John Scholl constructed this wood and wire sculpture, titled “Fountain with Peacocks,” around the year 1900. Standing more than 6 feet tall, the work of art depicts two peacocks seated on the edge of a fountain. The fountain is perched on top of a delicate, colorful base adorned with wooden beads. The peacocks are joined by a gold-painted chain stretched between their beaks. Three small birds and two gold stars dangle overhead. Inspired by the work’s beautiful colors and whimsical, airy quality, CAP Curator Jennifer Gleim selected “Fountain with Peacocks” as this week’s Pennsylvania Treasure.
A trained carpenter and native of Wurttemberg, Germany, Scholl immigrated to the United States in 1853 at the age of 26. He settled with his wife in Schuylkill County where Scholl worked as a mine carpenter. The couple later moved to a large German enclave in Germania, Potter County where they raised nine children. There, John Scholl worked as a farmer and a house carpenter, constructing the town’s church, a brewery and general store. He also built many homes, including his own house which Scholl adorned with a large wraparound porch and fanciful Victorian “gingerbread” trims.
Around the turn of the 20th century, Scholl turned his attention from carpentry and farming to creating imaginative sculptures. He spent the remainder of his life building some 50 works of art. His pieces follow four styles: small “finials” that resemble puzzles, larger “snowflakes” meant for hanging, mechanical toys and large pieces similar to “Fountain” that he called “Celebrations”.
Scholl’s work featured various elements drawn from the carpenter’s trade and the Victorian era in which he lived, as well as his German Lutheran heritage. Many of his works have an architectural quality that echoes the gingerbread-style trim he applied to the buildings he constructed. Scholl used popular Victorian colors to finish his pieces, such as muted blues and greens, red and mustard yellow. His pieces also display traditional German images rich with symbolism: peacocks and fountains signify eternal life, while tulip flowers signified purity. Round wheels (like his “snowflakes”) suggested the sun and the cross.
Scholl never sold or even gave away any of his art, choosing instead to display it in the family parlor where friends and family came to view the pieces. Word of his work soon spread, and to accommodate the growing interest in his art, Scholl opened his parlor to the public on weekends. After Scholl’s death in 1916, his son continued to operate the parlor/museum for an additional 15 years. Scholl’s work remained with his family until 1967, when it was sold to Stony Point Folk Art Gallery in New York. The gallery exhibited his works at the Willard Gallery in Manhattan where it eventually caught the eye of both private collectors and museums.
Stony Point Folk Art Gallery gifted “Fountain with Peacocks” to the State Museum in 1969, where it remains an enchanting example of Pennsylvania folk tradition and a testament to the creativity and imagination of its creator.
About Pennsylvania Treasures:
In early 2012, The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission launched the Collections Advancement Project (CAP), a program to inventory and catalog our vast and significant holdings of art and artifacts. These efforts are resulting in better stewardship of our collections which represent Pennsylvania arts, culture, history, sciences, business and agriculture. As a component of the project, CAP curators have researched rarely exhibited artifacts and works of art. We are sharing these Pennsylvania Treasures with the public through weekly updates.