Brown painted carved wooden spoon rack, possibly Bergen County, New Jersey, 1767, with chip carved heart on the arched crest above nine floral medallions and two slotted tiers for eight spoons flanking an indistinctly inscribed label, incised "1767" on the reverseOne of the side effects of my work is that I often manage to create work for other people, which is the case with this particular discussion – Frisian carving. We will be unraveling our usage of these terms over the coming months, but for now… The Frisians are an ethnic group with Germanic roots, who live today along the coastal regions of the Netherlands and Germany. The spelling confusion between Friesian and Frisian is not helped by the fact that they live around Friesland in the Netherlands and Frisia in Germany (which technically was Frisia in Denmark until the 1860s, but there’s already enough going on here and the various Frisian communities are still rather divided after centuries of being shuffled around among various European confederacies and countries). We will opt for Frisian, as the people this is most associated with in American decorative arts were typically Pennsylvania Germans.

Frisian carving in decorative arts refers to lightly carved decoration on furniture and small decorative objects. The designs are often rife with traditional Germanic symbolism – stags and hunt scenes, lilies, unicorns – as well geometric elements, with a draftsman-like precision to their layout – circles, triangles, and particularly pinwheels or fylfots. The carving is very easily distinguished from the dark wood, heavy-handed opulence of Black Forest carving; it is very clearly delineated but also done with a light hand and is also commonly known as chip carving.

It can be difficult to make firm attributions to Frisian/chip-carved objects, as it was done in both Europe and America. Within America there are several subgroups of the work (for instance, a group of spoon racks that are connected to New Jersey – one is pictured above), but the motifs and the wood choices are the best clues for making attributions. (It is worth noting however that because of extensive trade, as is often the case, mahogany is more difficult to attribute specifically.)

Frisian carving is also difficult to pin down in terms of value. There are many factors at work – from the usual suspects like the condition to the form (it was done on such a wide array of objects, from mirrors to beds to stands to spoon racks) to the age (older is almost always better but Frisian carving continued into the 20th-century when it becomes, technically, less Frisian and more chip-carving and when it is even connected with the objects identified as “tramp art”) to, quite simply, the quality. Small, newer pieces might only fetch a few hundred dollars, but larger and/or older works can easily bring thousands, even ten thousand, at auction.

Dominic Serres, The Elder (British, French, 1722 to 1793) oil on canvas [marine] painting, An English Man-O-War Anchored in a Fortified Harbor, unsigned.You pick up strange abilities after years in the antiques business. You watch Westerns with friends and criticize the historical accuracy of the movie’s firearms choices, you learn what words like antimacassar mean, and you start to be able to identify odd things like the ships in marine paintings.

Take, for instance, the man o’ war (which can appear as man of war, man-of-war, man-o’-war or the plural men-of-war), which was a term of the British Royal Navy for a class of ship. A term used for three centuries, from the 1500s through the 1800s, it denoted an armed warship or frigate that had cannons (there were six ratings for a man o’ war based on the number of cannons, ranging from a first-rate one with as many as 124 guns down to a sixth-rate ship with only 20 or so) and relied on sails for power (as opposed to oars, which were the primary source of power on a galley).

Perhaps one of the most interesting things about the name is that it runs contrary to the English tendency to treat all ships as feminine. The theory is that the name came from the “men of war,” the well-armed men transported by the ship.

Not to be confused of course with either the racehorse Man O’ War, who was named by Eleanor Belmont in honor of his owner and her husband, August Belmont, Jr., who was in France at the time of the horse’s birth, having enlisted at 65 to serve in World War I, or the Portuguese man o’ war jellyfish, so named because it was thought to resemble the Portuguese version of the warship at full sail. See, you learn strange things in the antiques business.

A two-sided Moravian fish flask, green-glazed cream-colored earthenware, molded with scales, fins and eyes, attributed to Rudolph Christ, Salem, North Carolina, early 19th century.In the late 14th century, Jan Hus, a Roman Catholic priest in Prague who had been heavily influenced by reformer John Wycliffe, began to attract followers as he spoke out about indulgences (a key practice Martin Luther would attack again in 1517) and his belief that church members should be able, permitted, and encouraged to study the Bible themselves. Hus’s continual agitation would put him at odds with the Catholic Church and in 1415 he would be burned at the stake as a heretic.

Despite this gruesome attempt at silencing them, Hus’s followers were undeterred and remained firm in their conviction that reformation was needed. It would take more than 40 years, but in 1457, they would formally organize themselves as the Unitas Fratrum (United Brethren), simultaneously establishing themselves as one of the first Protestant religions. The political and religious situation in the region was regularly changing, permitting the German-speaking members to worship freely at times and subjecting them to persecution at others, but by the Reformation in 1517, the United Brethren would number 200,000 members with more than 400 houses of worship.

Within a century, turmoil would again make life in the region difficult for the United Brethren, who found themselves suffering from heightened intolerance, driven in part by the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648), which would conclude with Catholicism becoming the official religion of the region, forcing the remaining members to flee or worship secretly.

The following years were lean ones for the Brethren, who were in fact nearing extinction by the 18th century, until Count Nicholas von Zinzendorf offered them sanctuary on his Saxony estate, an offer he had extended to many persecuted Protestant groups who found themselves under siege. The various groups would collaborate on the construction of Herrnhut, a settlement where all were allowed religious freedom.

The Moravians, as the group had become known by the name of their native region, found favor with Zinzendorf, who felt they would make excellent missionaries with his support. In the mid-18th century, they would travel through Northern Europe, the British Isles, and even into Greenland, spreading their religious beliefs. After a time however, outside political pressure on Zinzendorf lead to renewed persecution and some of the Moravians felt that true religious liberty could only be found in the New World.

