About This Conference

Fraktur and the Everyday Lives of Germans
in Pennsylvania and the Atlantic World, 1683-1850

During the spring of 2015, the Free Library of Philadelphia, Philadelphia Museum of Art, and Winterthur Museum will host exhibitions showcasing their extensive collections of fraktur, one of the most distinctive and beloved types of American folk art. The tradition of making fraktur was brought to Pennsylvania by German-speaking settlers in the eighteenth century. A form of manuscript art, fraktur includes birth and baptismal certificates, writing samples, valentines, and religious texts, executed in ink and watercolor with a distinctive broken or “fractured” style of lettering and embellished with decorative motifs such as hearts, flowers, birds, and angels.

Fraktur and the Everyday Lives of Germans in Pennsylvania and the Atlantic World, 1683-1850, takes advantage of this rare occasion when the major fraktur collections in the Philadelphia region have so many works on display. An international group of scholars will gather to discuss how these small but exuberantly decorated documents celebrated important moments in their owners’ personal lives, as well as the historical and cultural contexts in which they were created. Topics to be addressed range from patterns of migration, education, and religious practices to music, farming, medicine, and the occult, in addition to how fraktur were made and collected. The conference is jointly organized by the Free Library of Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the McNeil Center for Early American Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, with the participation of the German Society of Pennsylvania and Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library.

The conference is also supported, in part, by a generous Academic Program Grant from the Terra Foundation for American Art. The Foundation is dedicated to fostering exploration, understanding, and enjoyment of the visual arts of the United States for national and international audiences. Recognizing the importance of experiencing original works of art, the Foundation provides opportunities for interaction and study, beginning with the presentation and growth of its own art collection in Chicago. To further cross-cultural dialogue on American art, the Foundation supports and collaborates on innovative exhibitions, research, and educational programs. Implicit in such activities is the belief that art has the potential both to distinguish cultures and to unite them.

Additional support for the conference is provided by the Center for American Art at The Philadelphia Museum of Art


The conference is free and open to the public, but preregistration is required.