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January 27, 2002

Hand-carved wooden animals on display at AARFAM

Colonial Williamsburg will host a delightful display of more than a dozen carved wooden birds and animals–eagles, owls, lions, tigers, roosters, parrots and cranes–by renowned folk artists Wilhelm Schimmel and Aaron Mountz next month. The exhibition, "Schimmel and Mountz: Two Pennsylvania Carvers," will go on view at the Abby Adlrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum Feb. 2.

Born in Hesse-Darmstadt, Germany, Wilhelm Schimmel (ca. 1840-1890) arrived in the Cumberland Valley near Carlisle, Pa., soon after the Civil War. He lived with German-American families in the area, doing occasional chores and caring for their children in exchange for food and a place to sleep. Schimmel also carved birds and animals to sell or to barter for food and drink, and the shelves of the local barrooms and saloons were lined with his brightly painted wooden carvings.

Most of the artist’s animals were carved from pine remnants collected from local sawmills and carpentry shops. Once carved, the figures were covered with gesso or plaster, painted and sometimes coated with varnish. Schimmel’s carving style was bold and often featured the deeply cut crosshatching usually seen on the wings and backs of his eagles. In addition to the selection exhibited, Schimmel is known to have carved small soldiers, squirrels, Gardens of Eden with Adam and Eve, and poodles.

Aaron Mountz was born in the Cumberland Valley in 1873, about three years after Schimmel arrived in that area. Mountz was a farmer, though it is said that he earned little income from agriculture. Toward the end of his life in 1949, he suffered from mental illness that confined him to a hospital. Mountz undoubtedly knew of Schimmel and his carvings, and it may have been Schimmel’s work that inspired the youthful Mountz to try his hand. His family and friends admired one of his early carved eagles, noting that it was "as good as Schimmel."

There are many obvious differences between the works of the two men. Mountz seems to have favored the carefully carved, unadorned pine seen in both his "Crane" and "Owl." In comparison with Schimmel, Mountz’s creatures are highly detailed with tight, controlled carving that is both neat and beautifully patterned. Schimmel’s work is rougher, more exuberant and freely conceived, and required less time to create. The result:hundreds of Schimmel’s pieces survive while fewer than 100 by Mountz are known.

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