Fraktur Birth and Death Record for Anna Hott
Right page: Anna Hott / Daughter of John Hott and Margaret his Wife, / Was Born on the 31st Day of October In the Year / of our Lord 1820, and Departed this life on / The 3rd Day of November A,D, 1820.
Left page: Ere sin could blast, or sorrow fade / Death came with friedly [sic] care / The opening bud to Heaven convey’d / And bade it blossom there,
MAKER: Family Record Book Artist. Although this artist’s work is consistently grouped with the genre of colorful birth and baptismal certificates known as “fraktur” that were most often created for German communities and members of the German Reformed and Lutheran churches, it is fairly obvious that he was most probably Scotch-Irish or English. The majority of his surviving works were created for English and Presbyterian families of Frederick County, Virginia and Berkeley County, Virginia (now West Virginia). The written texts of known examples are in precise and accurate English and executed in Roman letters and English copperplate rather than the Gothic lettering and old German script of German fraktur. The lettering also confirms that the artist was an accomplished calligrapher, suggesting that he may have been a teacher of penmanship in one of the schools associated with the Presbyterian churches of the previously mentioned counties.
Although many examples have now been separated into individual pages, the majority of this artist’s work was originally produced in booklet form for families. Booklets that are still intact have a decorated cover page and pages for marriages, births, and deaths. A distinguishing feature is that all known examples of this artist’s work are executed with pen and colored ink and filled in with hatch lines rather than with brush and watercolor. The artist used a colorful variety of motifs and embellishments that gave each family booklet a distinctive and individualistic look. Common features of the artist’s work found in these two pages include the rippling-scalloped-edge curtain surrounding the central design, the bird figure, the six-sided coffin, the drooping flowers above and below the coffin, fleur-de-lis corner motifs, and elaborate geometric borders filled with colorful overlapping undulating lines. The rippling curtain and fleur-de-lis motifs strongly suggest a relationship with the artist Henry Heltzel / The Stony Creek Artist. The format of both pages indicates that this artist completed the texts prior to adding the decoration, a technique that is quite the reverse from many fraktur, in which the decoration was completed first and the text filled in at a later date. Another important and possibly unique feature of this artist’s work has been pointed out by fraktur historian Gene Comstock: “Not only did he execute a certificate depicting birth. . . , he in fact constructed two renderings for each individual. One a ‘hex sign’ or life blessing, the other the certificate fraktur as we know it.” (MESDA Accession file, letter dated October 13, 1987). In this case the second, facing page is the memorial of the child’s death. In other cases, the facing page or, life blessing, might include a decorative element, such as a flower or bird.
Bivins, John and Forsyth Alexander. The Regional Arts of the Early South: A Samping from the Collection of the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts. Winston-Salem: Old Salem, Inc. 1991.
Weekley, Carolyn J. “Decorated Family Record Books from the Valley of Virginia.” MESDA Journal volume VII, number 1 (May 1981) pp. 1-19