Jacob Eichholtz and an artist's construction of middle -class identity in nineteenth-century Lancaster, Pennsylvania
This dissertation is about objects, identity and middle-class formation in early nineteenth-century America. First, it explores the interpretive power of objects—among them a “flower chest,” a copper measure, and a portrait—to understand the occupational journey of a young coppersmith, Jacob Eichholtz, within the context of three generations of his family in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. In the process objects demonstrate a power beyond their ability to merely illustrate arguments based on documentary records or supplement the evidentiary basis of historical interpretation; objects do more than mark identity, they make identity.
Second, this study delves into the nascent world of early nineteenth-century American art, and the rarified world of twentieth-century art collecting, to challenge the validity of assertions of “native genius” in the one and the moniker of “naive” art in the other. In the first case it demonstrates that only by constant application, instruction from available sources at hand, and the support of benefactors could an aspirant like Jacob Eichholtz gain sufficient competence and capital to succeed in the competitive world of American art. In the second instance, this study argues that naïve art and folk art are expressions of individuals who worked outside of the mainstreams of popular culture and unaware of the western studio-art tradition.
Finally, this project argues that Jacob Eichholtz's 1832 rowhouse established the standard for middle-class architecture in Lancaster lasting into the twentieth century. Yet, it did so amidst a diverse architectural landscape and new ideas about class and the configuration of urban space. More specifically, this dissertation demonstrates that the presence of Pennsylvania German architecture in urban centers in the nineteenth century was more than a matter of surviving examples from the eighteenth century; two new house forms were derived from the earlier tradition and competed for favor among Lancaster's middle class. Eventually, however, middle-class Lancastrians chose the rowhouse form as their preferred domestic arrangement, and the more prosperous among them, like Jacob Eichholtz, chose to situate their residences in new, residential neighborhoods that were themselves symbols of middle-class refinement.
0377: Art history