Carving & Painting – Folk Art Among the Amish

In January of 1921, twin boys were born to Amos and Annie Zook.  Amos and Annie probably thought their boys would enter a typical Amish vocation.  Instead, Aaron and Abner Zook became prolific visual artists, creating three-dimensional carved wooden “paintings.”  These dioramas became famous for their rustic depiction of Amish life.  The brothers created over a thousand pieces during their lifetime.  Now, a three-dimensional Zook diorama will sell for tens of thousands of dollars at auction.  

Abner was credited with creating over 800 of the scenes in his obituary.  The brothers started painting in their youth, painting farm scenes from their daily lives on whatever they could find.  Growing up in a family of modest means, they didn’t have fine paintbrushes and stretched canvases.  Instead, rooster feathers collected from the barnyard were their brushes.  

Perhaps they would have been great painters, but the dioramas they became so famous for would never have been without a fateful trip to Germany.  In 1952, Aaron Zook traveled to Germany, where he saw woodcarvings that sparked the inspiration for him.  Perhaps he could combine his love for painting with this intriguing woodcraft?

This combination of painting and carving led to the diorama effect, which was of course very popular.  Shady Maple Smorgasbord is probably the easiest place for the general public to view these pieces, as the restaurant building houses a large collection of Zook dioramas on the walls.  Good ‘N Plenty was also home to many Zook pieces, but when that restaurant closed, the pieces were auctioned off.  

A diorama based on the picturesque Mascot Roller Mill was the star of the auction, netting $52,000.  The winning bidder was the Mascot Mill Foundation.  It isn’t yet known if the piece will be publicly displayed at the mill (the mill can be visited for free, with demonstrations being offered on certain days.)  

—Clinton Martin