Astute collectors of art in York County, Pennsylvania know the work of Ernst Zimmerman from a mile away. Like many other local artists, Zimmerman sold his work during his lifetime for small sums of money -- sometimes for seventy-five cents or a dollar and twenty-five cents, as noted on the back of some work today. Unlike many artists, however, his work has grown in popularity and prices have soared.
Ernst William Zimmerman was born in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, in 1870 and learned the basics of photography, retouching and painting from his father, Edward. After the great flood of Johnstown destroyed the family business, Ernst moved to York. He worked for several firms, including the Swords Photography Studio and the York Opera House. He opened a studio near his home on East College Avenue and maintained it with the help of his wife, the former Elizabeth Blessing, for more than forty years. The couple had one son.
Zimmerman painted on paper, canvas, window shades, china plates and paper bags. He worked in watercolor and oil and painted flowers, fruit, animals, landscapes, seascapes and revised versions of famous religious and patriotic paintings. Many of his paintings were executed with a precursor of the modern-day airbrush that he invented for his studio work..
After his death on October 26, 1944, his wife wrote that the material he used did not matter. He was always studying light and shade and saw nature in all her moods: “Light and shade, the reflection and symmetry of a rose or the beauty of a sunset -- it was all one to him, for he was in his element with the palette and brush, and color was to him like meat and drink to another.”
Facts and Folklore of York County, Pennsylvania, 2005, York County Heritage Trust, York, PA, 2005.
Written and submitted by the author Georg R. Sheets, Harrisburg, PA