COLLECTION: Decorative Sculpture

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Church

ca. 1960
Origin: America, Arkansas, St. Joe
Overall: 17 3/8 x 41 11/16 x 2in. (44.1 x 105.9 x 5.1cm)
Phillipine mahogany, varnish
Gift of John Joe and Karen Jacobi Harris
Acc. No. 2007.701.1
A high relief woodcarving of a small, steepled church in profile in a rural setting, the whole made from two boards glued together in depth. Some individual elements in the carving appear in the round. The sky areas and church windows are completely carved through, exposing whatever background may be placed behind the carving.
On the back, the area behind the church has been carved out to reduce the depth. The church occupies the space to right of center. Tall trees surround it. At far left, a smaller frame structure has numerous figures around it, most of them heading toward the church; a couple of children pump water at a well. Other people stand beside the church and still others stand or walk in the vicinity of the entrance to the cemetery, which is enclosed with an arched entryway. A signboard is in front of the church.
Label:Rupert Kreider grew up in the vicinity of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, but disliked his family's rural lifestyle. As an adult, he claimed that he took off on his own, "just walking and carving," when he was fourteen years old.

Kreider served in the U. S. Army Air Corps in 1942-1943, but almost nothing is known of his next few years. It appears that he had been leading a hobo-style existence for some time before about 1955, when he first stopped by the Squirrel Trading Post in St. Joe, Arkansas, and met its proprietors, G. D. and Dorothea Thomas, along with their three children, Ron, Gloria, and Danny.

The Thomas children recall that Kreider showed up erratically at the Trading Post over the next decade or so, typically arriving and departing unannounced, following only the dictates of his whims. His first few visits to the Trading Post were short, and Kreider cooked over a camp stove and slept in his car. Gradually, however, he began increasing the lengths of his stays, and eventually he occupied a small outbuilding on the property. During those times, Kreider's only known form of support was the occasional sale of his carvings. Like most drifters, his needs were extremely modest.

Kreider seems to have carved wherever he went, but most of the pieces that have been recorded to date were made at the Trading Post. The artist created a fair number of modestly sized carvings that were sold in the shop, both in relief and in the round, but eventually G. D. Thomas began encouraging Kreider to execute bigger, more complex, scenic works. (Two of Kreider's carved scenes are each more than eight feet long). Thomas was a born entrepreneur. He priced Kreider's larger carvings extravagantly, never expecting to sell them but, instead, using them as "come-ons" to attract and hold the attention of curious customers.

Most of Kreider's elaborate carvings are scenes that illustrate his grasp of linear perspective, incorporating vanishing points and repetitive motifs that grow progressively smaller and closer together in proportion to their supposed distance from the viewer. Some scenes, however, rely on a totally different, simpler scheme to suggest spatial depth. The Church and a few other carvings set major features in shallow layers parallel to the picture plane, much like a series of curtains or scrims on a stage set. These works largely rely on overlapping objects to suggest relative spatial depth.

G. D. Thomas requested that Kreider make a church scene for Dorothea, and this carving is the result, though Kreider almost certainly devised the composition of it himself. Like most of Kreider's scenic carvings, it is a generic, non-specific setting. (The name "Woodlawn" over the entry to the cemetery is ubiquitous). It is also typical in expressing the small-town values and social harmony that Kreider idealized in his work.
Provenance:From carver to M/M G. D. Thomas, St. Joe, Arkansas; purchased from the Thomases by M/M Harris (AARFAM's donors) in 1986.
Mark(s):On the back, stenciled in black paint, is "F A S AMERIPORT SA[WN?]/IN JA[remainder cut off by edge]". The word "AMERIPORT" appears within an outline of the U.S.A.
Inscription(s):Carved in low relief in script on the flat edge of the lower righthand corner is "R. P. Kreider".
Carved in low relief in block letters on the signboard in front of the church in the composition is "WELCOME". Similarly carved on the arch over the path to the cemetery is "WOODLAWN".