After a failed start in Georgia, the Moravians moved to Pennsylvania in 1741, purchasing land north of Philadelphia where, again with help from Zinzendorf, they built the Bethlehem commune. Over the next decade the society’s numbers would grow from approximately 20 members to several hundred. From this point of settlement, a community that would become the locus for the Moravians’ missionary efforts in North America, they would go on to develop 32 missions. Perhaps the next best-known settlement is that of Bethabara, which would become the Salem in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, the first of a number of settlements on a huge tract purchased in the Carolinas. The Moravian Church is still in existence today, although the communal nature of their lives, never as tightly restricted as some of the separatist communities by nature of their zeal for evangelism, faded away within just a generation or two.

The communities would operate like many other communes, producing and manufacturing to meet the needs of the immediate community and then cultivating clients in the outside world and using the income to support their missionary work. The Moravians lent their name to a rustic chair that is a fairly standard European “peasant” chair and other furniture linked to them and bearing heavy Germanic influences occasionally appears, but they are by far best known for their pottery, particularly their exuberantly decorated redware and their figural flasks, which can fetch thousands of dollars at auction.

Furniture: A carved schrank, Zoar, Tuscarawas County, Ohio, mid 19th century, cherry, walnut, and poplar. One-piece [wardrobe],with [molded cornice], canted and carved pilasters, paneled door, and diamond panels below the door. Interior with carved hooks and a shelf.In the 1810s, a group of German religious separatists left Wurttemberg in what is now southwestern Germany, after years of persecution and oppression which included imprisonment and property seizures by the Lutheran Church, with whom they found themselves at odds, the separatists, under the leadership of Joseph Bimeler, decided to flee to the United States.

One can only imagine how uncertain things were for them, a group of nearly 200 native Germans, when they arrived in Philadelphia as immigrants in dire financial straits, but they quickly found “Friends” in the Society of Friends, Philadelphia’s large Quaker population and after gaining some stability, the separatists decided to relocate to eastern Ohio, where they purchased 5,500 acres in Tuscarawas County. They would name their community Zoar from the biblical story of Lot, who fled to Zoar from Sodom in Genesis, and they would become known as Zoarites.

The first few years of the settlement were very rough, so in the spring of 1819, the residents formalized what had essentially become a commune (not their initial intent) by creating the Society of Separatists of Zoar and turning all property over to the Society. Like many early communes and utopian communities, they were very democratic and women were permitted to sign, to hold office and to vote.

Zoarites would eventually be self-reliant and prosperous. In addition to the community’s agricultural production, they would also operate mills and foundries, manufacture textiles and wagons, and run a variety of stores, supplying the community’s needs and selling any surplus goods. They would also build a portion of the Ohio and Erie Canal, which would bring profits from the canal boats they owned as well as from the increased traffic in the vicinity of Zoar.

By the second half of the 19th century, communal spirit in Zoar began to decline and in 1898, the community voted to dissolve the society and divide up the property. Zoar, however, continues to exist as a village and today several of the society’s original buildings have been restored and gathered into an historic site for visitors.

A number of artifacts of the early settlement still survive, primarily furniture, but other items like coverlets and earthenware pottery occasionally turn up as well. (Furniture pieces are frequently seen with diamond panels, fairly typical of Midwestern Germanic furniture, but especially so of Zoar furniture.) Although their popularity is rather regional, Zoar-related objects are quite sought after. Provenance often makes firm attributions, but as there were a number of Germanic separatist communities throughout the Midwest, particularly in Ohio and Indiana, all heavily influenced and deeply rooted in Germanic craft traditions, further scholarship is necessary to draw clearer distinctions between the communities’ wares.

Clementine Hunter (American/Louisiana, 1886-1988) oil on canvas board painting, "Pecan Pickin'", circa 1955, initialed lower right.Clementine Hunter (pronounced Clementeen) was born to Creole parents in late December of 1886 or early January of 1887 at Hidden Hill Plantation near Cloutierville, Louisiana. With only a handful of days at school, Hunter would never learn to read or write and was in the fields when she was very young. At 15, she left Hidden Hill, considered to have been the inspiration for Uncle Tom’s Cabin, for Melrose Plantation.

At Melrose, she would pick cotton, give birth (on at least one occasion picking more than 70 pounds of cotton the day before and returning to the fields within the week) to seven children, and marry Emmanuel Hunter in 1924. By her mid-30s, Clementine would begin to work as a cook and housekeeper. She would never travel more than 100 miles from home.

Melrose Plantation was something of an artist colony, and when New Orleans artist Alberta Kinsey left behind brushes and tubes of paint in the 1930s, Hunter painted her first picture – on a window shade. With the attention and support of the plantation’s curator, Francois Mignon, Hunter would get her work displayed locally. She and Mignon would also later collaborate on a Melrose Plantation cookbook.

Hunter produced artwork on any scraps she could find, from paper bags to sheetrock, hanging a sign outside her cabin that charged “25 cents to Look.” Her works illustrate the daily life of the early 20th-century plantation – picking cotton or pecans, doing chores, witnessing baptisms or weddings – and she was a prolific painter, creating an estimated 4,000 to 5,000 works, but her work is considered uneven, likely because she had to work hastily and because she continued to live in poverty most of her life, so values for her work can vary widely. Works from the 1940s and 50s are considered her best.

Hunter’s work is naïve and simplistic enough that there have been instances of forgery. This is complicated by the fact that she painted on a wide variety of materials, rarely titled works, and because there is rarely anything resembling a firm provenance. Her work also tends to sell in a price range that makes forgeries easier to pass, selling at a price point where the efforts of forging are worthwhile but where buyers are often less likely to do or demand research and are unlikely to pay for a full authentication.

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