Clarke E. Hess, of Lititz, Pennsylvania, recently gifted the Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society museum a premier collection of artifacts. His lifelong passion has been to document the history, culture, and decorative arts of his Mennonite heritage, with which he has surrounded himself and become its chief interpreter. Hess began his collecting career in elementary school and over the years educated himself to become more knowledgeable and selective, upgrading his collection accordingly. For many years Hess served as chair of the Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society Museum Committee. In 2002 he authored Mennonite Arts and over the years served as a curatorial resource for exhibits in Europe, Ontario, and Pennsylvania.
According to museum curator Carolyn C. Wenger, this gift is “a curator’s dream.” She judges it to be the single most significant gift of material culture the Society has ever received, and “we want to prove worthy of the confidence Hess has placed in us to care for and exhibit these items for appreciation by the wider community.”
When catalogued, this collection will provide resources for a variety of exhibits and will be an excellent study collection for students of southeastern Pennsylvania Mennonite material culture. This collection enhances the Society’s reputation as the premier research location for scholars of Mennonite and Amish material culture.
The collection includes a wide variety of artifacts from books, archival manuscripts, fraktur, and decorated towels, to grain/seed/laundry bags, privy bags, quilts, samplers, kerchiefs, clothing, household items, textiles and linens. Most artifacts contain initials, names, or notes identifying the maker, artist, or owner.
Hess notes that “Mennonite cultural heritage is an important ingredient of Lancaster County’s ongoing history. These objects help tell the stories of many local families who created our community. LMHS will provide a safe haven for these heritage artifacts, so that the stories told by these objects can by heard by future generations.”
Hess carefully and lovingly documented each artifact’s ownership and condition as he collected it. Detailed notes accompany each item with family history and descriptive information. Further, he tailored his donation to match the Society’s collection acceptance policy.
Among the important artifacts in the collection are a prized 1560 Froschauer Bible with hand-colored plates and family records of the Mayer family, an 1880 onion-skin-dyed Easter egg, and an elaborate sampler quilt with as many as 144 pieces of fabric creating a single quilt patch.