The Demuth Museum
presents its next exhibition, Chasing Inspiration: The Art of the Newswangers, to open on September 2. The father and son artist duo of Vernon Kiehl Newswanger (1900-1980) and Christian Newswanger (1927-2005) may be best known for their depictions of the Amish way of life in Lancaster County. However, in examining these two artists separately, one will see that they each developed a unique perspective. Kiehl and Christian wrote and illustrated the well-known book Amishland in 1954; however, not much has been written about these artists. Therefore, this exhibition and accompanying catalogue will be the first to explore the lives of these artists by delving into their artistic training, their travels and the inspirations each found.
Kiehl Newswangers childhood and schooling greatly influenced his art. He grew up on his familys Lancaster County farm, and regular interactions with their Amish neighbors allowed Kiehl to become very familiar with the Amish way of life. With a portrait of Bishop Samuel Petersheim Stolzfus from 1920, Kiehl won a scholarship to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Studying in Philadelphia allowed Kiehl to learn traditional drawing and painting, while also taking in the art of galleries and museums. In 1925, Kiehl won a scholarship from the Academy to travel to Paris and study with Fernand Léger. Seeing firsthand the work of European abstractionists, cubists and other avant-garde artist gave Kiehl new ideas about how to represent his subjects. He merged the realistic representation of subject matter learned at the Academy with more subjective depictions, resulting in intimate portrayals of his subjects. Once back in the States, Kiehl continued his artistic studies at the Barnes Collection where he was influenced by the work of Cezanne, as well as by the opinions of Dr. Barnes.
Christian (Xtian) Newswanger was raised on the familys Lancaster farm as well. After traveling the world in the Merchant Marines, Christian studied art with his father and Pennsylvania Dutch folklore at Franklin and Marshall College, giving him a historical perspective on his Amish neighbors. Kiehl and Christian also spent time together away from Lancaster, following the uniquely American form of entertainment the circus. The artists immersed themselves in the circus lifestyle, traveling with them and even obtaining bit parts in Cecile B. DeMilles film, The Greatest Show on Earth. While the Newswangers each took different paths of artistic development, they shared a lifelong passion for depicting the people they closely lived and interacted with in ways that conveyed the humanity they found in their subjects.
This exhibition will feature examples of the Newswangers works from various periods, including portraits, intimate portrayals of the Amish life and people, and works from their time spent with the circus. Demuth Museum Executive Director and curator of this exhibition, Anne M. Lampe, believes this exhibition will re-introduce the Newswangers to the Lancaster community with previously untold details about their artistic lives. Visitors from afar will become acquainted with not only the Newswangers charming depictions of Amish life, but also see how the avant-garde artistic movements of the twentieth century affected these artists. Over 30 works, most held in private collections, by the Newswangers will be on view for this exhibition.