Symbolism in Wood: The Enigmatic Masonic Puzzle of Brother George S. Frank

Sometime between 1860 and 1880, Indiana Freemason George S. Frank spent hundreds of hours hand-crafting about 70 distinct, recognizable Masonic symbols, assembling them into a detailed puzzle-like montage. This intricately hand-carved Civil War-era wooden sculpture is a one-of-a-kind piece of Masonic folk art the likes of which you will never find anywhere else: an expression in wood of all three Masonic degree tracing boards.  It must be seen in person to fully appreciate this sculpture, as it is nearly impossible to photograph.
The term “folk art” was used during the 1700s and 1800s to describe works of art made by craftsmen, manual laborers, peasants, tradesmen, and working-class people. Folk art is very different from the sort of formalized artwork that usually hangs in museums and galleries. It is created by everyday people, not trained artists, and is usually made from everyday objects and material as an expression of their emotions, their passions, or their ideas. And sometimes, Freemasonry and its symbolism has been the inspiration for incredible works of that expression by individual Masons in the unlikeliest of forms.
As you peer into the sculpture’s recesses, each new viewing reveals even more details, and nearly any Masonic symbol you can think of from the first three degrees appears somewhere deep within its many layers of carvings. Brother Frank even used locks of his own hair for the three human carvings. While the overwhelming majority of the sculpture’s carvings are recognizable as Masonic symbols, there are a few that are not, including the large bird with unfurled wings on the top, and several Medieval staffs or spears that help connect the structure together.

Portland Mills’ Unique Heritage of Carpentry

In 1830, two year-old George S. Frank’s family uprooted themselves along with several of their neighbors from North Carolina and headed West. The three month long trip took the Frank family from North Carolina across winding trails, paths and unimproved roads until they finally reached the Cumberland Road which led West to the small village of Indianapolis. There they were informed that Portland Mills was a thriving town “about fifty miles farther west with a good grist mill, a tannery, and stores where salt, calico and other necessary supplies” could be obtained.
They settled around Portland Mills in Parke County, Indiana along the Big Raccoon Creek, near what was then called Mansfield Lake (later Raccoon Lake). Portland Mills had been established in 1821 as a settlement along an old Indian trail, just nine years before George’s family arrived, and there was soon a grain mill, a saw mill and a distillery built on the creek. When the Franks arrived, the town was surrounded by a dense forest of white oaks and yellow poplar trees towering 100 feet. In addition, there were huge sycamores, sugar maples, black walnut, ash, red elm, sassafras, pawpaw and crab apples.
The Portland Mills covered bridge, b. 1856
Constantly spanning the numerous creeks and streams that crisscrossed through the local countryside presented both opportunities and challenges to the local farmers and businesses. Bridges became vital to the area to serve the growing number of mills along the creeks, but stone structures were too expensive, and open wooden bridges deteriorated far too quickly. Covered wooden bridges, on the other hand, had a much longer service life. By the time young George had reached adulthood, the area was already known for its industriousness and creativity in the art of engineering, woodworking and carpentry. Between 1847 and 1920, Parke County, Indiana would erect almost 60 distinctive wooden covered bridges—more than any other county in America—and it eventually became a center for two of the country’s major covered bridge manufacturers. George Frank’s endlessly fascinating Masonic sculpture is perhaps an expression of that unique heritage of Parke County.
Portland Mills in 1879
The Masonic lodge was established at Portland Mills in 1851, along with the first post office. Brother George S. Frank petitioned the newly chartered Portland Lodge No. 90 late in 1851 at the age of twenty-three, and became a Master Mason the next year, stating his occupation as a farmer. A little over twenty years later in 1873, he moved his membership to a newer lodge, Morton Lodge No. 469, where he went on to serve as a Junior Deacon. It’s possible that the tiny village of Morton was closer to his farm than Portland Mills had been, and he transferred there just after the newer lodge was chartered. In addition to his farm, he served for a few years in the early 1880s as the Postmaster of Bainbridge, the next tiny crossroads community that lies east of Morton. George was also a member of Union Chapel Methodist Episcopal Church near Morton, Indiana. He joined the congregation in 1849, and was buried in the cemetery there in 1896.
The village of Portland Mills no longer exists today, as it was submerged in 1959 when the Mansfield Dam was built and Raccoon Lake became a reservoir. Portland Mills had the unique distinction of being in two counties and four different townships. It was within Clinton and Russell townships of Putnam County, and also Union and Green townships of Parke County. At one time the community was in two separate Congressional Districts.

