Schimmel’s Carvings

Turn of the Century Carver’s Work Popular Among Collectors

Pennsylvania woodcarver John Bastian recreated several Wilhelm Schimmel carvings before designing a cat based on Schimmel’s style. Wood carver Wilhelm Schimmel may have been considered a tramp in his time, but today his pieces are popular among collectors of folk art carvings.

The Cumberland County carver wandered around Central Pennsylvania in the late 19th Century and early 20th Century carving his animals, according to Jan Gilliam, Manager of Exhibit Planning at Colonial Williamsburg.

“He was well known in Cumberland County,” Gilliam said. “He tramped around the area on foot or by hopping a train.

“He would trade his skills for food, a shirt, whatever,” she added.

Gilliam said his work is considered traditional folk art rather than tramp art.

He was most famous for his eagles, according to Gilliam

“A lot of what he did was eagles,” she said, explaining that they were his most famous carvings.

Schimmel had a distinctive design that makes his work very collectable, Gilliam said.

“He has a distinct cross hatching design,” she said. “He also used a muted palette of colors – browns, golds, reds.”

His work is highly collectable, Gilliam added. Reproductions of his work (such as the tiger WCI brings you this issue) are also very collectable, she said.

The collection at the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum at Colonial Williamsburg has 15 to 20 pieces of Schimmel’s work, Gilliam said. Most of the collection was purchased by John D. Rockefeller Jr. and his wife Abby, for whom the museum was named.

Not all their collection came from the Rockefellers, though. The museum has added to their collection since the Rockefellers’ time. “The pieces sort of turn up,” Gilliam said. Schimmel’s style of work fits well into the Colonial Williamsburg collection, she added. “We have a decent collection (of Schimmel’s work),” Gilliam said. “The Pennsylvania German folk art fits well into our collection.”

Jonathan Bastian, a 9th generation Pennsylvania German, has reproduced several of Schimmel’s pieces. He said Schimmel worked at different woodshops and used pine shop scraps as his raw materials. Bastian has traveled to several museums to study Schimmel’s originals.

“In one eagle,” Bastian said, “there is a pretty sizeable knot. (Schimmel) carved right through it.”

Because Schimmel worked with what he had, Bastian said Schimmel’s work is “not bound by any strict standard.”

Schimmel did most of his work with a knife, but Bastian said he’s seen evidence that Schimmel used other tools as well. One of Schimmel’s tigers that Bastian studied had marks from a drill on the underside.

Bastian said Schimmel got his wood from the shops and did some rough drilling and carving before even leaving the shop. Bastian has carved eagles, parrots, tigers and roosters in the Schimmel style. He said he has some very loyal collectors.

“The majority of our collection is eagles and parrots,” Gilliam said. “One of our rare pieces is a carving of the Garden of Eden.”

The Schimmel carvings can be found in Colonial Williamsburg’s Abby Aldrich Folk Art Museum, which opened in 1957.

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