Amish life is generally very family and chore driven. The daily rhythms of keeping a household humming are enough to keep anyone packed busy. Pleasure pursuits like reading are often at a minimum among the Amish. And even pleasure pursuits often have a utilitarian purpose, like quilting for a woman or fishing for a man (using the traditional gender roles as examples, but I do know of Amish women who fish and hunt and some Amish men who quilt) can at least be justified by being useful. For instance, quilts will end up on the beds during winter and fresh fish feeds the family. If the pursuits happen to be enjoyable, so be it. But painting or drawing? I've actually run into my share of Amish artists over the years. Art is a very natural, low-tech way to express oneself, channel creativity, and have fun, so in that sense it is a natural for the Amish lifestyle. An Amish artist named Alan did some beautiful pencil drawings for one of our cookbooks years ago. He was also an accomplished painter. At the time my brother lived in Los Angeles and I thought that a painting would bring him a slice of midwest comfort. So for $100 Alan painted an original Indiana landscape painting for my brother. It was beautiful (I hope the painting isn't collecting dust in my brother's basement somewhere....I think I might have to ask him....he moved back to Ohio some 15 years or so ago...)
Our own Mahlon Miller does some nice pencil drawings and poetry. Poetry seems to be an especially avid hobby among some Amish, again a very natural, low-tech way to express onself.
And then there's Miriam Miller (she has since married and is now Miriam Troyer). She lived in Fredonia, Pennsylvania and I was thrilled to view her collection of artwork when I visited her. Her collection included intricately and artistically painted sawblades among other artistic pursuits.
All of this brings me to Anna J. Weaver. She is an Amish artist specializing in rural folk art. Her acrylic paintings have earned her a following in western New York and western Pennsylvania. And her work is now on display in the Erie Art Museum's Ronald E. Holstein , 20 E. Fifth St. Hours are Tuesday through Friday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m., and Saturday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Admission is $7, or free on Wednesdays. For more information, call 814-459-5477.
Very unusual to have an Amish artist have their work publicly displayed, in fact that's the first I've heard of it happening. But it sounds really neat and if you're in the Erie area I'd encourage you to check it out. Personally, what makes Anna's work all the more extraordinary is that she is the mother of six children. I know from having one almost 7-month old daughter how difficult it is to find free time to do anything let alone paint carefully crafted artwork.
There is wonderful background information about Anna on the Something Unique Gallery's website in Sherman, New York. Anna lives near there and the Something Unique Gallery is the permanent home for her work. Anna's story is amazing because she really began painting on her own time, in her own way. She started painting on flat or smooth stones that she'd find when helping to clear their fields for planting. Something Unique's owner Bob Rogers, who I spoke with this morning, picks it up from there:
"She'd bring her painted stones into a book store next to my gallery. And eventually the owner brought them to me. The work was so good that I said let's get her some canvas and see what she can do! And oh my gosh it was she was a natural," Rogers said. Anna's ability to market her work was limited so Rogers was able to step in and offer his gallery as a home. All the pieces just kept falling into place. Anna will complete a painting and then Something Unique will offer 100 limited edition prints of her work for sale.
Anna's children sometimes tease their Mom about her paintings. Bob Rogers remembers an art show where one of the paintings on sale was of some Holstein cows.
"Mom, no one's going to buy paintings of cows," one of her children said. "And I'll be darned if that wasn't one of the first few to sell. She is just a fantastic lady to work with," Rogers adds.
By the way, some people may not the facial representation in the spring planting photo above. I've noted numerous times on this site that things like Amish dolls without faces are done far more for tourist consumption than for any strong theological reasons. The eschewing of facial photography does not generally extend to dolls or paintings. And even the Amish views about photography in general are evolving. (for more about the Amish and photography click here and scroll to Lesson 2)
Add Anna to my list of people I'd like to interview. I'd love to talk with her and see her studio, so stay tuned!:) This may not be the last you hear about her from me!