School Stories: Artist Joseph Meierhans and The Pennridge School District

By August 18, 2017Uncategorized

Image credit: Joseph Meierhans (1890-1981), No. 2 Piz Palü Morteratsch Glacier, c. late 1950s, oil on canvas, 53.5″H x 53.5″W, Pennridge School District.

The Delaware Valley region has long been home to artists who have helped establish the region’s rich cultural legacy. An important aspect of that history is the connection many of these artists formed with area schools. Regional school districts have assembled remarkable collections of original works of art by local artists, beginning as early as the late 19th century. This story of this history has not be told until now with the exhibition Dedicated, Displayed, Discovered: Celebrating the Region’s School Art Collections. The installation features works from five difference school districts, as well as objects from historic The Traveling Art Gallery, a touring collection of artworks developed for Bucks County schools in the early 1940s.

One district highlighted in the exhibition is Pennridge School District located in Upper Bucks County. Pennridge has a rich history of collecting artwork from the early 1900s through the efforts of artist Walter Baum, but also through the collaboration with Modernist artist Joseph Meierhans.

Born in Oberlunkhofen, Switzerland, Meierhans came to the United States in 1917 to work temporarily as a designer in a Swiss textile mill in New York City, and he never returned. He moved to Bucks County in 1932 and lived there for over 40 years in an old Victorian home in Hagersville, which still stands today. Through his presence in the area, Meierhans became involved with the Pennridge School District in a variety of ways. He was an advocate of educating students about local artists and collaborated with teachers in the school district.

In 1956, Meierhans converted a 200-foot chicken coop on his property into a gallery that exhibited recognized artists of the region on a regular basis. Students from the District would visit Meierhans’ gallery periodically and he also served as an informal advisor to the students regarding artists for their collection. As a result of his collaborative efforts over the years, the District acquired a substantial amount of his work through donations or in honor of the opening of new schools.

Meierhans painted many views of his homeland, including the mountainous alpine ranges.  Even though he was no longer living in Switzerland, he continued to paint its vistas in various manners and styles throughout his career. He was a prolific painter, and when interviewed at age 85, stated he was painting every day, trying to get as much in as possible because “there is simply not enough time to explore all the things I would like to do.” Shortly afterward, in 1977, he stated that he had completed 1,067 paintings.

In this particular painting, Meierhans captured the Morteratsch Glacier, found on Piz Palü Mountain. It is the largest glacier by area in the Bernina Range, which is located between eastern Switzerland and Italy and drains through the Inn River and the Danube into the Black Sea. Meierhans stated that he painted landscapes of the Alps “because you have to keep practicing.” This special painting was gifted to Bedminster Elementary and presented at their dedication ceremonies by Meierhans on April 13, 1958.

On your next visit to the Michener, be sure to stop by to view Dedicated, Displayed, Discovered to learn more about Joseph Meierhans and his other works on view.

-Adrienne Neszmelyi-Romano, Director of Interpretation and Innovation