and Allegheny. The majority of Brader’s drawings were done in Ohio. His first Ohio drawings appeared in Tuscarawas and Columbiana counties in 1884. From research, it appears Brader’s Ohio pictures were done in nine different adjoining counties: Portage, Medina, Wayne, Stark, Summit, Carroll, Columbiana, Mahoning, and Tuscarawas, continuing through 1895, with the majority featuring subjects in Portage and Stark counties. While best known for his farmstead pictures, Brader also recorded scenes of both the Portage and Stark County Infirmaries; railroad stations; and rural industries, such as grist mills, potteries, mines, and quarries."

The curator even put all the known locations on Google Maps!

From the New York Times

"Brader was, by all accounts, homeless. A German-speaking native of northeast Switzerland, he came to the United States in the 1870s, around the age of 40, after a career carving wooden molds for baked goods and textile-printing equipment. He left behind a wife, Maria Katharina Karolina, and a son, Carl Ferdinand, in Switzerland; little is known about them.
His drawings filled cheap paper sheets up to nearly five feet long, depicting window frames, weather vanes, porch benches, street signs and pets. He also created flowery birth certificates for his clients’ children.  
Andrew Richmond, a curator of the Canton exhibitions, said that Brader catered to industrious immigrant families proud of their new acreage. The marketing pitch, Mr. Richmond said, was in effect, “Why not capture the dream in a drawing and hang it over the fireplace?”  
Brader was paid for his work partly with room and board. He advertised by displaying renderings at stores in nearby towns. In the winter, when he could not sketch outdoors, he moved into public infirmaries. He eventually went back in Switzerland, after inheriting a small family fortune, but died before he could spend much of it. "

All three exhibits run from December  4, 2014 - March 15, 2015

Canton Museum of Art
1001 Market Avenue North,
Canton, Ohio

McKinley Museum
800 McKinley Monument Drive, NW
Canton, Ohio

Little Art Gallery,
North Canton Public Library
185 North Main Street,
North Canton, Ohio

Obviously, I would love for a local museum like The Frick, Westmoreland or Heinz History Center to host an exhibit. Sadly, this probably won't happen.

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