Reflecting the anonymity of folk art in less incessantly self referential times, barely ten percent of over 1000 buildings reveal information about maker, or when or where or why, or if an actual building is suggested or conveyed. Only one owner over the years is verifiably known.
Establishing provenance and documentary information was not much a concern of these makers.
Such information -- on the building or narrated or researched or revealed by chance -- is unfailingly compelling. Penciled words might be found, at best legible, usually on the bottom. A recognizable building is often identified even if rendered inexactly: Grant’s Tomb or Independence Hall or extant places in Queens NY. Attention to national architectural history reveals something present or regrettably lost . . . here is the grand Richardsonian train station errantly destroyed by Milwaukeeans to accommodate a 1960s expressway.
More are likely based on real buildings -- grandmother’s farmhouse, our loved church or local store -- than is known. Most, however, seem to spring from imagination
and the desire to make, even small, one’s own place.
Known & Real
Information and Identification are Uncommon and Always Compelling
Mr. White made Philadelphia's Independence Hall in 1940, careful to convey his maturity.
A solidly impressive place in Lancaster Pennsylvania.
Seems likely to have Colonial murals on dining room walls. Handwritten papers at front inform:
Home of Sanderson Detweiler, 505 N. School Lane, fronts on Marietta Ave. Model was made for Xmas Garden 1936 by Ed Poutz. Mr. Detweiler's granddaughter informed me that Ed Poutz, gardener, was about 19 then. House and garage are extant.
The poorly captured 30 December 1976 article from the Racine Wisconsin, Shoreline Leader describes the lovingly purposeful renderings of Charles Cole before his death in 1943. Buildings from Racine and Madison, Wisconsin, were joined by others around the country to which he took a fancy, likely copied from postcards and pictures. Each building -- perhaps up to 60 in total, domestic, commercial, and civic -- was made in triplicate, one for each of Mr. Cole's children. We have duplicates of the gazebo and of the Wisconsin State Capitol, one golden-domed and one unadorned.
A number of the buildings here are seen in the fuzzy photographs. All came from one source and seller, with documentation, with exception of the two green churches. By style, size, rendering -- and of course duplication -- the pair seems possibly to come also from Mr. Cole's world.
The 1904 Carnegie Racine Public Library became, in 1963, the
Racine Heritage Museum.
Zahn's Department Store, Racine,
State Capitol, Madison Wisconsin.
The George Washington Masonic National Memorial,
New York City
Mount Vernon, home of George Washington, in curiously rendered scale
The Chicago Water Tower,
not rendered by Cole in classy limestone
Charles Cole of Racine Wisconsin
Charles Cole of Racine Wisconsin
The 1924 Sample Public School in the Millvale urban valley -- in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania -- has, perhaps surprisingly, been repurposed with better windows and new community uses.
Old Salem North Carolina
Honoring and compelled by Old Salem, a restored and historically rich Moravian town community in Winston-Salem North Carolina, some number of persons over years rendered key buildings for unknown reasons. Accompanying information and sparse writings on a few of them reveal three notations, unusually carrying over 40 years: R. B. C. Dec 1939; W. M. Ball, 226 South Church Street in Old Salem, in the 1960s and presumably living there; and Mildred Ball, with 1979 barely legible. The Moravian Church, a signal architectural beauty of North Carolina, is 14" tall. Liberties of color and detail were allowed. Seventeen buildings have been gained in two groups over twenty years, with three rendered twice decades apart.
Old Salem • North Carolina
Evocative of 19th century culture of Wisconsin and Minnesota, from where it came, text above front door, Zweig Gemeinde der ST. JOSEPHS KIRCHE (The Branch Municipality of the St. Josephs Church) likely reflects establishment of a site in America of the German homeland church. In faded scriggly writing on paper affixed inside tower is found:
This church was built by Frank H. Aukofer Sr. xxxx 1884-85. Considering him not having any trade it is quite a piece of Art. Most of the work was done with a jack knife. It was repapered and painted by Frank H. Aukofer Jr. in January 1918. Both Franks are found in Wisconsin genealogical records.
Lawson Diggett quirkily rendered architecture of the Daytona area and of earlier Florida for 50+ years, beginning in the 1920s. Absorbing and interpreting, he merged so much so small: Mediterranean Revival and Mizner and Spanish-y touches and imagination and what he saw down the street . . . or envisioned, as landscape containing a 12th century Norman church and a domed cemetery temple thing is traditionally not found in Florida. His 4x14 foot Daytona Beach townscape is a marvel of the Halifax County, Florida, Museum, along with his precise models of early planes, race cars, and (strangely) race car crashes. He routinely sold his renderings over years to tourists on the boardwalk.
These buildings and townscapes mostly seem not exactly identifiable or necessarily based on real places, but do beautifully convey era, architecture, and idiosyncratic vision. Florida then! Color and fancy differences from buildings in those other duller states!
The community is small. The tall brown corner skyscraper and church, below, are 8 inches high. The bungalows in the uptown new development are highest 2.5 inches. Most buildings are 3-5 inches.
Mr. Diggett was unusually fond of bollards.
