Tag Archive | European Culture

Object: Fence


San Antonio, TX
19th Century
Materials: Metal

Vereins Kirche, Fredericksburg, Texas. A replica of an 1847 early church. In modern times it was nicknamed the Coffee Mill for its unique shape. Image by Ernest Mettendorf, via Wikimedia Commons.

Vereins Kirche, Fredericksburg, Texas. A replica of an 1847 early church. In modern times it was nicknamed the Coffee Mill for its unique shape. Image by Ernest Mettendorf, via Wikimedia Commons.

This object is a section of a metal fence with a detailed design on the end posts.  It is a lasting symbol of German-style architecture found throughout central Texas.  Though German-Texas immigrants began mixing in Anglo building methods, some elements of German craftsmanship endured throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, and into today.

Germans are currently the third largest national-origin group in Texas, behind Anglos and Hispanics, comprising about 17.5% of the total population of the state.  The majority of immigrants settled in a belt-like pattern, called “chain migration,” across the south central part of the state, forming a chain from Galveston along the coast, to Austin, New Braunfels, and San Antonio, and west into Kerrville, Mason, and Hondo on the far side of the Hill Country.  Chain migration often occurs when immigrants enter a new place and settle there.  They then start to branch out to farther points, creating a “chain” of connected communities- in this case, German communities.

The influence for so much migration to Texas was rooted in the so called “America Letters” that were written by immigrants, sent to their homelands, and often published.  They sang the praises of their new homeland, and severely understated any downfalls.  The letters were written by true pioneers who saw emigration as the solution to issues in their homeland, seeking economic, political, or religious opportunity.

In the case of Texas Germans, Friedrich Diercks was the most notable pioneer to bring attention to opportunities in Texas immigration.  Originally intending to immigrate to Missouri, he switched gears when he heard about land grants being offered to European immigrants in Stephen F. Austin’s colony in Texas.  Diercks applied for, and received over 4,000 acres in the northwest corner of Austin County (near Round Top, Texas).

As a result of the “America letters” written by Diercks, a steady stream of immigrants flowed into Texas from northwestern Germany.  By 1850, the German Belt was well established.  Towns like Fredericksburg and New Braunfels were founded during this time, and still house some of the largest concentrations of German descendants in Texas.  Many of those people still speak German to each other.

The settlers who migrated during this time were by no means poor.  They were generally solid middle-class peasants.  Many were land- owners and artisans, and a few were college educated.  The vast majority were farmers though.  The Germans were ambitious though, and felt their futures in Germany were being stifled by their current social and economic system.  In their new home of Texas, though many stayed in the cities such as Austin and San Antonio, many others moved to the rural areas of the Hill Country and farmed the land.

During the Civil War, migration was halted by the Union blockade of Confederate ports.  Once the War ended though, more Germans than ever before arrived in Texas.  Between 1865 and 1890, the number of German Texans jumped to over 40,000, and since 1930, the reach of German settlements has changed very little.

Before the World Wars, German heritage was widely preserved due to their relative isolation in their clustered colonies.  However, due to German prejudice surrounding the World Wars, many folkways were lost, and many settlers stopped speaking German.  As more and more of the Anglo- Texan culture intertwined with German heritage, even more of the pure German culture in Texas was lost.

German dancers and music bring a festive atmosphere to McKinney’s Oktoberfest. Image via visitmckinneytexas.wordpress.com

German dancers and music bring a festive atmosphere to McKinney’s Oktoberfest. Image via visitmckinneytexas.wordpress.com

Today, we still see the imprint of German culture in celebrations and historic architecture.  Events like Oktoberfest, Saengerfest, and Wurstfest celebrate the culture that so many Texans have roots in.  Buildings like Sunday Houses, and even modern German Texas farmhouse style homes, pay tribute to the heritage of 19th Century German immigrants.

