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A rare 18th-century Lancaster County fraktur, which a man found in a suitcase in a dump more than 30 years ago, was appraised at $25,000 to $35,000 on the episode of the “Antiques Roadshow” historical-artifact program that aired Monday night on PBS.

The Pennsylvania German folk art document, attributed to the unknown maker known as the Sussel-Washington artist, was appraised during the episode shot in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

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Fraktur—decorated Germanic manuscripts and printed documents—have long been admired as an extraordinarily vibrant and creative art form (Fig. 1). A European tradition brought to America by German-speaking immigrants, who began settling in southeastern Pennsylvania in 1683, fraktur are among the most distinctive and iconic forms of American folk art. The Philadelphia Museum of Art was one of the first major institutions to collect Pennsylvania German fraktur and decorative arts. In 1897, then-curator Edwin Atlee Barber acquired the museum’s first fraktur and, in 1929, the museum opened to the public the first period rooms of Pennsylvania German art. Many of the furnishings were donated by J. Stogdell Stokes, with additional furniture, ironwork, textiles, redware, and other objects acquired from Titus C. Geesey. The museum’s fraktur were never on par with the rest of the collection, but with the recent promised gift of nearly 250 fraktur from the collection of Joan and Victor Johnson (Fig. 2), the museum’s fraktur collection is now one of the finest in the country.

The Johnsons, Philadelphia natives, began collecting fraktur nearly sixty years ago, initially to help fill the walls of a historic farmhouse they bought and restored after their marriage in 1955. Joan, who studied contemporary art at Goucher College, loved the Bauhaus and planned to collect accordingly—but Victor, who worked in the computer industry, didn’t want to live with modern art.

Visit to read more about Pennsylvania German Fraktur.

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Wednesday, 02 January 2013 13:13

Folk Art Museum to Relinquish Promised Artworks

When Ralph Esmerian, owner of the jewelry company Fred Leighton, filed for bankruptcy and was sentenced to six years in jail for fraud in 2011, the American Folk Art Museum felt the repercussions. Esmerian, a prominent donor and former chairman of the institution, had promised the museum 263 works from his illustrious collection. Since Esmerian’s downfall, the museum has been working with a trustee of the case to reach an agreement, which was recently realized.

The settlement between the Folk Art Museum and Esmerian states that the institution is entitled to 53 of the artworks he promised to donate. While the chosen pieces are yet to be specified to the public, they were selected for their exceptional quality and include portraits, needleworks, fraktur, sculpture, pottery, and scrimshaw. The retained works will enhance the museum’s collection and aid its educational mission.

The Folk Art Museum will be forced to part with the other 210 promised works, which will most likely be sold at auction in an effort to settle other bankruptcy estate claims.

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