Watercolor Farm Scene by Paul Seifert | Wisconsin Historical Society

Historical Essay

Watercolor Farm Scene by Paul Seifert

Wisconsin Historical Museum Object – Feature Story

Landscape view of the Martin Luetscher II farmstead, Honey Creek Township,
Wisconsin, c. 1875

Museum object #2005.182.1)

This vibrant watercolor painting, by renowned German American folk artist Paul Seifert, documents an early Wisconsin farmstead, the pioneer farm family who resided there, and a Sauk County natural landmark.

The watercolor is fairly large, measuring 27 inches wide by 21 inches high. It provides a detailed depiction of a nineteenth century Wisconsin farm. Before dairy farming began to dominate Wisconsin agriculture later in the nineteenth century, family farms were more diversified with a wide variety of crops and livestock. From Seifert’s painting, one can infer that the Luetscher farm was no exception. Though the painting can not be considered absolute documentation, one can assume that most elements depicted were present at the time of the painting.

Better seen in a larger image of the painting, the small structure immediately to the left of the house is likely a smokehouse used for curing and preserving meats butchered on the farm. The barn to the immediate right of the house shelters the horses. Next is the hog barn, and the large barn with side cribs for corn houses cattle. A large apple orchard extends from the house to the driveway.

Two large piles of straw sit in the barnyard near the hogs and the cattle. In the center of the image, two men confer. Perhaps the man on horseback is Martin Luetscher II, the farm owner. In the foreground, workers – or perhaps the Luetscher sons, Martin III (b. 1858), Jacob (b. 1862), or young John (b. 1869) – are raking and loading hay. The driveway in the foreground is today known as County Road PF. The painting also depicts two exposed limestone bluffs. The bluff nestled in the wooded hills in the distance is the Sauk County landmark Tower Rock.

The small stone building in the lower right corner is Pine Grove School. Martin II led the effort to organize a school district and donated a portion of his land for the school building. The painting shows the second school - built in 1863 and torn down in 1880 to make way for a larger school. Thus, Seifert could not have made the painting after 1880. In 1957 area one room schools were consolidated into Tower Rock School, built adjacent to the Tower Rock landmark.

In 1847 at the age of 27, Martin Luetscher II immigrated to Wisconsin from Switzerland with his mother and sisters. His "block and stack" stone house depicted in the painting bears many similarities to other farm houses built by Swiss immigrants to central Sauk County. The farm stayed in the Luetscher family for four generations until 1980.

Seifert was born in 1846 in Dresden and arrived in Gotham, Wisconsin in 1866. He briefly studied forestry in Dresden, and in Wisconsin he worked as a skilled craftsman, taxidermist, and eventually as a painter. It was the latter skill that made him famous long after his death. Seifert made numerous watercolor landscape paintings of area farms and towns and sold them for between $2.50 and $5. An exact number is not known but it is likely to be over 100.

Seifert's works are characterized by clean and ordered renderings incorporating many detailed elements, and his style resembles the famous "Grandma Moses" folk paintings. He utilized ink and straight edges for details such as houses, buildings, and fences, and he used softer colors and the brush to portray the diverse natural and agricultural landscapes of the Sauk County area.

This painting likely resided inside the farmhouse for most of its existence and may be in its original frame. In the late 1950s Wilbur Luetscher, the great grandson of Martin Luetscher II, discovered the painting in the attic, and daughter Peggy, just in elementary school, fell in love with it. When the family sold the farm in 1980, she took the painting to her Maryland home where it hung in her living room as a reminder of her Wisconsin childhood. In 2005 the painting returned to Wisconsin through the family of Peggy Luetscher Romenesko.

The Wisconsin Historical Society also possesses three other watercolor paintings by Seifert: his own farm, the Daniel Lewis farm in Dodgeville, and the Jacob Bennett farm in Gotham.

[Sources: Stark, William F. "Portraits of the Land," Wisconsin Trails, September/October 1994; Eisley, Jane and William H. Tishler, "The Honey Creek Swiss Settlement in Sauk County: An Expression of Cultural Norms in Rural Wisconsin," Wisconsin Magazine of History, Vol. 73, No. 1/ Autumn, 1989 (features an examination of stone homes of the Honey Creek Swiss Settlement including the Luetscher home).]

JEK

Posted on November 16, 2006

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