STORY WRITTEN BY TARA LYNN JOHNSON
For Digital First Media
The past and the present come together in the exhibit “Word & Image: Contemporary Artists Connect to Fraktur.” It’s one part of the Free Library of Philadelphia’s multi-exhibit “Framing Fraktur” celebration, which features several ways to enjoy the historic art form.
The art of fraktur (which comes from the German word for “fracture”) originated in the German-speaking areas of Europe in the 1500s. It was brought to Pennsylvania in the 1700s and is known as a traditional art form for the Pennsylvania Dutch community.
Fraktur is a folk art featuring vivid colors, embellished texts, and drawings. Usually, the pieces included images like birds, angels, and flowers. In addition to being art, they often were tools for instruction, like learning to read, or for remembering family events (marriages, births).
Judith Tannenbaum curated “Word & Image.” She selected more than 40 works by seven artists (one pair worked in tandem) to be displayed. Their works don’t imitate fraktur, she said, but try to have “resonance and connection with some of the main characteristics.”
Her goal was to showcase the historic with the contemporary, to reveal the relevance of fraktur in the present day. FRAKTUR AT THE PHILADELPHIA MUSEUM OF ART
Tannenbaum, an experienced contemporary curator, wasn’t that familiar with fraktur when she began the process. She knew some things about the Pennsylvania German culture, though. She enjoyed researching and learning more, because combining the past with the present always appeals to her.
“I am interested in folk art and crossovers between art and craft and art and design,” she said.
The works in the library’s collection, which she viewed to gain inspiration, are beautiful, she said. People can view them in the Library’s online resources (at http://www.freelibrary.org/fraktur/) – the collection includes more than 1,000 pieces of fraktur folk art, 177 handwritten manuscripts, and more than 2,000 books and broadsides produced by early German printers in America. Having them online is great, “but there’s nothing like seeing the actual works themselves,” she said.
The artists in the exhibit are international: Marian Bantjes (Canada); Anthony Campuzano (United States); Imran Qureshi (Pakistan); Elaine Reichek (United States); Bob and Roberta Smith (United Kingdom); and Gert and Uwe Tobias (Romania/Germany).
To choose the artists she would exhibit, Tannenbaum thought about those who use language. Reichek, for example, uses samplers in her work and there’s a connection between those and fraktur, Tannenbaum said. FRAKTUR AT WINTERTHUR MUSEUM
“In samplers, young girls were taught to sew, but also learned the alphabet and reading skills,” she said.
Another artist uses slogans while others use large-scale wood block prints and word-based drawings. Even though they use techniques or images that reflect back to fraktur, all of the subjects of the contemporary works are unique to each artist and reflect their lives, their thoughts, and/or their opinions.
Tannenbaum is pleased with the way the exhibit came together. “I think it’s very engaging,” she said.
And she hopes that the pieces will enliven the already beautiful space of the Library.
“Art in public spaces, if it’s thoughtful and doesn’t intrude or take over, can really add a dimension,” she said. “It has a literary aspect. Some of it is humorous. I hope there’s a level of enjoyment for people.”
IF YOU GO
What: “Word & Image: Contemporary Artists Connect to Fraktur”
When: Through June 14
Where: The Free Library of Philadelphia, 1901 Vine St., Philadelphia.
Info.: Visit www.freelibrary.org/frakturframing
Note: There will be additional exhibitions the Free Library of Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library. Visit www.freelibrary.org/frakturframing for more information.