Framed, it measures 20.25" x 16.75"

Today we have a fretwork Lord’s Prayer, circa 1890, made by Ernest M. Holland (1852-1927) of Laytonsville and/or Redland. (As always, apologies for my poor photography skills.)

I learned a lot about the various types of saws this morning, which I will not attempt to recreate here. (For a more informed summary, here’s an essay on scrollsawer.com.) In essence, fretwork has been around for centuries; the process was improved by the 16th century invention of the fretsaw; the 19th century saw the introduction of the mechanical fretsaw, or scroll saw, powered first by treadle and later by electricity. Because a fret or scroll saw’s extremely thin blade can be removed, one can be placed directly in a ‘starting hole’ to make interior cuts without having to start from the outside edge. (And yes, that peculiar explanation is why I was not going to try and recreate the history of fretwork.)

The scroll saw became widely used in America around the 1860s, prompting a fretwork boom both large (think Victorian house trim) and small. Professionals, artists and hobbyists have long enjoyed the art of fretwork, making plaques, ornaments, clock faces, box lids, and basically anything else that might benefit from the addition of some lacy cut wood. Our piece is, as far as can be seen, unsigned; the Woodward & Lothrop frame is relatively modern. Our correspondence with the donor, Mrs. Ann Golden Holland Pace, describes this as “the carving of the Lord’s Prayer by your father.” Many people won prizes at the county fair each year for their scroll saw skills, although Mr. Holland does not appear to be one of them (I’m still looking through the lists).

Ernest was born in 1852 to Nathan and Eliza Holland. According to his 1927 obituary, he “taught in the public schools of Montgomery County for years and later was in the mercantile business at Redland.” He appears to have been a true Montgomery Countian – by which I mean, he lived all over the county: born in Hyattstown in 1852; grew up in Barnesville; married Anna Harris in Rockville in 1877. In1880 he and his young family were in the Darnestown district. The 1900 census puts the family in the Laytonsville district, although in 1902 he was principal of the school in Cabin John. Mr. Holland was one of the gentlemen who founded St. Luke’s Evangelist Lutheran Church, Redland, in 1901, and a 1907 newspaper article describes him as a “well-known merchant of Redland.” After his wife’s 1919 death, he lived with his son in Wheaton. Finally, a few years before his 1927 death he left the county, to stay with relatives outside Baltimore.

Mr. Holland’s involvement with St. Luke’s church may or may not reflect his devoutness, so why the Lord’s Prayer in wooden form? Christian Victorian households often included overtly religious images and artifacts, and fretwork plaques were part of this trend. Lord’s Prayer plaques from the late 19th century – many almost identical to ours – are relatively common, as a search through internet auctions proves. A.H. Shipman’s 1881 “Amateur Mechanics Manual and Catalogue of Scroll Saws and Lathes” includes a Lord’s Prayer pattern, which the author proclaims “should be in the house of everyone that has a bracket saw.” I have not yet tracked down a copy to compare his version with ours, but perhaps that is where Mr. Holland got his idea.

Sadly, I couldn’t find any extra photos to add to today’s post.  So instead, here are some extra words! Researching Mr. Holland brought out some totally fun, if totally irrelevant (to this piece), family facts. First, I kept encountering another Ernest Holland from Barnesville, who lost a hand in 1897 by “having it caught in a cutting box.” Despite the potentially interesting connection of scroll saw / cutting box, this wasn’t my guy. Second, Ernest and Anna (the right ones) had one of the best naming conventions I’ve yet come across: their five children were named Egbert Pearl, Ruby, John Diamond, Ann Golden, and Opal. Census records and newspaper references indicate that they all went by their gemstone/mineral names (including Pearl).

Third, the local newspaper contained many of the little snippets that I find so evocative, but which are sometimes sadly lacking. Ruby married school teacher Joseph L. Waters in December 1902, “unbeknownst to her friends” until they made it public in January 1903. (Sadly, Joseph died of typhoid a month later.) Pearl married Laura Hawes of Laytonsville in 1902, but they divorced in 1919. (For some reason I am always surprised by divorces; I even wrote “Oh, Pearl divorced Laura!” in my notes.) Diamond, a medical doctor, died at age 37 in 1918, leaving a wife and two sons.  And Opal married the pastor of St. Luke’s (her father’s church) in 1912.  Anyone need a starting plot point or two for their historical novel? Here you go.

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