Magazine article Humanities

Will Draw for Food

Magazine article Humanities

Will Draw for Food

Article excerpt

OHIO WHEN FERDINAND A. BRADER (1833-1901) LEFT Switzerland for America in the early 1870s, he carried with him the skills of a mold-maker and a baker.

Born and raised in the Swiss town of Kaltbrunn, Canton of St. Gallen, he worked in a textile mill and in a bakery owned by his mother. He probably also had knowledge of the neighboring folk art tradition known as Bauernmalerei, or "farmer art," prevalent from 1600 to 1900 in the adjacent Swiss regions of Appenzell and Toggenburg.

As far as we know, this was his only exposure to drawing similar to what would become his trade: Creating large-scale (usually about fifty by thirty inches), bird's-eye perspectives of farms in Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio. Hundreds of his works offer an extraordinary and intimate view of what rural life was like at the end of the nineteenth century.

Early beer-brewing operations, cheese production, everyday farming life-these are all topics found in Brader drawings that he brought to life in minute detail. His drawings illuminate not only the late 1800s in Ohio and Pennsylvania, but Brader's importance as an artist-chronicler of the time and place.

Art historian and fine-art appraiser Kathleen WieschausVoss first saw these extraordinary drawings in private homes in Stark County, in Ohio's Amish country. She fell in love with them for their straightforward, factual approach to late nineteenth-century farm life, just at the moment before the incursion of widespread mechanized production.

"I was enchanted by the detail and charm of the drawings and recognized their historical significance," recalls Wieschaus-Voss. She soon developed a database to keep records of the numerous drawings.

Subsequently, Wieschaus-Voss became the guest curator for the Canton Museum of Art's exhibition The Legacy of Ferdinand A. Brader: 19th Century Drawings of the Ohio and Pennsylvania Landscape. The retrospective exhibit mounted more than forty of the graphite pencil drawings by the itinerant folk artist who captured views of daily life on family homesteads and businesses during his travels through rural counties of Pennsylvania and Ohio. The exhibit, which was made possible in part by support from Ohio Humanities, brought Brader to the public's attention for four months during the past winter.

The exhibition and Weischaus-Voss's passion have stirred more and more of Brader's drawings to the surface. "By autumn of 2011," Wieschaus-Voss notes, "my database comprised records for 108 drawings. Since then, with the help of hundreds of volunteers in Ohio, in Pennsylvania, and across the country, the list of known landscape drawings has more than doubled."

Those efforts led to the identification of well over two hundred Brader drawings from what is believed to be a lifetime total of at least 980, a sum derived from Brader's practice of identifying the owners and township of each property he drew and using a sequential numbering system for the drawings. Many of these drawings have been cherished, handed down through generations, and, still proudly displayed in family homes.

Although married and a father, Brader made his way alone from Switzerland to Berks County, Pennsylvania, then a well-known German-speaking region, where a May 22, 1880, newspaper article in the Reading Times declared that the "tramp" artist (a term that he strongly protested and had retracted) had completed ninety drawings of local farms and homesteads since JulylO, 1879, the earliest known citing of his work. …

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