Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Furniture details

Carpenter and woodworkers in the Amana communal era kept pieces very plain and simple. Very well crafted, these pieces became heirlooms handed down from generation to generation. There are certain details that make them very unique and very Amana style whether it's handles on a chest of drawers or cutouts at the bottoms of shelves and benches, or crowns on tops of shranks. They were hand cut or carved for a certain area of a piece of furniture to give it that special Amana style detail to admire in any collection.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014


The community of Amana raised its own tobacco and made its own cigars. The Colonists were good gardeners and farmers , after all. The wooden molds were laden with the homemade, rolled cigars, then pressed on top of each other in a cigar mold press. When dried and ready, they were released from the molds and presses to be enjoyed (while there was support of the "vile weed") in the communal era before 1932, unlike the groups of the Zoar or Rappites.

Monday, April 28, 2014


Amana begins in the year 1714 in the province of Hessen, Germany with L. Gruber and J. Rock, inspired leaders. The  Inspirationists grew to central and southern Europe with great support. In 1817 Krausert became active with them and settled with his followers in the Ronneburg Castle, near Frankfurt. The group grew again in 1826-34 under the leadership of Christian Metz and Barbara Heinemann  lived on four leased estates near there. With further religious and political persecution the Inspirationists saw a need to move west to America. They settled in Ebenezer, New York in 1842, set up self-sufficient villages and kept growing, only to move (1843) west again in search of fertile land, timbers, rivers, stone, and clay which they found in the Iowa River valley. This move to Amana took several years but globally from 1854 on, the seven villages were laid out on 26,000 acres and in 1859 became the Amana Society. Below is a beautiful copy of a stone lithograph by Joseph Prestele, Sr. of Amana, depicting the journey from Europe, an interesting one at that. Made for the Amana society, this print copy has been shared by the them, the Amana Heritage Society and private individuals for several books in the US.

Friday, April 25, 2014


The early Native Americans who lived along the Iowa River long before the Amana Colonists arrived left a beautiful landscape element quite unique to Amana. The "Indian Dam" was a V-shaped dam (fish wier) built into the Iowa River between Amana and Homestead. It compressed the river into a narrow stream to facilitate trapping and spearing fish. A U-shaped pool was there to hold fish. How this worked we now are not quite sure as local efforts rendered no fish. This dam is seen only when the water is very low, but may be under silt and sand due to the fact the river path has moved northeast a bit.. Many locals made it a popular fishing and recreation area. I did see it in 1992 just below the nature trail near Homestead, a wonderful sight!


Thursday, April 24, 2014


There were many willow and rye straw baskets made in communal Amana but another style stands out in itesign and rarity. It is the SCHAUP or Shoup basket made by the Schaup family, Martin (father),Tobius, and Samuel of South Amana in the years 1856-1915. They were originally from Canada joining the Amana colonists in Ebenezer, New York in 1845. The baskets, only known Amana-made wood splint baskets, were square or rectangular splint oak or poplar with or without a handle. The cut wood is soaked to become pliable to weave a sturdy, plain over 1, under1 pattern.Over a thousand were made for the weaver's personal use to carry foods, knitting, sewing and some were painted for children's Easter baskets. I have seen them in light matte greens, yellows, and blues. Made over a century ago, these Schaup baskets are hard to find and highly prized by collectors today. It is one of the communal crafts not revived locally so rarely surface today.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Amana, Remain True

My little town of Amana was named after a mountain mentioned in one of the biblical songs of Solomen. It means "remain true" or remain faithful ( Bleib Treu ) to the Inspirationists of the Amana Church. This area was so attractive to these original colonists for its extremely fertile soil, many acres of lush timber, stone quarries and clay. All were very suitable for a move from Ebenezer , New York to Amana from 1855. to 1862, after pulling their roots in Germany because of religious persecution.  The Colonies were settled to make up seven villages located on 26,000 beautiful, productive acres. It became a communal system, all shared by all in a self-sufficient setting. Members of the community worked for a common use and belief UNTIL 1932 when the communal system ended. The church still "remains true" to its beliefs and practices in Amana today.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014


In communal Amana times, money was scarce and paint expensive, so a whitewash tinted with blue dye from the Amana Woolen Mill, was used for a touch of decoration on the plaster walls of homes and churches. Whitewashing, commissioned by the Elders and done by a taglohner or day worker paid in food,wine,or little money, was a spring housecleaning ritual. It brought in new color and a fresh scent. Whitewashing, like a limewash, was a low cost type of paint made from slaked lime and chalk. Various other additives for color were used. It took several days to dry and harden. Historically, it was used in rural diaries and kitchens for its antibacterial quality, also as an imitation of real paint. These seasonal coats of "Amana Blue" whitewash kept the interiors fresh, beautiful, and clean. ( See top center of picture in Amana church wedding for plaster whitewash wall.)

