Collections › MESDA Collection › Fraktur


Schley, Thomas
Place Made:
Frederick County Maryland United States of America
Date Made:
ink –watercolor on paper
HOA 14-9/16″; WOA 18-1/16″
Accession Number:
Ink and watercolor fraktur on laid paper. New year’s greeting written in a practiced hand using both Gothic and script lettering in an assortment of sizes, styles and colors. A border of flowers, foliage, hearts, and winged angels frames the central text. Yellow tulips and leaves dominate the floral images with shades of gold, green and red filling the petals. The artist had obviously had good training in the art of watercolor and illumination, as is evidenced by the skilled ornament and the technique of washing and blending the colors in this piece. The border’s six hearts and a shield, outlined in bold black ink, frame polychrome texts numbered 1 through 7, possibly stanzas of a hymn. The two lower hearts include a calligraphic flourish in the shape of a bird, the one on the left followed by the date 1767. Each of the two largest lines of text is ornamented with a decorative medial band: a green and white guilloche and a strip of three uncolored ribbons woven through the letters. The fraktur is signed at the bottom on either side of the central shield: “Thomas / / Schley”.

The translation of the text reads: [Across the top] “Praise, you servant of God, Praise the name of the Lord, Praise be the Lord, from now on until the eternity. From the beginning to the end. Praised be the name of the Lord. / [At the top of the frame] The minister’s lips are to preserve the teaching so that people hear the law from his mouth. / [Large heading] Highly respected Lord / [Below the bird image] Christ has freed us from the curse through turning men’s faces / [Central text] After another year has passed through the grace of the great and powerful God, whose years last forever, a new one has begun. And since many years there is the habit among people, particularly among Christians to wish his neighbors at the beginning of a new year, all the best, hence I take the liberty to express hereby my humble meant wish. So I wish your Honor and your wife that he who gives all blessings will continue this new year to hand out more blessings, new strength, health for the soul and body and with his blessing increase those gifts not only this year but also many following years giving you constant health in that you overcome anything sorrowful that you will spend the new year in peacefulness. Amen / Thomas Schley”

MAKER: Johann Thomas Schley (1712 – 1790), a schoolmaster in the small German Palatine village of Appenhofen, emigrated to Maryland in 1744. He and his wife Maria Margaretha Wintz had five children at the time of their arrival in America. They and other passengers of the ship Rupert, arriving at the port of Annapolis, settled on land provided by prominent Annapolis attorney Daniel Dulany near the Monocacy River. Dulany had laid out a town that was to be called Fredericktown in which he had designated lots for Anglican, Reformed and Lutheran congregations. Schley purchased four lots in the town, and under his leadership the Reformed congregation built a school house which also served as the meeting place for Sunday services. The Schley’s sixth child was born by 1746 and was among the first recorded births in Frederick.

In 1747 Schley was described by a visitor as “the best schoolmaster that I have met in America. He spares neither labor or pains in instructing the young and edifying the congregation according to his ability, by means of singing and reading the word of God and printed sermons on every Lord’s day.” By 1748 the congregation had built its first church that was replaced by a second church in 1763 with Schley serving as the head of the building committee. Schley continued in various positions of leadership for the Reformed congregation and as schoolmaster throughout the remainder of his life. After the church purchased an organ from the Moravian organ builder David Tannenburg in the early 1770s, Schley became the organist for the church. He is also recorded as an innkeeper.

It is obvious from Schley’s surviving works that he had received excellent training in the traditional German Palatine art of illumination. The Historical Society of Frederick County has in its collection one of the best example of his artistry, a leather-bound volume of 282 pages containing more than 150 church hymns (some of his own composition) many of which are colorfully illuminated. In addition to traditional motifs, the book’s illustrations include drawings of the first stone church of the Reformed congregation and the Schley family home. Schley also produced other Fraktur pieces such as certificates of merit for his pupils including an outstanding Vorschrift dated 1773 in the collection of the Maryland Historical Society. This piece is inscribed “Johannes Thomas Schley Reformed Schoolmaster in Frederick Town, the 30th of September anno 1773, 61 years and 26 days old.” Schley died in November 1790 at the age of 78.

See: Klaus Wust. “Johann Thomas Schley (1712-1790) Schoolmaster, Musician and Fraktur Artist of Frederick, Maryland.” The Report no. 42. Society for the History of Germans in Maryland. 1993. . / The Report Online.

PROVENANCE: This fraktur descended in the family of Christoph Witzel (1728-1825) the progenitor of the Wetsel family of Greene County, Virginia. He was born in Jerxheim, Germany and in 1728 and came to America as a soldier to fight with the British army during the American Revolution. The troop in which he served was surrendered by British General Burgoyne in September 1777, and by 1779 Witzel had been moved to the prison encampment at Charlottesville, Virginia. (See related object: 1195. Engraving. The Encampment of the Convention Army, Charlottesville, Virginia.)

Following the war Witzel was among the German soldiers who elected to remain in America. He settled in Rockingham County, Virginia where he is recorded (as Christoph Wetzel) as a member of the Peaked Mountain Reformed Church near McGaheysville.

Around 1800, Christoph married Mary Long Livingston, the widow of David Livingston. Mary Long was the daughter of Jacob or Charles Long (or Lange), the minister of the German Reformed Church in Frederick, Maryland in the 1760’s. It was probably this family for whom the New Year’s Blessing was made by Johann Thomas Schley in 1767. (For details on the life of Christoph Witzel see related objects 5702.2., 5702.3 and 5702.5.)

According to an early history of the German reformed church in America, Charles Lange was the pastor of the German Reformed Church at Frederick, Maryland, from 1766-1768 and served also as a missionary to churches in the surrounding region. Rev. Lange kept a detailed journal of baptisms, marriages, and confirmations at a several churches in Maryland and Virginia, including the Peaked Mountain and Raeder’s Reformed Churches in Rockingham County, Virginia. Source: The Fathers of the German Reformed Church in Germany and America, By Rev. H. Harbaugh, A.M. . . . Vol. II. Second Edition. J. M. Westhaeffer, Lancaster, 1872.

Credit Line:
Loan courtesy of Mr. John Earl Wetsel, Jr.