Texas is a melting pot of heritage and has, in many ways, seamlessly accepted and tied together countless cultures and practices.  From Hispanic, to Czech, to German, we all come together to celebrate what makes our state so unique. [Carrie Klein, edited by Kathryn S. McCloud]



Abernethy, Francis Edward.  Built in Texas.  Denton, TX: University of North Texas Press, 2000.

Biesele, Rudolph Leopold.  The History of the German Settlements in Texas, 1831-1861.  San Marcos, TX:  German-Texan Heritage Society, Dept. of Modern Languages, Southwest Texas State University, 1987.

German Texan Heritage Society.  GTHS German Immigrant Ancestors.  Austin, Texas:  German-Texan Heritage Society, 1997.

Lich, Glen E.  The German Texans. San Antonio: University of Texas Institute of Texan Cultures at San Antonio, 1981.

Object: Cookie iron

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Krumkake Iron
Late 19th- early 20th Century
Materials: Metal, Wood

 Krumake panorama in a Minnesota home. Photo by NorskPower, via Wikimedia Commons.

Krumake panorama in a Minnesota home. Photo by NorskPower, via Wikimedia Commons.

This object is a Norwegian krumkake iron.  Not to be confused with crumb cake, this Norwegian cookie is pronounced kroom-kai-kuh, and means bent or curved cake.  The plural is krumkaker. Krumkake is a traditional Norwegian Christmas cookie.  Krumkaker are made from flour, sugar, eggs, butter, and cream.  They look and taste very similar to waffle cones, and are made in a device that looks similar to a waffle iron.

Krumkake irons are decorative two-sided iron griddles, with intricate patterns that vary based on what region of Norway it’s from.  Older irons were designed to be held and turned over an open fire, and had wooden handles to be able to turn them without getting burned.  Newer versions are electric, and allow bakers to make more, in a shorter period of time.

Once the batter is poured onto the griddle, it’s baked to a light golden brown.  While still hot, it’s rolled into small cones with the use of a conical rolling pin.  Krumkaker can be filled with virtually anything- from whipped cream, to chocolate, to berries, or can just be sprinkled with powdered sugar.

It wasn’t until the 19th century that the term “Christmas cookie” became popular, possibly due to the fact that ovens became popular household appliances around that time.  However, cookies in Norway were categorized as one of three types: those baked in an iron, those that were deep fried, and those baked in ovens.  Cookies baked in irons- like krumkaker– can be traced back at least a thousand years.

In the pre-Christian Viking tradition, during the dark afternoons of the Winter Solstice, children would go from house to house looking for treats.  Because Norway is so close to the North Pole, darkness came by 4 o’clock during the months of December and January.

Before Christmas began being celebrated in Norway, around 1000- 1100, Norwegians celebrated Jul (the English tweaked this to yule) a time to celebrate the last of the harvest, and a way to look forward to spring.  It was a celebration of light manifested through the yule log thrown on the fire.

Norwegian Christmas is a celebration of more than a thousand years of beliefs and traditions, all tied together in a month-long celebration.  The baking, the solstice, the celebration of light, and Christian faith, all come together for the holiday season.

Seven Sorts – Traditional Norwegian Christmas Cookies. Photo by www.mylittlenorway.com

Seven Sorts – Traditional Norwegian Christmas Cookies. Photo by http://www.mylittlenorway.com

Perhaps this explains why krumkake has endured.  Today, it is a featured element in the tradition of “seven sorts,” which is a Norwegian holiday baking custom.  Per tradition, seven traditional cookies are to be baked and served during the holidays.  Although which cookies are included in the seven are disputed, krumkake is the most widely accepted, along with pepperkaker (gingerbread).

Norway’s holiday traditions are still honored by Norwegian immigrants and their descendants across the American mid-west, and communities in Texas.  The krumkake is just one of many elements of Norwegian tradition that interlock the past and the present. [Carrie Klein, edited by Kathryn S. McCloud]


Cornelius, James M.  The Norwegian Americans.  New York: Chelsea House, 1989.

