Get Adobe Flash player
Brienzerware The Black Forest Carvings of Switzerland April A. Dilbeck A volcanic eruption in Indonesia, famine in the Swiss Alps, and a farmer named Christian Fischer (1790-1848) are not the first things that come to mind when thinking about Black Forest carvings. Yet it was the first event that led directly to the second, which was the impetus behind Fischer becoming the initiator of a major national movement. A catastrophe of epic proportions April 10, 1815 was an historic day on the small Indonesian island of Sumbawa. When a huge magma chamber exploded within the heart of Mount Tambora (one of the highest peaks in the Indonesian archipelago at that time,) volcanic ash was spewed over 13,000 feet above sea level, directly killing an estimated 11,000 and eventually an estimated 71,000 people worldwide. It was the largest volcanic eruption in recorded history, catastrophically disrupting global climate in the mountainous regions of Europe and North America. The effects of the eruption lasted more than two years, resulting in extreme cold weather, massive crop failures, the deaths of thousands of livestock and the worst famine of the nineteenth century. In fact, the winter of 1816-1817 was known throughout Europe as the “Hungeryaher” (the Hunger Years), and thousands of Swiss families immigrated to America between 1816- 1818 to escape poverty and possible starvation. The origins of Brienzerware For decades during normal winters when the fields lay fallow, individual farmers throughout the alpine mountains had often turned to carving small utilitarian objects of wood for home use, along with decorative items to sell to tourists visiting the Alps for winter sports. Hard woods were plentiful, and the fanciful carvings greatly appealed to visitors wanting an inexpensive souvenir of their travels while giving the farmer/carver additional income during the winter months. Many of these carvers were highly skilled and well known in their particular area, but none were acting in a unified effort to establish alpine carvings as a commercial venture. It wasn’t until a young Brienz native A seated bear wearing a narrow collar with a brass tag, indicating it may have been a tamed bear. The teeth are not ivory but bleached wood. The animal’s tongue has been colored red for realism, a common practice at the time. 9” high. Courtesy of Tennyson Antiques, Atlanta, Ga. July 2014 ◆ Antiques Journal ◆ Page 41