I recently added an eclectic group of artifacts to the Wisconsin Decorative Arts Database. Nine objects from the collections of the Grant County Historical Society‘s Cunningham Museum in downtown Lancaster are now online. Each of these items offers an intriguing glimpse into the everyday lives of men and women living in nineteenth-century Lancaster, Platteville, and surrounding communities in southwest Wisconsin–the “Young Ladies” of Hazel Green who signed their names to the quilt they sewed and sold to raise money for soldiers off fighting in the Civil War; Jane Petty of Rigsby Hollow, who, according to family tradition, rocked all eleven of her children in a handmade walnut cradle; or Thomas Duncalf, who came to Lancaster from England as a young boy and found employment in the Lancaster Woolen Mill.
The items now online from the Historic Blooming Grove Historical Society in Madison also reveal the lives of local people–in this case, several generations of a single family. Born in Bohemia in 1870, Frank J. Hess trained in the craft of barrel making before emigrating to the United States in 1889. In 1904, he established the Hess Cooperage on Madison’s East Side, supplying white oak beer barrels to brewers across Wisconsin and throughout the nation. All four of Hess’s sons, Joseph, Tony, Frank and Edward, carried on their father’s craft, while daughter Josephine Hess served as the company manager.
In recent years, Gary Hess, grandson of Frank Hess, Sr. has carried on the tradition of the Hess Cooperage by collecting, documenting, and sharing the company’s history. The three Hess barrels now online in the Wisconsin Decorative Arts Database all came to the Historic Blooming Grove Historical Society thanks to Gary, along with tools, parts, newspaper clippings and other materials that tell the story of the cooperage. In addition, a series of photographs of the Hess family at work is now available online from the Wisconsin Historical Society’s image archives, and Gary offers presentations on the history of the company and the craft of barrel-making throughout the state.
Posted by Emily Pfotenhauer.