A Lost Art & An Amazing Story

16 Sep

From the 18th to the 20th century many settlers to the United States of America were of Germanic decent. In fact, they were the second largest group of immigrants, coming in behind the English.  They settled in and around Philadelphia and Germantown.  One of the many things they brought and contributed to the “new world” was their art.  Today we’re focusing on their grain painting technique.  They used this painting technique to decorate commemorative objects- for special occasions like births and marriages, but also to enhance everyday items, things they would use in bedrooms, kitchens and living rooms.

“All reveal a sense of joy and desire to ornament and embellish the objects which enhanced and enriched daily life.” http://www.readingpublicmuseum.org/pdf/Cultural_celebration_booklet.pdf

Not many artists today have this skill- it is becoming a lost art. But we happen to know one of them- Heide Drewes!

Look at these beautiful pieces she has done using the Penslyvania Dutch method of grain painting:


I especially love the before and after shots of the medicine cabinants- it shows how much this pairing method can add in depth and decoration.

Both of Heide’s parents were German bakers, and they spoke the German language in the home.  She remembers growing up surrounded by objects and traditions from Germany, handmade, hand painted items from the Black Forest, the fairy tales and stories her dad read to her from The Brothers Grimm, and Steiff animals. Her introduction to grain painting is a wonderful story of chance, here it is in her own words:

” I am a firm believer that things happen for a reason, and one of those things actually happened at a farm auction about 35 years ago! While waiting to bid on a pair of hand embroidered pillow cases, bidding was going on of items piled on a flat bed farm trailer, filled with a lot of primitives and farm tools. One item caught my eye, a small wooden carrier with a handle across the top. I thought “oh, how neat” and perfect for country primitive decorating! The item was held up high… too high to see what it held and the auction help never held up what was in it. I held up one finger to bid one dollar, no one else wanted it and it was MINE… and it WAS meant to be mine! For when it was handed down to me, I could finally see what else my dollar had bought… old graining tools!

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Steel combs of various widths and sizes and old wood graining rockers that mimic wood grain patterns. I felt a revelation when seeing all of this, and chuckled because I knew this little wooden carrying box was waiting for me to find it and make use of it and it’s contents! It had old gray paint, but I painted it mustard with green trim soon after getting it. It would be a few years later, in 1990, that I would be introduced to Old Village Paints and their brown graining liquid, by a wonderful woman I had recently met… and have a chance to use the old tools. She had all the colors of Old Village paints chosen and bought, to have her old wooden floors painted… and also wanted to use the graining liquid to add details in places. So that was my first experience with Old Village Paint’s fine and time tested products, and I began using old techniques as used on early grain painted furniture that I saw in books and magazines, and then developed my own idea of using the graining liquid to make scenic landscapes, to make very special, one of a kind pieces of furniture and at times picture frames. The rest is history as they say…” Heide

Thank you Heide for sharing this story with us! Heide is teaching a workshop on grain painting this Saturday at Roger S. Wright Furniture in Pennsylvania, the class is full, but we’ll share photos!

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