History in the painting

By on July 9, 2014


Painters at the cupola atop the Cloister Academy building

Painters at the cupola atop the Cloister Academy building

For nearly everyone, the familiar site of the Ephrata Cloister Academy building located along West Main Street is a symbol of the by-gone era of unique community.
Few remember that as recently as the 1930s, that building was an active center of learning, rounding out its final years used by the former Ephrata Union School District.
Throughout the life of any school building, pass both teachers and students who will leave an indelible mark on the school. Recently, contractors preparing the Academy for a fresh coat of paint discovered what amounts to ancient graffiti.
Painters scraping layers of paint from the two front doors of the building found the initials of one influential member of the Cloister community.
Those initials: S. G. Z.
The Rev. Samuel Grant Zerfass was born on the Cloister’s Fairview Farm in about 1871 and later became a student at the Academy. While it cannot be determined when he did the carving, according to the Ephrata Cloister Associates staff, Zerfass became somewhat infamous for carving his initials at various places throughout the Cloister site.
Whether the initials were carved maliciously is not known, however would be highly unlikely. There is some speculation that at least in the case of the Academy building, carving ones initials may have been a school-aged rite of passage as several other initials and carvings could also be seen carved on the door &tstr; though none nearly as deeply and as prominently as those carved by Zerfass.
The mark left on the community and even the state by Zerfass was far deeper than a few letters carved throughout the Cloister. Later in life, Zerfass would become a prominent church leader, member of Ephrata Borough Council, historian and statesman. He was also a Justice of the Peace, census enumerator and GOP. party delegate. A well-known speaker, writer, journalist with several local papers, he was the chaplain at the Pennsylvania State House of Representatives in 1917.
But Zerfass’s initials were hardly the only surprise painters found. They also found remnants of what may well be the original color of the doors, dating from when it was built in 1837. Contractors are now going to attempt to match what has been described as a dusty dark shade of green and use it in the current painting project.
The Winterthur Museum in Wilmington, DE has conducted past studies of colors used at the Cloister on such items as furniture. The discovery of this additional color from the front doors of the Academy building has been added to conservation data kept up to date by the Cloister’s Curator of Collections, Kerry Mohn.
Get a peek inside the Cloister’s collections storage area to see original 18th century benches and tables from the Saal, windows, looms, drawings, prints, pottery, and more. Mohn will be giving special tours of collection storage on selected weekdays during the summer. General admission rates apply but the tours are free for Ephrata Cloister Associate Members. Tours will be held on July 18, 24 and 30 as well as Aug.7, 14, 21 and 28. All tours will run from 1-3 p.m.
For more information, visit the Cloister website: ephratacloister.org or by dialing the Museum Store at 733-6600.
Gary P. Klinger is a correspondent for The Ephrata Review. He welcomes your questions and feedback via email at klingerglobal@gmail.com or via twitter @gpklinger.


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