Historical Society acquires painting of The Cloister

By on February 20, 2013

The Museum and Library Committee of the Historical Society of the Cocalico Valley recently acquired an original oil painting on canvas of the Ephrata Cloister by the obscure Lancaster artist Gustav Demuth. Demuth, who was not related to the famous Lancaster artist Charles Demuth, was born in 1890 and died May 22, 1940. The painting, which dates from about 1925, measures 20 inches by 16 inches and retains its original gilt molded plaster over wood frame. The painting features the Cloister’s Almonry, Saron (sisters’ house) and Saal (chapel) as viewed from the entrance to God’s Acre Cemetery, prior to the historic sites’ restoration. The Saron is depicted with a bell tower on its roof; the tower was placed on the building by Joseph Clarence Zerfass (1893-1919) in the second decade of the twentieth century and removed sometime following his death. The painting is signed "G. Demuth" in the bottom left corner.

Gustav Demuth was born Gustav Demuthchek in 1890 in Vienna, Austria, the son of John and Marie Schavell Demuthchek. According to the 1930 U.S. census he emigrated to America in 1921. He was married to Margaret Toisel (born about 1894 in Austria); the couple had one daughter, Marion G. Demuth (born about 1918 in Austria). Marion G. Demuth later married Spencer Griffith who worked for Hamilton Watch Co., Lancaster, before moving to Ohio in 1955. According to the 1930 U.S. census Margaret Toisel Demuth and her daughter emigrated to America in 1922.

Reportedly Gustav studied art and began his artistic career before emigrating to America. He worked for a time as a designer in the Reading Textile Mills prior to moving to Lancaster. By 1923 Demuth had relocated to Lancaster where he worked as a commercial artist. While in Lancaster he worked with the firm of Funk & Waltman, where he is reported to have designed many of the trade emblems and advertisements used by local businesses, such as Kunzler & Co., Lancaster. During 1937 and 1938 he sketched front covers for the Lancaster Motorist magazine; he also painted portraits and other local scenes similar to the painting of the Cloister in the Society’s collection.

According to the Lancaster city street directories in 1923 the family resided at 222 W. James St. In 1927 and 1929 the Demuths lived at 338 E. Ross St.. During this time Gustav was employed as an artist by Nelson M. Waltman of Funk & Waltman. The 1931 and 1933 directories listed him as a commercial artist working from a studio located in room 419, Fulton Bank Building, 8 Penn Square. In 1931 the family was still residing on Ross St., however by 1933 they had moved to 755 W. Vine St. In the 1935 and 1939 directories he was again listed as a commercial artist; during these years he lived at and worked out of 248 W. Orange St.

The Historical Society is constantly in search of items, such as the Demuth painting, to add to their collection. The Society’s goal is to preserve the heritage of the Cocalico Valley for the Valley’s future generations through the preservation of artifacts, such as photographs, artwork, manuscripts, documents, etc. Individuals having items from the Cocalico Valley that they may be interested in donating to the Society may call the organization’s headquarters at 733-1616. The Society’s museum, located at 249 W. Main St., Ephrata, is open free of charge on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The Historical Society of the Cocalico Valley is located at 237-249 W. Main St., Ephrata, More HISTORICAL, page A16

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