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Samuel L. Schmucker: The Golden Age of Postcards

January 22 - May 30, 2005


(above: Samuel L. Schmucker: Byron)


Samuel L. Schmucker: The Golden Age of Postcards is a joint exhibition between the Reading Public Museum and The Historical Society of Berks County. The exhibition at the Reading Public Museum, which runs January 22 - May 30, 2005, features recently discovered art by Reading artist, Samuel L. Schmucker (1879-1921). Schmucker emerged as one of the leading commercial art designers of postcards in the era from 1895 through 1915, widely regarded as the "Golden Age of Postcards." Within his brief career Schmucker combined the design elegance of Art Nouveau style with the rich color palette of the Pre-Raphaelite artists, bringing a unique, artistic vision to a popular art form. (left: Samuel L. Schmucker: Peacock Land Bird)

Ron Roth, Director and CEO of the Museum states, "This special collaboration between the Reading Public Museum and the Berks County Historical Society will provide the public with a window into the art and history of a unique era in American popular art. The discovery of the work of this talented and little known Reading artist is a significant addition to the Berks County art heritage."

The exhibition at The Historical Society of Berks County, which runs January 23 - May 30, 2005, features other types of artwork by Samuel Schmucker including paintings and Reading High School yearbook covers. There will also be three dimensional personal objects once belonging to Schmucker including vases and dishes from the collection of Daisy and Dede Schaeffer. In addition to the Schmucker objects, the exhibit will also highlight the comic postcards of Clint Shilling, Schmucker postcards and postcards with local scenes from the collection of Merritt's Museum of Childhood, Anne and Roseanne Darrah, Douglassville, PA; antique postcards from 1893 to the present from the collection of Dennis Becker, postcard collector and Berks Postcard Club; and Schmucker postcards from Donald Brown, Founder, Institute of American Deltiology, Myerstown, PA.

Harold Yoder, Executive Director of The Historical Society of Berks County comments, "This is our opportunity to show everyone the artistic genius of this Reading artist through his work of designing postcards worldwide. We are also pleased to be able to join with the Reading Public Museum to make this exhibit possible to showcase this very skilled Reading artist."

Samuel Lorne Schmucker's postcard images are some of the finest from the "Golden Age of the Postcard." His fanciful images, with their intense colors and expert designs, have long captivated postcard collectors. Schmucker's wife Katharine Rice Schmucker was the model for his distinctive wide-eyed woman on many of his postcard designs. His brightly colored images of women in nature show the artistic milieu of the time. Although collectors have esteemed his work for years it is only recently that scholars discovered Schmucker to be the artist behind the pictures.

Schmucker was born in Reading, Pennsylvania and during his childhood, a bout with polio partially paralyzed his right arm. This forced him to hold his brushes or pencils in a claw-like grip between his second and index fingers. This disability did not detract from his draftsmanship and by the time he was 14 his art was well known in Reading, PA. Eager to learn more, he left Reading in 1896 to get professional training in Philadelphia, PA. He studied drawing and still life at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and then transferred to the Howard Pyle Institute at Drexel where he studied alongside Maxfield Parrish and Jessie Wilcox Smith. The Pyle Institute concentrated on practical illustration, and although he only took classes from Pyle for one year, this noted illustrator's influence can be seen in all of Schmucker's paintings.

By 1905, Schmucker had established himself as a commercial artist. In addition to creating postcard images, he supported himself making pen and ink sketches for the fashion plates printed in the Philadelphia Daily Press. For almost 10 years, Schmucker's work was printed by two of the largest postcard publishers in the United States -- the Detroit Publishing Company and the John Winsch Company. In 1995-96, collectors Jack and Susan Davis discovered 88 of his original paintings, submitted to the Detroit Publishing Company in the early 1900s, in estate sales in Montana and Utah. (right: Samuel L. Schmucker: Toad Fish)

These works, on loan from Jack and Susan Davis, comprise the exhibit at the Reading Public Museum. The paintings and selected postcard sets represent one of the first times the work of this little known Berks County artist have been shown to the public.

As the postcard craze receded Schmucker found new ways to earn a living including hand-painting candy boxes, designing candy labels, working as an accountant and opening an advertising agency. Between 1915 and 1921 he sold approximately 130 postcard designs to the National Art Company. In 1921, Schmucker's career was cut short when he unexpectedly died from a heart attack at age 42.

Samuel L. Schmucker: The Golden Age of Postcards is underwritten by the Friends of the Reading Museum and the Widgeon Foundation and supported in part by grants from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, and the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.


Related Speaking Events for Samuel L. Schmucker: The Golden Age of Postcards

Saturday, January 22, 2005
5:30 to 8pm - Opening Reception, Reading Public Museum
5:30pm - "Samuel L. Schmucker: America's Postcard Artist" Talk by Jack Davis,
Olde America Antiques, Bozeman, MT (talk is one hour) Reception in Atrium immediately following talk, Music by Granpa's Ragtime Piano.
Sunday, January 23, 2005
1:30 to 4:30pm - Opening Reception, The Historical Society of Berks County
2pm - "Samuel L. Schmucker: America's Postcard Artist" Talk by Jack Davis, Olde America Antiques.
1:30-4:30pm Reception.
Thursday, February 3, 2005
9am - History of Postcards Discovery Talk, The Historical Society of Berks County by Dennis Becker, Postcard Collector
Sunday, April 17, 2005
1-3pm - Ron Roth, Director and CEO Reading Public Museum will be available in gallery to informally discuss exhibit.
1-3pm - Dede Schaeffer, will be at the Historical Society to informally discuss exhibit with his talk "Schmucker and Postcard Collector"
3-4:30pm - Dennis Becker, Postcard Collector will be at the Historical Society to informally discuss exhibit.
Thursday, May 5, 2005
9am - "Postcards Discovery Talk, The Historical Society of Berks County" by Donald Brown, Founder, Institute of American Deltiology during National Postcard Week (May 1st-7th) as he discusses what else? Postcards!

Editor's note: RL readers may also enjoy viewing a comprehensive web site from Susan and Jack Davis on the art of Samuel L. Schmucker.

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