Thursday, December 18, 2014

Brader Perspectives

Brader Perspectives

By Tom Wachunas

    “The Canton Museum’s goal with this exhibition is to give more depth and understanding to Brader’s importance in capturing a snapshot in time of our local and regional history…His skill at depicting minute details weave together an amazing story of the late 1800s in Northeast Ohio and Pennsylvania – and illuminate Brader’s importance as an artist and chronicler of the time and place…”
    - Max Barton, Executive Director, Canton Museum of Art

    EXHIBIT: The Legacy Of Ferdinand A. Brader: 19th Century Drawings of the Ohio and Pennsylvania Landscape, on view at the Canton Museum of Art (CMA) THROUGH MARCH 15, 2015 / 1001 Market Avenue North, Canton / (330) 453-7666  ALSO SEE >

    Companion Exhibits: at the Little Art Gallery, located in the North Canton Public Library, 185 North Main Street, North Canton, THROUGH JANUARY 8, 2015 (330) 499-4712 x312 / AND at The McKinley Presidential Library and Museum, 800 McKinley Monument Drive NW, Canton, THROUGH DECEMBER 24, (330) 455-7043

    Among my fondest early childhood memories are summer Sunday drives through rural Stark County. I never tired of our casual family ceremony of piling into Dad’s two-tone ’54 Pontiac for no reason other than to venture beyond our small hometown of Alliance and enjoy the country. It never seemed to really matter where or even if we stopped for the always-promised ice cream cone (Minerva? Sebring? Homeworth?). It was the ride that was sweet. We cruised through miles of manicured farmlands dotted by slate-roofed houses with their deep covered porches, stately barns, towering silos and grazing horses, cows, and sheep. It was another world to me. At once mysterious and inviting, simple and…exotic.
    This CMA exhibit of more than 40 large (30”x40” and larger) graphite pencil drawings by Ferdinand A. Brader (1833-1901), guest-curated by eminent Brader scholar Kathleen Wieschaus-Voss, is a potent evocation of that world, even if it is from the late 19th century. Between 1879 and 1896, Brader, an itinerant Swiss folk artist, made more than 600 extraordinarily detailed drawings (in his lifetime output numbering at least 980) that constitute a wholly impressive chronicle of family businesses and farms in various counties of Pennsylvania and northeast Ohio. Viewed as a record of local and regional family livelihoods and heritage, the beautifully mounted exhibit is a veritable gem of historical information.
   Likewise, as folk art, Brader’s drawings of rural residences and properties are meticulously, even lovingly rendered and panoramic in scope. His pencil technique was so exacting and controlled that his pictures often suggest the minute linear textures of embroidered tapestries.
    Evidently, Brader was not an academically trained artist. This might arguably explain the quirky mixed viewpoints apparent in many of the drawings. A consistent vantage point for Brader was clearly aerial in nature. Yet he seems to have broken the formal rules of relative scale and multiple-point linear perspective so that the illusion of spatial accuracy is somewhat skewed. Call it a gentle awkwardness. For example, we might be looking down at a structure while simultaneously seeing its surrounds at eye-level. That said, such inconsistencies, while a bit technically naïve, actually bring a mesmerizing charm to the scenes.
    Brader’s capacity for capturing naturalistic likenesses was nonetheless substantial enough, and no doubt the result of his background as a mold carver for his family bakery in Switzerland. In the manual discipline required to make raised relief decorations for baked goods, I think it reasonable to assume he acquired a sort of muscle memory that effectively played out in his facile repetition of human figures, animals, objects, tree shapes and patterns that generously occupy his drawings.
    Muscle memory. From decorated Swiss pastries and cakes to elaborate, enthralling American landscapes. All of this brings me right back to those countryside excursions of my childhood. And like them, this exhibit is a sweet ride indeed.

    PHOTOS, from top: The Property of Daniel and Sarah Leibelsperger, 1882, exhibition catalog no. 13; The Property of Peter and Nancy Yoder, 1885, exhibition catalog no. 20; The Property of Daniel and Deborah De Turck, 1882, exhibition catalogue no. 12

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