Lawson Diggett's Florida
A surely desirable new Daytona development ambitiously in one block shows bungalow,
Colonial Revival, and some Mediterranean- Spanish . On the bottom of the base board is painted:
Replica of Model Homes displayed by Builder – Seagrave Ave opposit Olds Hall –
Dayton Beach circa 1923 – By Lawson Diggett
Lawson Diggett's Florida
Penciled on bottom:
Made by John O'Neill for John Jr. Christmas 1926
Perhaps the loving and skilled Mr. O'Neill could not afford to buy for $3.00 the commercially available metal train station on which this is based. This and other Lionel evocations are seen below at the bottom of this page.
Two Aukofer Generations
Woodside • Now within Queens New YorkPAGES Astoria Historical Society.
Seventeen buildings remarkable in detail and evocation reveal only one clue:
John Meyer Feb. 1, 1911 Woodside L.I.
is burned inside the largest. Woodside -- 19th century village and prosperous early 20th century town -- is now subsumed within the borough of Queens New York.
OLD VILLAGE CARVED IN WOOD
John Meyer, Woodside’s wood carver, has completed a reproduction of the village of Woodside as it was thirty years ago.
The reproduction shows about twenty of the principal buildings of Woodside at that time, carved in great detail from the wood of cigar boxes.
Mr. Meyer worked six months on the carving. Scores of persons have visited Mr. Meyer’s hotel at Stryker avenue and Fifth street, where the miniature village is on exhibition.
The village is set out at base of a large Christmas tree. Every house in the group is wired for electricity, and the turn of a switch makes the little village glow with light. Old-time residents are particularly interested in Mr. Meyer’s work, as it is a faithful reminder of old Woodside.
In the center of the group is a replica of the old Long Island Railroad station on Howell avenue, now used for residential purposes.
Grouped around the station are replicas of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church on Stryker avenue, St. Sebastian’s Catholic Church on Woodside avenue, the old fire house on Fourth street, Mr. Meyer’s hotel on Fifth street, old Public School No. 10 on Kelly avenue, now used as a residence, the old Howell homestead, erected 210 years ago, the Repelye house, the old Cameron house, the home of Dr. Barker on Third street, and the home of Dr. Egan on Fourth street.
Mr. Meyer will keep the little work on exhibition until after New Year’s.
Mr. Meyer found he had a natural gift for the work several ago and since then has made it his hobby.
His best work is a reproduction of the Pennsylvania terminal in Manhattan. He is now carving a reproduction of the Hotel Irroy in Manhattan.
Among earliest town photos: second train station, 1871-72.
Information is unusually well revealed about time and maker, place and reasons, and actual buildings -- all documented from the late 19th century and most, as too often expected, lost.
The article from the 28 December 1915 Daily Star, Queens County, reports that John Meyer, son of the Meyer's Hotel proprietor, made about twenty of the the principal buildings of Woodside as it had been
thirty years earlier.
Further architectural identification was generously provided by decades-long Queens resident Catherine Gregory, keeper of architectural memory and author of Woodside, Queens County, New York: A Historical Perspective 1652 -1994. Ms. Gregory readily identifies: the second train station, the Kelly-Howell and Riker-Terrett mansions, Meyer’s Hotel, Woodside Hook & Ladder Company's Firemen's Hall, St. Paul's and St. Sebastian's churches, Egan and Borges houses, District School No.10, and the Woodside Pavilion. Four other buildings are not verifiably identified.
St. Paul's Protestant Episcopal Church, 1874, nicely did up to the moment Anglican board and batten. A brick expansion in 1957 preceded a 2007 fire.
The Woodside Hook & Ladder Company's Fireman's Hall in 1908 and in recent years as a church.
Meyer's Hotel, established in 1875 by the father of the Woodside village maker.
The hotel becomes a house: rendered and seen around 1990.
In the early 20th century: Woodside Pavilion, Dr. Egan's house, and Borges house.
Riker-Terrett mansion, grand and gone.
The Kelly-Howell mansion -- rendered both realistially and and more curiously in yellow -- endured diminishing changes before destruction in 1896.
St. Sebastian's Catholic Church, built in 1896 adjacent to the Kell-Howell mansion, was razed in 1956.
District School No. 10 in 1882. Torn down in 1950 for a new post office,
CREDITS & APPRECIATION
Eight black and white photos of earlier Woodside, from Woodside, Queens County, New York: A Historical Perspective 1652-1994, Catherine Gregory, 1994. Identifying specific actual buildings in time and location, Ms. Gregory generously shared architectural knowledge and informed passion for her place.
Three color contemporary photos courtesy of Greater Astoria Historical Society.
Woodside • Now within Queens New York
Oxford New Jersey • Wilkes - Barre Pennsyvania
Constructed in 1889, Milwaukee's Richardsonian Chicago and Northwestern Railway station was strong, good, and -- with the unparalleled ability of Americans to destroy architectural heritage for motor vehicles -- razed in 1968 for a freeway.
Drawing left courtesy of Dover Publications.
