Sunday, April 30, 2017

Amish quilts serve as vibrant pieces of art and traditional country objects

The Scribbler watched in amazement as Amish-made quilts were auctioned rapidly at the Bart Township Mud Sale last month. He wondered why these often extraordinary quilt designs sold in the range of $300 and $400 each, when museum-quality Amish quilts are valued at many times that amount.

Janneken Smucker, a fifth-generation Mennonite quilt maker and author of “Amish Quilts: Crafting an American Icon,” addressed a related question Monday night during a lecture sponsored by the Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society at Ridgeview Mennonite Church near Intercourse.

A history professor at West Chester University, Smucker spent much of her time discussing the roots of Amish quilting. But she said her primary concern and the premise of her book is the paradox presented by two ways of looking at quilts.

“How can these objects — Amish quilts — simultaneously be viewed as works of modern art, as many art enthusiasts beginning in the early 1970s did, and as country objects, souvenirs from trips to visit the Amish?” she asked.

Smucker discussed four qualities common to both viewpoints: innovation, desirability, authenticity and simplicity.

The colorful quilt designs that appeal to museum curators and bedroom decorators come from the same source, Smucker said. A society thought of as “old-fashioned” has produced innovators who push the community “to adopt objects and practices outside the group’s range of conformity.”

No matter who makes quilts, she explained, “they were designed to be commodities, whether entrepreneurs appealed to niche markets or to a general consumer.”

Purchasers outside the Amish sect “have turned to quilts in search of authenticity,” she said. By purchasing Amish quilts, individual consumers and businesses “have tried to have some of the simplicity of Amish quilts rub off on them.”

Despite changes in pattern, style, fabric and color, she concluded, Amish quilts “remain objects that reflect the communities in which they are made, loved, used, cherished and neglected.”

Back to the bricks

 Lancastrian Bob Ibold read the March 25 column about the old Lancaster Brick Co. and the Franklin & Marshall College-owned tract sometimes called the Baker Woodlands, or the Brickyards, that now occupies that site. He thinks access should be increased.

The F&M tract in Manheim Township is bordered on its west by the Little Conestoga Creek. To the west of the creek is Noel Dorwart Memorial Park in East Hempfield Township. Trails thread both properties.

Ibold has heard about the possibility of a bridge being built over the Little Conestoga to connect the two woodlands.

“One of the advantages is that the Noel Dorwart Park is sort of for beginners,” he said. “If you could attach the Brickyards, you would have a series of trails that more serious hikers would enjoy. I want to use both parts together. To me it looks like a no-brainer.”

Ibold said he understands that the Lancaster County Solid Waste Management Authority, one of the developers of Dorwart Park, offered to build a bridge.

“While there was some informal dialogue from LCSWMA on the opportunity,” said LCSWMA spokeswoman Kathryn Sandoe, “we can’t speak for F&M as to where they stand.”

“The college has no plans now,” responded F&M spokesman Peter Durantine. “It may be considered in the future.”

In other words, don’t hold your breath while hiking.

On this subject, retired F&M administrator David Stameshkin notes that the college website said F&M acquired the Baker Campus and the Baker Woodlands at different times.

F&M purchased what it named the Charles G. and Miriam R. Baker Memorial Campus in 1963. The college purchased the wooded acreage from the Lancaster Brick Co. in 1981.

In addition, the college in 2013 named the woodland the Spalding Conservancy for former F&M President Keith Spalding and his wife, Dot Spalding.

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