Schrock, Emma (1924-1991)

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Barn Raising by Emma Schrock.
Photo courtesy of Monte Hershberger
Airing the Quilts by Emma Schrock.
Photo courtesy of Monte Hershberger

Emma Schrock (3 September 1924-15 May 1991) was an Old Order Mennonite from rural Goshen, Indiana, USA, who earned her living by painting, from memory, scenes of rural life in her Yellow Creek church community.

The oldest of five children of Roscoe Schrock (21 February 1894-1 August 1986) and Susie Martin Schrock (26 September 1903-5 August 1992), she was a lifelong, committed member of the Yellow Creek Old Order Mennonite Church. The Yellow Creek settlement in 1840 was the first by Mennonites—from Pennsylvania and Ohio—in Elkhart County. Her congregation left the Wisler Mennonite church in 1907, in order to restore more conservative practices. The Wislers, in turn, had left the original church (now LCM) in 1872 for similar reasons.

From birth, Emma endured physical deformities that made her unable to walk. Eventually, operations made it possible for her to walk, but with difficulty. Single all her life, she was unable to work outside her house in order to support herself.

At first, she functioned as a folk artist by making and selling decorative objects that her community would buy and use, especially painted plates for display on walls and in cupboards. Other items she decorated were mottos on wood, matchbox wall holders, salt boxes, vases, coal scuttles and clear glass piggy banks that she gave to newborns in her church community. She was also the source for women’s head coverings, selling on behalf of various makers.

In 1968 she obtained a how-to paint book by the popular artist and art teacher Conni Gordon (1924-2017), which emphasized landscapes. With oil paints on artist’s board, she began making imaginary landscapes that she sold at local fairs and from her front lawn along State Road 119. She preferred that kind of painting, although she sold relatively few.

But when she began painting landscapes, especially farmscapes, that matched her own countryside, she found great success. Not only did her fellow Mennonites buy them, but outsiders in and visitors to Elkhart County did as well. In many cases, people bought them because they thought the scenes were of Old Order Amish culture, with both Elkhart and LaGrange being promoted to tourists as “Amish Country,” and Old Order Mennonites being little known or noticed. The tastes of such “outsiders” affected her painted subjects and the marketing of her paintings. A number of retailers sold her paintings, but she never yielded exclusive retail rights and always controlled their marketing and reproduction. To the end of her life, she welcomed customers to her home, where she painted in the living room, sometimes working simultaneously on 10 paintings of the same subject.

She probably made and sold over 2020 paintings and other decorated items. Her most popular paintings were of customary events, especially those depicting large groups of people or items, such as barn-raisings, auctions, airings of quilts and harvest customs. “We live what I paint, and I paint what I see,” she said. Virtually all of her paintings, eventually of acrylic, bear her signature and date.

Their popularity led to the printing of thousands of notecards bearing her paintings and several paintings reproduced in limited editions that bore her name hand-signed in pencil.

Her work raises the question of the role of art, especially the depiction of the human form, in a culture that presumably shuns images in general and especially of human beings. As in other conservative Anabaptist cultures, handicapped members are often tacitly allowed to make and market their folk arts of various kinds. Her depictions of human beings are usually more paint blotches than finished forms, and often viewed from a distance or in profile.

“I could never paint a portrait,” she once said. Nor would she allow a photograph to be taken of her. “I am a faithful Old Order Mennonite and would not consider any such proposal,” she said. “The faith I have means everything to me.”

Bibliography

Beck, Ervin. "Emma Schrock: Old Order Mennonite artist." Mennonite Quarterly Review 94, no. 3 (July 2020): 381-394.

Bronner, Simon. "We live what I paint and I paint what I see: a Mennonite artist in Northern Indiana." Indiana Folklore 12, no. 1 (1979): 5-17.


Author(s) Ervin Beck
Date Published September 2020


Cite This Article

MLA style

Beck, Ervin. "Schrock, Emma (1924-1991)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. September 2020. Web. 29 Nov 2020. https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Schrock,_Emma_(1924-1991)&oldid=169332.

APA style

Beck, Ervin. (September 2020). Schrock, Emma (1924-1991). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 29 November 2020, from https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Schrock,_Emma_(1924-1991)&oldid=169332.




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