By Myra Lee Adams Goff
On Tuesday, September 10, the Sophienburg Museum and Archives will open its exhibit about a literary form referred to as fairy tales. Eighteen Brothers Grimm fairy tales will be incorporated into the displays that are already present in the museum.
Keva Boardman, Director of Exhibits at the Sophienburg Museum, has used her imagination and expertise to show off the Sophienburg’s vast collections, seldom seen by the public.
There are some important facts to know before you come to the exhibit. First of all, the “Brothers Grimm”, Wilhelm and Jacob, did not write the fairy tales; they wrote them down. Drawing from a collection of writers such as Charles Perault, they utilized the stories that were passed on by word of mouth, mostly from Europe. Most stories date back to the Middle Ages. These tales are in modern times totally bazaar and full of the evils that man is capable of inflicting on mankind.
Life in the early European days were indeed harsh and fairy tales reflected what children were exposed to and feared the most. The Grimm brothers told the stories they heard from people but modified them to reflect the times. (1800s) Writers of fairy tales for children today do basically the same thing, that is, change the tales to reflect these modern times. Walt Disney did much to keep the fairy tales alive, but in a much more acceptable way to modern children.
Even today the themes of the fairy tales still reflect the underlying fears of children and adults. Think about the fairy tales you know. They play on the themes of evil (the evil stepmother), abandonment (Hansel and Gretel), and fear of becoming a victim. Most children are quick to pick up on these themes in literature and for that reason, they are often fearful of the story itself.
One Christmas when I was eight years old, I received a very large book that contained 100 fairy tales. Each story had an illustration of that particular story. I would turn the pages very slowly and look at the beautifully illustrated pictures. When I got close to the middle of the book, I would hurriedly go past the 50th story and its illustration. This story was “Bluebeard”, a story about a king who warned his many wives to never enter a certain room in the castle. Of course, the female finally gave in to her curiosity and she opened the door only to find that all the other wives had been beheaded. Needless to say, that story is no longer in fairy tale books and hasn’t been for about 50 years.
The Grimm brothers cleaned up the earlier tales, and Disney cleaned up the Grimm tales. The Sophienburg exhibit is for adults and children. The Grimm brothers were professors of linguistics. Learning about the change in the sounds of words was best accomplished by them by requesting that everyday people tell them stories that they had heard as children. The brothers wrote down the stories which eventually led to their publication in 1814. Consisting of tales from Germany, they were not intended for children, as they were full of witches, wolves, and goblins in dark forests. The original tales make no attempt to be fright-free.
Eighteen fairy tales have been chosen to display and here is an example of what you could see in the exhibit: a “Snow White” dress on a mannequin originally worn by Mitzi Nuhn (Dreher), age six, as she played that part in the Enchanted Hour Kindergarten’s program of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” in 1937 at the Seele Parish House. The teachers of this private Kindergarten were Bessie Baetge and Lucille Staats Jett. The silk and velvet dress was reworked by the Sophie Sewers who worked on several projects from the collection, including handkerchiefs from “The Goose Maiden”.
For the “Cinderella” exhibit, 39 right-footed shoes from the collection are shown, even a red leather Moroccan slipper. “Star Money” features a collection of German coins and “Brother and Sister” features things made of antlers, because in the story the brother turns into a deer.
A loaned display for “Brementown Musicians” shows eleven handmade German folk guitars dated 1870 to 1990 and loaned by Troy Tidwell. The musicians in the story are a donkey, a dog, a cat, and a rooster.
“Hansel and Gretel” features children dressed in German costumes and “Reponses” shows decorations made of human hair. There are about ten examples displayed in shadow boxes. This was a popular art at the time the emigrants came to New Braunfels.
Several fairy tales used the idea of a princess under glass. That even survived in the Snow White story by Disney. The exhibit is using their Scloss Braunfels Boyhood Home of Prince Carl of Solms/Braunfels under glass sculpture, created by Jonas Perkins. In the foyer of the museum is a permanent statue of “Little Redcap” or “Little Red Ridinghood”, donated by the Emmie Seele Faust family.
“The Seven Ravens” is about a baptism. The Sophienburg has been the recipient of many old church Baptism certificates. They are beautifully crafted, some using gold and exquisite colored flowers.
This exhibit is for those who want to know about the historic root of fairy tales. Museum hours are 10:00 to 4:00 Tuesday through Friday. The Bruder Grimm Kinder-Märchen Exhibit will be on display for a year.