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Taufschein of Milly Bell

Heltzel, Henry
Place Made:
Shenandoah County Virginia United States of America
Date Made:
ink and watercolor on laid paper
HOA: 8; WOA: 9 7/8 (actual)
Accession Number:
Birth and baptism certificate in ink and watercolor on laid paper. The inscription is enclosed in a compass-drawn heart shaped by a thick band bordered with pink semi-circles. Above the heart a winged angel head is flanked with two small rosettes on either side and one below. The rosettes have round petals alternating with pointed leaves or petals. Below the angel head is a small heart-shaped pendant. The upper portion of the sheet is framed by a large fringed curtain filled with green leaf-like shapes. The curtain is drawn up at the corners and in the center, with a tassel suspended at the center point, and draped on the sides with a tassel below each drape. At the bottom of the sheet, the point of the heart is flanked symmetrically by leafy vines with tulips and two large stylized pomegranates topped with lines and dots representing filaments and anthers. Below each of the pomegranates is a small rosette similar to those around the winged angel head. The whole is enclosed in a simple rule-drawn unadorned frame that is filled with a light green tint with small red hatch marks in each corner.

MILLY BELL WAS/ born in Virginia Shanandoah Coun / ty the 11th anno Domini 1800 her/ parents are Daniel Bell and/ Barbara Knisly her/ Sponsors are George / Mowrer and / Catherine his / wife Baptized / By the Rev. / B. Willy

Artist/Maker: Heinrich (Henry) Heltzel (1788-1867, w. ca. 1810-1828). A large number of birth and baptismal certificates created for families and members of the Lutheran and Reformed churches in the Stony Creek area of Shenandoah County, Virginia, have long been attributed to an anonymous artist known by the working name of the “Stony Creek Artist.” The mystery of the artist’s identity was solved by the discovery of a student copy book now in the collection of the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley containing the 1826 signature of “H. Heltzel” now identified by independent scholar Gene Comstock as schoolmaster, Henry Heltzel. Comstock’s research, using both genealogical and stylistic evidence, has provided ample evidence pointing to Henry Helztel as the Stony Creek Artist. For full details see: H. E. Comstock. “Stony Creek Fraktur Artist Identified.” MESDA Journal, Vol. 31, No. 2 – Vol. 32, No. 2 (Winter 2005 – Winter 2006).
Characteristic features of Heltzel’s work found in this example include the “heavenly curtain” framing the upper portion of this fraktur, and the two large pomegranates on either side of the lower portion. Other motifs include the winged angel head, tassels, and the five (sometimes four)-petaled rosettes seen in the lower corners and surrounding the angel head. The artist’s flowers and tulips are frequently filled with hatched lines. The winged angel at the top beneath the tassel invariably appears on pieces with the curtain motif. The artist also frequently used subdued pastel colors, with shades of pink and green being the most commonly used. The child’s name is inscribed in large block letters at the head of the text, a feature that is found in many of Heltzel’s works. Some of Heltzel’s taufscheine are inscribed in German, some in English, often combining fraktur Gothic lettering with cursive copperplate, or old German script. This example is written in English in Roman block and copperplate lettering. On at least one other example Heltzel listed the mother of the child by her maiden name, probably the case in this example.

Comstock, H.E. “Stony Creek Fraktur Artist Identified.” MESDA Journal vol. 31. No 1 (Winter 2005 – Winter 2006)

This birth and baptismal certificate was created for the child Milly Bell who was born on the 11th day of an unnamed month in the year 1800. Her parents were Daniel Bell and Barbara Knisly (Kneisly or Kneisley, probably maiden name). The baptism sponsors were George and Catherine Mowry (Maurer, Mourer, Mowrey). She was baptized by the pastor Rev. Bernhard F. Willy, a much beloved teacher and minister to the German Reformed Church in Woodstock Virginia from 1787 until his death in 1810. Rev. Willy also served churches in West Virginia and Wythe County, Virginia. An illuminated document such as this was considered a personal and private “souvenir” of a landmark occasion in the life of a child. Rather than being framed or displayed publicly, these papers were most often folded away safely in a book or Bible, occasionally pasted on the interior lid of a chest, or even at times buried with the person for whom they had been made. This example displays evidence of having been preserved in a folded condition for many years.
Credit Line:
Gift of Dr. Richard Boren, by exchange