Pook & Pook Americana & International Auction
463 East Lancaster Avenue
Downingtown, Pennsylvania 19335
Thursday & Friday, September 30-October 1
online bidding at www.bidsquare.com
DOWNINGTOWN, PENN. — The Americana and International sale at Pook & Pook, September 30 and October 1, features seven works by Cumberland County, Penn., folk artist Wilhelm Schimmel (1817-1890). To collectors of American folk art, this will not come as a surprise. Pook & Pook has sold many Schimmel carvings over the years. Historian Karl H. Pass estimates Schimmel’s lifetime output at 1,000 to 1,500 carvings, of which about 500 still exist today. Based on those figures, Pook & Pook has sold 15 percent of all Schimmel’s known works. Of the nearly 100 Schimmel eagle carvings that survive, a full 40 percent have crossed the auction block at Pook & Pook.
“Old Schimmel, the German who for many years tramped Pennsylvania counties, making his headquarters in jails and almshouses, carved heads of animals out of soft pine wood. These he would sell for a few pennies each. “He was apparently a man of very surly disposition,” reported The Carlisle Evening Sentinel, August 7, 1890.
It is unknown when Schimmel arrived in Cumberland, or from whence he came. According to historian Milton E. Flower, an 1870 census puts him in the county prison under the name Heinrich, born in Hesse-Darmstadt, Germany. He did not speak English. An alcoholic, Schimmel was evidently a bad drunk, and would terrorize the streets of Carlisle when on a bender. Exchanged for drink, his “fogels,” as he called his eagles, lined the shelves in local saloons. He became a local legend during his 21 years in Cumberland. Of the many colorful stories, the earliest is 1869, when, roaring drunk and plastered in mud, he trashed the office of a lumberyard. Upon being ejected, he hurled rocks into the yard until overcome by return volley fire and escorted to jail. In 1879, Schimmel was sozzled at an auction and attacked a man with an axe. His victim managed to hit him over the head with a stone. Schimmel was reported killed, and very nearly was, but he recovered. In 1882 Schimmel’s addiction came close to finishing the job when he stepped off a train moving at full speed a mile short of the station. He was retrieved and loaded into the baggage car, requiring a month in the almshouse for head and eye injuries. Somehow surviving it all, Old Schimmel continued carving and tramping until he was 73.
According to Flower, who collected oral histories and personal narratives in the 1940s, Schimmel roamed the valley along the Conodoguinet Creek between the houses of German-born families. He gathered leftover ends of wood from carpentry shops and sawmills for his carvings and would sleep in outbuildings and barns in exchange for carvings or doing chores. At times, he would even watch children while their parents went to town. More comfortable in the society of children than adults, he would allow them to gather to watch him carve. Many of the carvings he exchanged were gifts and toys for children, perhaps inspired by their own animals. Some of the children he taught to carve. Many of the accounts collected by Flower were fond remembrances of Schimmel by these same children.
Whatever crucible of alcoholism, penury or echoes from his past life pushed him to the fringes of civilization, unable to communicate, Schimmel did have a direct connection to his art. It didn’t matter that his blasted body had dossed beneath a bridge overnight, or that his brain hallucinated in the grip of withdrawal, his hands and his instinct could feel the creation within each piece of wood, ready to emerge. Schimmel carved mostly birds and animals. He created many roosters, parrots, squirrels and dogs, and became famed for his eagles. Patriotic fervor around the 1876 Centennial resulted in requests for eagles. Schimmel’s eagles adorned flagpoles, roofs and mantels. Milton Flower noted the influence of the Hapsburg eagle on the style of Schimmel’s carvings. His are not conventional Nineteenth Century depictions of America’s national symbol, they are unique to Schimmel. Carved from pine, the eagles are either smooth or covered in saw-toothed crosshatching. The resulting diamond pattern from hatching creates the effect of puffed feathers, the unevenness of the cuts hinting at the motion of muscles below. The spread wings were dovetailed on and covered with detailed feathers. The figures were then carefully gessoed and painted. Observing the eagles from different angles, their eyes stay trained upon you, just like those of real eagles, whose range is 300 degrees. In spite of their fierce demeanor, Schimmel’s eagles meet your gaze with a soulful tilt of the head. It is not unlike being sized up by a domestic bird. The result, the solid shape of the eagle bodies, the drama of their beating wings and arched necks, ready beaks and bright eyes, are life itself, wrought from wood.
Leading the Pook & Pook sale is a carved spread winged eagle, retaining its original paint, measuring 9 inches high by 12¼ inches wide ($12/18,000). Flying close behind is another carved spread winged eagle on perch, retaining its original paint, measuring 7¾ inches high ($8/12,000). Other Schimmel lots include an eaglet, two roosters, a rooster stocking stuffer and a white and black spotted standing dog, all retaining their original paint. There is also a carved eagle in the manner of Schimmel’s pupil, Aaron Mount.
Pook & Pook is at 463 East Lancaster Avenue. For information, www.pookandpook.com or 610-269-4040.
Large collection of barometers
One of four Paul Stankard paperweights
Miniature Pennsylvania painted blanket chest, ca. 1810
New England Queen Anne mirror, late 18th c.
Seven carvings by Wilhelm Schimmel
Large collection of Delft
Michigan painted cigar humidor, late 19th c.
Connecticut watercolor fantasy landscape, ca. 1830
Tiffany & Co. seven-piece sterling silver tea and coffee service
Eric Sloane (American 1910-1985), New England landscape
Harris & Co., Boston, MA weathervane, late 19th c.,
MA portrait of Caleb Thaxter (1792-1850),
Boston, Massachusetts needlework, ca. 1780
Vermont portraits of Sophie & Harriet Lane, ca. 1836
Harriet Whitney Frishmuth bronze
Massive carved limestone
fireplace mantel, early 19th c.,
New York Federal mahogany sideboard, ca. 1790
New England apothecary cupboard, early 19th c.
Queen Anne high chest, ca. 1765
MA Federal secretary desk, ca. 1805, attrib. John & Thomas Seymour
Edward Moran (American 1829-1901), of pilgrims gazing out at the ocean
MA Federal card table, ca. 1800, attrib. to John & Thomas Seymour
Auctioneers and Appraisers
P: (610) 269-4040
5 Church Hill Road / Newtown, CT 06470
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