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ARTISAN SPOTLIGHT: CARL STEINHAGEN

by Kim Goodling


Carl Steinhagen, aka Charles Steinhagen and Christofer Friderick Carl Steinhagen, is an ideal example of a nineteenth-century Texas artisan. Documentation of his life and examples of his workmanship are available to the public thanks to Steinhagen descendants who generously donated to the Winedale Historical Complex, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, The University of Texas at Austin. As an institutional partner of the Hill Archives, selections from the Winedale collection are now accessible digitally, including archival materials and several fine samples of Steinhagen's work and tools that he used to create his own furniture and to ply his trade as a wagonmaker and wheelwright. Together with his census records and business directory entries provided by the Hill Archive, an impression emerges of Steinhagen's life and work on the Texas frontier.

Steinhagen immigrated to the United States in 1848 from Mecklenberg, Schwerin, Germany, landing in Galveston in 1848. In 1850, he was living alone with other German immigrants in Houston and working as a wheelwright.1 Adding to the increasingly growing German settlement of Texas, Steinhagen finally settled in Anderson, Grimes County, Texas in 1853.2 Steinhagen, a wheelwright by trade, and his wife, Emma, had seven children, and a value of real estate in the amount of $700 and a personal estate of $200 by the 1870 census.3 Steinhagen's son Carl, followed in his father's footsteps, becoming a wheelwright by the age of 16.4 In 1890, the elder Steinhagen advertised his services as a wagonmaker, and a carpenter, contractor, and builder, covering the cities of Anderson and Navasota in the Texas State Gazetteer and Business Directory.5 Steinhagen died three years later in 1893.

Steinhagen produced several special pieces which were kept exclusively in the family and which display an obvious fondness for the natural world. A Texas empire sofa comprises a lyre-shaped piece crowned with two flat fish carved out of a single board with dorsal fins, caudal fins, flippers, gills, eyes, and mouth, with the fish tails crossed in the center. The arm rail extends into a goose neck with carved head, eyes, nose, and beak. Exhibiting a partiality for geese, Steinhagen produced a goose-neck arm rocker with an ornate goose head and neck, carved feathers, eyes, nostrils, and mouth located on the front posts, a curved arm with grooved, pointed scallops, and a serpentine back ending in a simple knuckle. An oak and pine drum table is ornamented with an acanthus leaf carving, a central acorn drop, and carved animal legs with one large shaped carved leg in the center, extending out into three legs carved to represent deer legs and hoofs. Two tripod tables were fashioned alike with three shaped legs mortised to the base terminating in rough ram-shaped feet.



A walnut wardrobe demonstrates the Biedermeier style with a cornice piece, and shows off impressive carving technique with leaves on the columns and a crest with floral scrolls and a pair of birds. This piece is inscribed with pencil inside in German which translates to "Christofer Friderich Carl Steinhagen born 1814 / December 21 in Warckdorff bei Wismar, Mecklenburg-Schwerin / I made this wardrobe on June 12, 1878." A charming trundle bed which was used by the Steinhagen children and grandchildren was reunited with its companion bed and is displayed in the McGregor House which is a part of the Winedale Historic Complex. A frame made by Steinhagen that originally enclosed a picture, now holds a mirror at Ms. Ima Hogg's direction.

Steinhagen tools and implements that he used in his trade and everyday life are typical, nineteenth-century Texas specimens and reveal some of his preferences, techniques, and methodology. A wooden furniture pattern was used to produce the gooseneck rocker arm rest. A water-collar yoke was carved by Steinhagen of light weight wood with metal tips and steel chains on each end attached for hanging buckets, used by people to carry water by putting the yoke across their shoulders and hooking buckets to each end. A broadax with a wooden handle and a steel or iron blade is left-handed. A wooden machine carved out of oak by Steinhagen could have been used as a drive shaft, and contains iron screws and bolts, hand fitted primitive gears, a handle that turns a wheel with another gadget that goes up and down. A curved and scooped foot adz has a wooden handle and a cast steel blade and is stamped "No. 2." A mini block plane has a wooden stock with four screws on the sole of the stock, and a block plane has a stock, a hand grip, and a wedge with a double iron blade and a steel bottom, and is stamped on the side with "C. Steinhagen." A pair of draw knifes have wooden handles, steel blades and tongs, iron rivets, and brass ferrules. A square is a combination of a wood and steel arm with brass decoration, rivets and bolts. His handmade level of wood with two glass and liquid gages bears letters cut in one side.

Not only did Steinhagen construct striking furniture pieces and become a successful wagonmaker and wheelwright, he was an inventor as well. On August 28, 1883, a United States Letters patent was issued to Christofer Friderich Carl Steinhagen for an improved water-mill. The patent described that the improvements would "provide a mill of inexpensive and durable construction, having a wheel adapted to rise and fall with the tide, and thus to maintain a constant revolution and working of the mill."

Steinhagen's life, work, and tools are excellent illustrations of German Texas artisans of the nineteenth-century. Due to the generosity of donors, institutional partners such as the Winedale Historical Complex, and the mission of the Hill Archives, assembling and digitizing the lives and work of Texas artists and artisans brings together documents such as these to enhance and encourage scholarship as well as to inform the general public of contributions to nineteenth-century Texas life.


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Notes
1 Steinhagen, Chas. (Census record), 1850 United States Population Census.
2 Steinhagen, Charles. (Census record), 1860 United States Population Census. ; Handbook of Texas Online, Elinor Steinhagen Burrus, "Steinhagen, Christopher Friederich Carl," accessed June 20, 2016, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fstjt.
3 Steinhagen, Carl. (Census record), 1870 United States Population Census.
4 Steinhagen, Carl. (Census record), 1870 United States Population Census.
5 Steinhagen, C. (Business Directory entry) Texas State Gazetteer and Business Directory, 1890-91. Vol. 3, pt. 1. (Detroit: R. K. Polk & Co., 1890), 40.


References
Taylor, Lonn and David B. Warren, Texas Furniture: The Cabinetmakers and Their Work, 1840-1880. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2012.

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