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Drawn with Spirit: Pennsylvania German Fraktur from the Joan and Victor Johnson Collection
February 1, 2015 - April 26, 2015
Drawing of Adam and Eve, c. 1834–35
Explore fraktur’s vibrant colors and whimsical imagery.
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Drawn with Spirit: Pennsylvania German Fraktur from the Joan and Victor Johnson Collection
February 1, 2015 - April 26, 2015

Bold, bright, and rich with exuberant images and elaborate lettering, fraktur celebrate milestone moments and everyday joys in the lives of Pennsylvania Germans.

This exhibition celebrates a recent promised gift of more than 230 fraktur to the Museum from art collectors Joan and Victor Johnson. One of the most admired forms of American folk art, fraktur are decorated documents featuring brilliant colors and often whimsical imagery. Transplanted to Pennsylvania by German-speaking immigrants in the 1700s, these hand-drawn or printed works on paper are distinguished by a broken (or “fractured”) style of lettering. Most were executed in ink and watercolor and embellished with hearts, flowers, birds, angels, and other lively motifs. Small yet exuberant, fraktur celebrated important moments in the personal and domestic lives of Pennsylvania Germans. The most common types of fraktur are birth and baptismal certificates, writing samples, house blessings, bookplates, rewards of merit, family records, valentines, New Year’s greetings, and religious subjects or texts.

Exhibition Minutes

Folk Art Collector Joan Johnson on Fraktur’s Origins

Art collector Joan Johnson gives a brief history of Pennsylvania German fraktur and explains what makes the decorative works on paper so special.
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Joan and Victor Johnson on the Joys of Collecting Fraktur

The couple share how their appreciation for Pennsylvania German fraktur developed over the years, and why they promised their impressive collection to the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
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Philadelphians Joan and Victor Johnson have collected Pennsylvania German fraktur since the late 1950s. According to Joan Johnson, “Fraktur in those days was something we could afford, as my mother would say, with my ‘roast beef money’—anything left over from the budget that week. Whenever I saw something I liked, I bought it.” Gradually, over the course of more than fifty years, the Johnsons assembled one of the finest private holdings of this material in the country. In 2012 they promised all their fraktur to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, thereby more than doubling the Museum’s fraktur collection and exponentially increasing its breadth, depth, and quality. One of the first major American institutions to acquire Pennsylvania German folk art, beginning in the early 1890s, the Museum has one of the most important collections of this type in the United States. The Johnsons’ generous gift will place the Museum’s fraktur on a par with the rest of its Pennsylvania German art.

The exhibition presents works by many of the finest and best known fraktur artists, such as Johann Adam Eyer, Samuel Gottschall, Andreas Kolb, Friedrich Krebs, Henrich Otto, Durs Rudy, Johannes Ernst Spangenberg, and the anonymous scribe nicknamed the Sussel-Washington Artist. It includes examples from many counties of southeastern Pennsylvania—Adams, Berks, Bucks, Cumberland, Dauphin, Lancaster, Lebanon, Lehigh, Montgomery, Northampton, and York, among others—and from New Jersey, New York, and Ohio, as well as Ontario, Canada. A selection of Pennsylvania German decorative arts from the Museum’s collection, including painted furniture, redware pottery, and metalwork, is also on view.


The exhibition is supported by The Arlin and Neysa Adams Endowment Fund. The accompanying publication is made possible with a gift from Joan and Victor Johnson, with additional support from The Andrew W. Mellon Fund for Scholarly Publications at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.


Ann Percy, The Mainwaring Curator of Drawings


Special Exhibitions Gallery, first floor, Perelman Building