Pennsylvania German Painted Blanket Chest

German immigrants came to Pennsylvania to build a new life in a new country. One aspect of this new life was the melding of a new language and a new culture known as Pennsylvania Dutch. Talented Pennsylvania Dutch craftsmen expressed their creativity by producing beautiful household furnishings for daily use. One of the most important items was the “Aus schteier Kischt” (dower chest) also known as the hope chest or blanket chest.

Photo by Sue Beyer

Young Pennsylvania Dutch girls between the ages of 8 and 10 began to sew household items in preparation for marriage. To store her growing accumulation of goods, her father or brother would make her a “kischt.” These chests were usually 4 feet in length with a lift lid and painted or stained in a dark color. The girl’s name or initials, the date when made and the traditional Pennsylvania Dutch hearts and flowers were often painted on the front panel.  Folkloric symbols, including those to ward off evil, were occasionally used.  The amount of decorations varied by the wealth of the owner and the county in which the chest was made.

On her wedding day, the bride proudly displayed her bed linens, quilts, needlework, other personal items and family heirlooms stored in her kischt. Following the ceremony, the kischt was loaded into the “hochzich watte” (wedding wagon) for the trip to her new husband’s home.

The kischt displayed in the Pennsylvania Dutch area at the Sigal Museum of the Northampton County Historical and Genealogical Society is thought to have been made for Cadrena Sandern in 1796. Her name, the date, and several small hex signs are painted on the front. Henry Marx, the prominent Easton librarian, donated the kischt to the historical society in the early 1900s.

Submitted by Elaine Greek

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