Mellbye, Anne-Lise, Dana Fossum.  Christmas in Norway.  Oslo, Norway: Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 1996.

Stokker, Kathleen.  Keeping Christmas: Yuletide Traditions in Norway and the New Land.  St. Paul, MN: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2000.

University of Texas Institute of Texan Cultures at San Antonio.  The Norwegian Texans.  San Antonio: University of Texas, 1970.

Object: Navigation Tools

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I-0356a, c, and e
Reproduction Norse Navigation Tools
20th century
Materials: Wood and metal

These objects are replicas of Norse navigation tools, used by sailors to find their latitude before the sextant and Global Positioning System (GPS) were invented. Tools like these were used in order to figure out where in the sea a sailor was. Traveling by land, explorers can use nature, roads, paths, mile markers and landmarks that make it easier to get one from place to another. However, terrain that has few, or no, landmarks like the desert or the sea are difficult to navigate. Using latitude and longitude helps sailors and explorers determine how far they are from their starting point. Using latitude and longitude can help sailors reach their destination correctly, give or take by a few miles.

A quadrant, was used to measure the altitude or angle above the horizon of a star, this helped sailors calculate their latitude, or the lines on a map going from West to East. Sailors in the northern hemisphere would use the North Star, the brightest star, to find their latitude at night because it is directly over the north celestial pole and never sets. They would measure the height of the star when they started their journey and then they would compare it to the measurements as they traveled with a quadrant. They measured the height of the star from the horizon by placing the quadrant near their eye and the weight will fall to the correct degree.

Other tools used by sailors, Vikings mostly, are the pelorus and the sun shadow board. A pelorus resembles a mariner’s compass, except there is no magnetic needle. This tool was used to measure latitude during the day time. The needle in the middle of the base, or the gnomen, cast a shadow and that shadow was looked at when the sun was in the noon position. A sun shadow board was placed in a bowl of water and was used to calculate the ships latitude and direction. The shadow and the little circles on the base told the sailors whether they were in the latitude they wanted to be in.

Longitude, or the lines on a map going from North to South, was found using the sun and time. However this calculation was more difficult because, unlike today, time was not kept universally and there wasn’t a way to check that your clock was set correctly. Also, clocks and watches needed to be wound up, therefore the watches slowed down and lost time every day as the internal clockworks ran out of energy. They calculated their longitude by knowing what time the sun was in a certain position in the sky at the Prime Meridian, which is at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, United Kingdom. By carrying a clock set to the time at the Prime Meridian, travelers then could compare what time  the sun reached that set position in their location. Each hour of difference roughly equals a 15 degree change in longitude.

The map drawn by Alonso Alvarez de Pineda of the coast of the Gulf of Mexico in 1519. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

The map drawn by Alonso Alvarez de Pineda of the coast of the Gulf of Mexico in 1519. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Many sailors from the 1500s to around the 19th century were explorers. One explorer by the name of Alonso Alvarez de Pineda, a Spanish explorer, was the first known European to map the Texas coastline. Many European explorers did not know where they ended up because they did not know how to calculate both their latitude and longitude. Many shipwrecked on unknown shores, claiming it and then not being able to find it again to colonize it. A French explorer who tried to claim Texas in the name of the French by establishing Fort St. Louis was Robert Cavelier, Sieur de LaSalle. Once time became universally synchronized and sailors and land explorers knew how to calculate their latitude and longitude they could explore land more accurately and then find it again when they were starting to colonize it. [Amanda Rock, edited by Joscelynn Garcia]

Additional Resources:

Berger, Melvin, and Gilda Berger. 2003. The real Vikings: craftsmen, traders, and fearsome raiders. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic.

Bravo, Michael, and Sverker Sörlin. 2002. Narrating the Arctic: a cultural history of Nordic scientific practices. Canton, Mass: Science History Publications.