Melrose New York
Thomas Edison Birthplace
Thomas Alva Edison's birthplace in Milan Ohio is curiously rendered in stamps, which makes architectural accuracy challenging. Information in the sheet on right in the accompanying photo helpfully informs that 1588 stamps, of six types from one-half to ten cents, were used. The maker of this project -- school or civic or fair or history -- is unknown, as is his imperative to render elevations from stamps.
Melrose survives -- without the long-gone Diefendorf's -- as a scant crossroads north of Troy New York.
America Wonderland, Pennsylvania
The left postcard below confidently impells
Step into the enchanted world of AMERICA WONDERLAND . . . where in 20 minutes you can follow America's great growth and also helpfully heralds a breath-taking miniature world that took 20 years to build.
Tourists and culture mavens of an earlier era were apparently not in need of high drama, insistent screens,
or special effects. Feature this . . . they were happy to park their 1956 Dodge and pay something to walk around
and look down at vistas and townscapes of their national architecture. Easily reached, they found,
In the heart of the Penna. Dutch Country and just a quarter mile off the Pennsylvania Turnpike in Denver Pa.
The right postcard View of Independence Hall shows many buildings in this collection, seen particularly on the
Types: Commercial and Types: Houses pages.
America Wonderland, Pennsylvania
1918 • 1932
Bound Brook New Jersey
Mr. Carmen's stately church is unidentified.
The 29 November 1961 Milwaukee Journal describes the ailment-beset 79 year old Ben Zirzow's pleasure with 5-quart oil cans. It takes a day and a half of snipping, pounding and welding to make a garage out of 14 oil cans.
The vertical sign shows Ambler: the Ambler Theater near
Philadelphia, constructed in 1928 and restored in 2003.
Courtesy of Ambler Theater and Renew Theaters Inc.
Two very smart Renaissance-Baroque-Made-in-America buildings from the same set convey one clue: both are made from cardboard dress (nice dresses) boxes from long-gone department stores in Easton, Pennsylvania. Left from Laubach's and right from Orr's.
Red. Boldly inaccurate.
1910 • Aldobrando's Cathedral
Aldobrando Piacenza of Chicago, probably in the late 1940s, confidently presumed his particular take on the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington DC. Always with the same quirky eye, he rendered other churches and varied buildings.
Barely visible in pencil on bottom.
Furnace largely intact in 1880s and since partially restored.
Maker's name obscured on bottom On sign:
BuiLT in 1742
First in America
Made Cannon Balls
For WashinTon's Army Oxford New Jersey
Good formal lettering on good quality card affixed to bottom inside of roof, possibly never expected to be seen. Revealed only because roof was loosened in shipping.
S.N.Miller - Age 61 7/12 yrs
52 Wright Str Wilkes-Barre Pa
Mr. Miller was specific about his age.
Informed by his young two daughters
that they so needed a castle, Mr. Maurice Jones of Decatur Alabama responded well. Useful inspiration sprang from the cover of his childhood book, the 1921 Once Upon A Time: A Book of Old-Time Fairy Tales that his daughters also relished. With much imagination, skill, and patient fatherly love, he rendered their place and his vision
from 1959-1962, in evenings after work methodically carving from wood the endless individual stones from which a strong castle is built. The girls were indeed pleased, then and always. Daughter Cynthia happily fortified her living room with the castle over many decades, to delight her family and visitors. Like all the best castles, it compels attention by size – 28” wide by 32” high – and historical fancy.
Jones Family Castle
Jones Family Castle
Winston Salem North Carolina
The Mount Calvary Holy Church of Winston Salem NC has moved to a modern brick structure replacing this (accurate or not) rendering of an earlier church. Pastor and later Bishop Brumfield Johnson founded the church in 1929. He died in 1972 and Rev. Helen Cloud in 2006. Both were much loved.
1926 • 1936
Inside in black paint:
Built by N. H. Thoennes
2206 Agnes Ave
Written on bottom:
Joseph Novak 1936
Church replica made by parishoner who was upset when bldg was destroyed for future development of Tuscawilla written on ruled sheet taped to bottom. Loss to Tuscawilla, an endless Orlando Florida development, demanded that church be
made small and memory of place be honored.
United States Capitol
Elegant and assured rendering of the United States Capitol in Washington. 32" long and 18" high, with unexpected though pleasing blue. Information on interior floor informs that maker Jamek, with the unclear first name, began in October of 1945 and finished in March of 1946.
The Pottsville Pennsylvania YMCA, pulled down in the 1970s and seen in a card postmarked 15 Nov 1920.
Rare notation of maker, place, and time. John Dzierski, recorded as a carpenter, made this nice middle class house in Pittsburgh in 1920. Possibly working on or living in the place, he took seriously a good rendering. His lettering is a bit fancy.
Copies of Commercially Available Train Station
Eleven copies or apparent evocations of two similar commercially available Lionel stations -- the grander on a balustraded base -- first available in the 1930s. Perhaps the makers could not afford purchase or preferred their own take, variably
accurate or idiosyncratic.
The bold flagged rendering to the left is made of improbaby heavy metal with moderne industrial pieces of this and that.