Aaron Mountz

 

Mountz was a traditional Pennsylvania German woodcarver who was trained as a young child to carve by watching the itinerant Pennsylvania carver Wilhelm Schimmel (1817– 1890). Mountz was born in Cumberland County, near the town of Carlisle, Pennsylvania, the oldest son of a fourth-generation farming family that owned land along theConodoguinet Creek. Like many of the children in his community, Mountz became fascinated with the older Schimmel, watching him carve his imaginative figures of birds and animals, and was encouraged to learn to carve under Schimmel’s tutelage. Much less prolific than his teacher, it is unclear whether Mountz continued to carveafter he reached adulthood, or whether he continued to practice his skills after Schimmel’s death in 1890. Unfortunately, few of his surviving works are signed or dated.Inspired by the natural world he experienced day-to-day on his family’s farm, Mountz seems to have preferred carving birds and animal figures. Unlike Schimmel, he rarely further decorated his finished carvings with paint, leaving bare but smoothly refined the carvedsurface of the pine from which he fashioned his work. Certain characteristics of his carving style show a marked resemblance to those of his teacher’s, particularly theuse of crosshatched lines to decorate the surface of figures and to portray feathers or fur. In its careful, regular, and studied execution of carving, however, Mountz’swork belies his effort to hone his skills by attempting to copy the more spontaneous, irregular, and rough surfaces indicative of Schimmel’s style. While a number of earlier folk-carving traditions brought to America by immigrant German carvers include chiseled, cut-line, or cross-hatched surface decoration, both carvers developedtheir own individual variations of these traditional decorative devices in their work.Mountz spent much of his life in relative seclusion, rarely venturing beyond the boundaries of his family’s farm, and he never married. A daydreamer to a fault, he proved incapable of earning a living wage or supporting himself, despite several well-intentioned efforts by his brother to provide Mountz employment in his business asa well-driller. Mountz later suffered from mental deterioration, and spent the last years of his life at the Cumberland County Almshouse. Interestingly, it was at this sameinstitution that Wilhelm Schimmel, his creative mentor, had died 60 years earlier.