Ganeri, Anita. 1998. From sextant to sonar: the story of maps and navigation. London: Evans.

Parkman, Francis. 1956. The discovery of the great West: La Salle. New York: Rinehart.

Plant, Terry, and Terry Plant. 1990. Nordic journeys. Newton Abbot: T. Plant.

Roza, Greg. 2010. Early explorers of Texas. New York: PowerKiDs Press.

Watts, Oswald Martin. 1973. The sextant simplified: a practical explanation of the use of the sextant at sea. Sunderland: Reed.

Williams, Brian. 2003. Latitude and longitude. Mankato, MN: Smart Apple Media.

Object: Print


I-0068k (01)

“The Black Madonna of Czestochowa”
Unknown artist
Materials: Wood, Ink, Paint

This object is a small print representing the Black Madonna of Czestochowa. The Black Madonna of Czestochowa also known as Our Lady of Jasna Gora is a revered icon of the Virgin Mary. Today the original painting sits in Jasna Gora Monastery in Czestochowa, Poland and has been there for six centuries. There are many stories surrounding the history of the original painting, some seem to be more fantasy than fact, and these stories have inspired many artists to create their own versions of this famous work of art. The print shown above, from the ITC collection, is one of a set of 15 different versions of the Black Madonna of Czestochowa.

Jasna Góra monastery by night Photo made on 2005-02-04 by Adam Kumiszcza. Imaga via Wikimedia Commons.

The original painting is said to have been painted by St. Luke and it remained in the holy land until it was discovered by St. Helena of the Cross sometime in the 4th century. After this discovery it was then moved to Constantinople, where it was proudly displayed by St. Helena’s son, the Emperor Constantine. Around 803 C.E. the painting was passed on to Prince Leo of Ruthenia. It remained in the royal palace, in present day northwestern Hungary, until the eleventh century when there was an invasion. The painting was then transferred to the Jasna Gora Monastery in Poland at the request of Ladislaus of Opole. Once the painting was in the hands of Ladislaus, the history became better documented.

In 1392 Tatars attacked the fortress at Belz and one of the arrows hit the painting lodging itself in the throat area. Fearing that the painting would be captured by the Tatars, Ladislaus fled with it to the town of Czestochowa and the painting was installed in the church. In 1430 Hussite looters attacked the church and one attacker struck the painting with his sword. The damage due to the sword and arrow can still be seen today. By 1655 Poland was overrun by Swedish forces. The monks at the monastery were able to defend the portrait during a forty day siege. Following the win against Sweden the Lady of Czestochowa became crowned as Queen of Poland.

Throughout the centuries there has been many reports of miraculous events surrounding the painting. The name Black Madonna was given due to the soot residue that discolors the painting.  The soot comes from centuries of candles burning in front of the painting. Today the feast day of the Black Madonna is celebrated on August 26. Many people make the pilgrimage to see the painting, leaving from Warsaw every year since 1711 on August 6th, the pilgrimage lasts 9 days and covers roughly 140 miles.

"Czestochowa National Shrine" in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Statue is Jan Pavel II. Near Dublin, PA. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

“Czestochowa National Shrine” in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Statue is Jan Pavel II. Near Dublin, PA. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

The Black Madonna is popular in places like Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia. In the United States there is a National Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa which is located in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. The shrine was founded in 1953 and features a replica of the painting. [Joscelynn Garcia]

Additional Sources:

Art, Belief, Meaning Symposium, Herman C. Du Toit, and Doris R. Dant. Art and Spirituality: The Visual Culture of Christian Faith. Provo, Utah: BYU Studies, Brigham Young University, 2006.

Pasierb, Janusz St, Jan Samek, Jan Michlewski, and Janusz Rosikoń. The Shrine of the Black Madonna at Czestochowa. Warsaw: Interpress Pub, 1980.

Paz, Adele. The Black Madonna of Czestochowa: A Fluid Symbol of Polish Nationality. 2005.

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