The Sculpture and the Civil War

But there is an especially tantalizing tale concerning the creation of this artistic demonstration of devotion to the symbolism and fraternity of Freemasonry. When the Civil War broke out in 1861, Portland Mills was eager to support the Union cause. It has been claimed that this community supplied more fighting men than any other of its size in Indiana, and the area’s covered bridges were used to help train local soldiers in fighting around structures.
The Frank family legend states that George S. Frank served in the Union Army, and that he actually carved the pieces of this sculpture during the Civil War while imprisoned in a Confederate prisoner-of-war camp. The legend says that Frank did so to preserve his sanity, and “swiped firewood and traded his own rations for bits of wood” in order to carve each individual piece. The legend concludes that Frank assembled these various pieces together into the present three-dimensional montage sometime in the 1880s, after the war. The underside of the sculpture’s platform is stenciled, “M. O’Connor & Co. Indianapolis, Indiana,” which was a general merchandise supplier in the 1870s. This was likely a scrap piece of wood Brother Frank later obtained that allowed him to mount his collection of disparate carvings.
Following his death, the sculpture remained in the possession of Brother Frank’s family. In the 1920s it was stored in their coal shed near Rockville, Indiana, until it was found and given to the Scottish Rite Valley of Terre Haute Museum in 1971, where it was on display for the last 45 years. The Masonic Library and Museum of Indiana acquired the sculpture on September 13, 2018.
Our research has shown that a ‘George S. Frank’ from Indiana and born in North Carolina did serve in the Civil War but was inducted at age 31 (not 21 as our Masonic artist would have been). This may have merely been an error on the paperwork.  However,  we cannot prove or disprove specifically that Brother George S. Frank of either Parke or Putnam County, Indiana was ever a prisoner of war.  If the legend can ever be verified, this sculpture has even greater significance as military prisoner-of-war art, or “trench art” from the Civil War era. In fact, the Indiana War Memorial was convinced enough by the story that the sculpture was exhibited there for several years on loan from the Scottish Rite.
We are continuing to research Brother Frank’s story and possible military record. Nevertheless, this beautiful sculpture has survived to show us an exquisite example of what Freemasonry means to many of its members, and the sort of dedication it inspired.

Year End Improvements at MLMI

Just 24 short days left in the Bicentennial year of Indiana Freemasonry!

As the year winds down and the holidays are upon us, the Library & Museum is making some final display arrangements for a new exhibit for next year’s Founders Day on January 12th. We will be debuting an incredible, one of a kind artifact from the Civil War period that is unlike any Masonic item you have ever encountered. Stay tuned for an upcoming announcement!

Meanwhile, we have just added some welcome new lighting to our display and reading areas, making it more conducive to actually reading the books and documents in the collection while visiting and working the Library.

The Library & Museum will have very limited availability between now and Founders Day due to school hiatus of our intern Cody Hudson and members of our Board being out of town. Please contact us for access.

Thanks to Barry B. L. White

We’d like thank Barry B. L. White for his recent contributions at the Masonic Library & Museum of Indiana over the last few months.  Dwight L. Smith’s enormous collection of photographs from the Indiana Freemason magazine archives and his personal files have needed organization and cataloguing for many years. Barry has been in the process of identifying and creating a master list of the hundreds of photos, and sorting the rows of filing cabinets. Thanks to his work, Smith’s files today are more accessible to researchers than ever before.

 

 

In addition, Barry has donated copies of two books of Indiana Masonic history:

Hartsville Lodge No. 547:  From the Past To the Future

 

 

Steadfast Roots: A History of Freemasonry in Bartholomew County 

 

Brother Barry B. L. White has been extraordinarily busy these past 16 years since he was raised a Master Mason in Hartsville Lodge No. 547, and it doesn’t appear that he intends to slow down.   He holds plural memberships in Camon Lodge No. 343 and Hope Lodge No. 150.

For several years he served as Lodge Secretary for Hope Lodge No. 150, Camon Lodge No. 343 and Hartsville Lodge No. 547 at the same time.   During this same period, he also served as acting Secretary of High Point Lodge No. 755, prior to the consolidation.   He has also served the Grand Lodge as an Area Representative.  His two honorary memberships in St. Johns Lodge No. 20 and Nashville Lodge No. 135 are in appreciation of his help and support of these Lodges over the years.

