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Selections from the Pennsylvania Folklife Collection
of Ursinus College's Berman Museum of Art

Click on the photos for a larger image and description.

Photographs courtesy of the Philip and Muriel Berman Museum of Art,
Ursinus College

   During The Pennsylvania German Society's 2003 Annual Meeting at Trappe, participants in the meeting will have the opportunity to view selected items from the Pennsylvania Folklife Collection of the Berman Museum of Art currently installed at the Muhlenberg Home and Dewees Tavern. Together, over 300 pieces from the Folklife Collection are on display at the two eighteenth century historic sites. Additional items in the exhibit come from the collections of the Historical Society of Trappe, which owns and maintains these historic structures.

   With the space offered by the Historical Society's buildings, Lisa Minardi, the curator of the exhibit, has been able to put on display materials from the Pennsylvania Folklife Collection that have never before been exhibited publicly. As Minardi and other staff members from the Berman Museum suggest, it is important that these items, collected over the years by Alfred Shoemaker and the Pennsylvania Folklife Society, come out of storage and into public view.

   The installation in the Henry Melchior Muhlenberg Home attempts to convey the period of the Muhlenbergs' lives there, and rooms are furnished using materials from the collections to show what might have been in place during the eighteenth century. Guests who have previously toured the Muhlenberg Home should enjoy seeing the restored house more fully furnished, giving it more the feeling of having been "lived in." This idea of bringing the house to life is aided by labeling and wall texts that use appropriate quotations from Reverend Muhlenberg's Journals to connect the rooms and artifacts to events and descriptions of the Muhlenbergs' occupancy of the house. A nice added touch to this theme of living is a sort of scavenger hunt activity for younger visitors that asks them to look for items that were used in the eighteenth century to carry out tasks that are performed much differently in the twenty-first century or that are now taken for granted.

   While the entire installation succeeds nicely in wedding the Muhlenberg Home with the Pennsylvania Folklife Collection, it is probably most successful in suggesting a sense of life in the kitchen exhibit. The first room that one enters on the tour, the kitchen is the most completely furnished room in the house and features pieces both small and large, from iron utensils to wood box, that give one the feeling of activity in the space. Given a full kitchen, visitors are left to imagine just how Mrs. Muhlenberg fell into the fire, an event chronicled by her husband.

   The other rooms in the house offer interesting pieces, such as a 1797 show towel and a large blanket chest that Ms. Minardi personally feels is the prized piece of the exhibit. A rare item from the collection is a reassembled swift used for taking up the yarn during wool processing. This piece is part of a textile production display that includes helpful descriptions and diagrams of eighteenth century fabric processing.
   The second part of the collaboration between the Berman Museum and the Historical Society of Trappe is installed at the Dewees Tavern, or Dewees House. The installation of Pennsylvania Folklife items at Dewees, which houses the permanent collections of the Historical Society, is arranged generally by material of construction or type of object and includes fraktur (which carries separate labeling), redware (including pieces by Jacob Medinger, regarded as the last of the Pennsylvania German potters before the current revival of the art), toleware, metalware, chalkware, miniatures, toys, wood (especially an interesting selection of butter molds), and ironwork.
   In all, the exhibit of selections from the Pennsylvania Folklife Collection displays over 300 pieces described in a useful combined catalog for the two houses. The exhibition opened on May 11 and will run through December 14, 2003 in Trappe, Pennsylvania.


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