Monday, April 21, 2014


Across from the community kitchen museum in Middle Amana is what used to be a working Cooper shop, now museum. It is a smaller, weathered clapboard building in typical Amana architectural style. The village Cooper made the barrels of many shapes and sizes for use in the many wineries and community kitchens. Some small barrels and casks were built to preserve food and fruit juices. Wooden half-tubs were used for cleaning vegetables and washing clothes. At times, they were filled with sand to store root vegetables. You can see some of these half-tubs used as flower planters around the Amanas today. The Cooper also made churns, tubs, buckets for beer, wine, cider, oil, grease and brine.

Saturday, April 19, 2014


The cherished Easter traditions, including the Easter Bunny, the Egg, and Easter Parades are not found in the Bible but have been around for centuries. The Easter Bunny, the most secular symbol of the Christian holiday, supposedly was introduced to America by the German immigrants who also had stroies of an egg-laying rabbit.  The egg decorating tradition can date back to at least the 13th century.One explanation for this custom is that eggs were formerly a forbidden food during the season of Lent, so people would decorate them to mask the end of penance and fasting, then eat them on Easter as a celebration. The egg is a symbol of new life as brought on in spring and said to represent emergence and resurrection in Christian beliefs. The parade has old roots but the Easter candy treats are among the modern additions to this beloved springtime holiday.

Friday, April 18, 2014


Easter was a special time of the year in communal Amana, a long- awaited spring day after a long winter.  Hand woven natural willow baskets, made by the village basket weaver, were given each child for the at the traditional egg hunt held near the community kitchens where the kitchen ladies and helpers colored the eggs. Each basket was filled with two Easter rabbit cookies and  six colored eggs. The hot, dry eggs were mottled in the palm of the hand after they are rolled in cups of jellied dyes made of furniture glue and woolen mill dyes. The glue sealed the egg, it dries out, and it could be stored for years with same brightness a the day it was made. The cookies were usually six-ten inch running, leaping, or sitting rabbits (Oster Hasse). They were topped with powdered sugar frosting and sprinkled with shredded coconut. Raisins marked the bunnies' eyes. The cookie cutter was made of heavy tin by the local tinsmith. All the wonderful handmade items, love, and care that went into these Easter baskets made for a happy time at the annual egg hunt for the children of communal days. Today these egg hunts and egg-dyeing traditions(dyes and sites anew),remain a part of Amana today.

Thursday, April 17, 2014


The tradition in old Amana was to make something in your spare time for the children or home. In this case it is the lovely work of Mrs. L. Rettig who made small crocheted animals, including rabbits. They were anywhere from an inch to 8"tall and used to decorate mostly at Easter. When only religious decorations were allowed in the homes, these brought some brightness to the home and cheer to the children and families in the communal era before 1932. There were also baskets of eggs, dogs, lambs, chickens, turkeys and such, some mounted on cardboard bases  The needlework of the Amana women showed their creativity, skill, and originality as many animals were made without patterns and few materials. The art of these animals was as real as the simplicity and thriftiness of the people in communal Amana. A delight to collect and show today.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014


The Amana Church Society of True Inspirationists, plain and devout, is still in existence from its German beginnings in the 1714. There are no steeples or squires that rise above the houses. There are no stained glass windows or signs. Each village has a church, though, long, plain sandstone construction, and rectangular. From stories it seems each town wanted a church bigger than the village next to it. The white, frame windows are typical nine over six panes with simple white curtains and Colony blue paint.  There is an entrance at each end of the building, one for men, one of women.  Children attend Sunday school and as adults can enter the main church. Women wear a black, lace caplet, triangle shawl, and apron over the dress.  Men wear black suits. The women sit on one side of the church, the men on the other still, to avoid flirtatious looks as originally thought. Elders, who deliver the service, sit at the head of the congregation. They were once only men, now women can deliver the service as well.  Church service in old days was eleven times a week and more during Holy week. The congregation sits attentively on original German pine, bleached benches with their German or English Bibles as services are both in languages. The singing is led by a foresinger and monotone acapella. The floors are bleached pine with hand woven Amana carpet runners on main traffic paths. The Middle and Amana churches are still used for services, weddings as my nephews, funerals and luncheons.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014


The BRIDGES on the Amana Millrace's path were a much needed construction as one needed to cross the Race several times. In Amana before 1932, there were as many as 8 bridges across the Millrace. This bridge on the Colony Trail is a replica of the old one, made of iron and wood to reflect the look of the fence line on the streets of Amana which are post and beam construction. The old bridge, made of wood, was able to be taken down and reassembled when the dredge boat made its annual sweep upstream.  A team of carpenters and horses could put them up and down in a few hours. A very nice linear design of iron construction.