In addition to his history books, Brother White has written several training books, one for Secretaries and one for Lodge Officers, and is currently doing research for three additional books.   The quarterly newsletter for Bartholomew County Lodges was his creation along with starting the Bartholomew County Past Masters Association.

Currently Brother White is developing a Masonic scavenger hunt and Masonic trading cards to use to improve attendance at stated meetings and Lodge work as well as bring the Bartholomew County Lodges closer together.

For his boundless dedication to Indiana Freemasonry, he was awarded the Order of Service to Masonry by the Grand Lodge F&AM of Indiana in May 2018.

Smith’s ‘Goodly Heritage’ Now Available

Dwight L. Smith’s long out of print Goodly Heritage: 150 Years of Craft Freemasonry in Indiana (1968) is now available once again in a brand new hardback and an E-book edition from Lulu Press. This facsimile edition was authorized by the Grand Lodge of Indiana and produced by the Masonic Library and Museum of Indiana.

Hardback edition , 594 pages: $36 (20% off of its $45 retail price)

E-Book edition: $1.99


Also available for 2018 and the Bicentennial is Christopher Hodapp’s new historical account, Heritage Endures: Perspectives on 200 Years of Indiana Freemasonry.

Available for $25 at the Grand Lodge office in Freemasons’ Hall, or click here for ordering options.

 

New Book Acquisitions at the Library

The Masonic Library and Museum of Indiana has just acquired a helpful new volume for Indiana researchers. Mapping Indiana:  Five Centuries of Treasures from the Indiana Historical Society is an oversized hardback published to coincide with Indiana’s Bicentennial year in 2016. It contains almost 100 antique maps culled from the Society’s archive of more than 1,500, and they illustrate the vast changes in Indiana’s population and development from the earliest French explorers in the wilderness, up through the early 21st century. State, county and city maps are presented from various periods, and there is a wealth of detail that can be gleaned from studying when and how our communities developed.

Indiana in 1819, two years after statehood and one year after the Grand lodge of Indiana was established at Madison.
Detail of counties and towns in 1819, clustered almost entirely in the southern third of the state.

For researchers interested in the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite, Christopher Hodapp has donated several important works of interest.

Morals & Dogma: Annotated Edition by Albert Pike; Arturo de Hoyos, 33, G.C., Grand Archivist and Grand Historian; Contributions and Glossary by Rex R. Hutchens, , 33, G.C., Past Grand Master; Foreword by Ronald A. Seale, 33, Sovereign Grand Commander.

First published in 1872 by the AASR- Southern Jurisdiction, Pike’s  Morals and Dogma is one of the most insightful works ever prepared for Freemasonry. It is a collection of thirty-two essays which provide a rationale for the Scottish Rite degrees. It encompasses a study of Freemasonry, wise philosophy, ancient mysteries, mythology, ritual, and religion. It serves the useful purpose of putting Masonic morality and ethics within the context of the general society, and bids man to think large–to cast aside the petty concerns of everyday life and to improve ourselves.

This new edition includes the complete original text, but has been fully updated and improved. Approximately 4,000 notes reveal the original sources used by Pike, clarify passages, suggest further reading, and include cross-references. New “ready references” reveal scriptural sources. Profusely illustrated with many images from the original sources Pike had before him when he prepared the original edition.


The Spirit of Freemasonry was originally written in 1804 by Jean Doszedardski, a Polish member of French lodges in Paris, and eventually, New Orleans. It is filled with early descriptions of haut grades ritual, different customs, lodge practices, even table lodges. The translation and annotation was accomplished by Illus. Bro. Kamel Oussayef, who has worked for more than a dozen years at the Scottish Rite Northern Masonic Jurisdiction’s Masonic Museum and Library in Lexington. This one seems to have appeared with no fanfare whatsoever, which is astonishing given the workmanship put into reproducing its 520 pages.

The work is from the period when Napoleon Bonaparte proclaimed and crowned himself Emperor of the French and also, among his many other self-proclaimed titles, “the protector of Freemasonry.” In return, the Masons of France founded Saint Napoleon Masonic Lodge in 1804, which became one the best attended lodges in Paris. This document came from that source.

The document contains 225 beautifully calligraphed pages and four symbolic drawings hand-painted with shimmering colors.

The book, and more particularly its footnotes, will cast a brighter light on Masonic texts, symbols, rituals, definitions, secret alphabets and calendars that up to now were thought to be difficult for the uninitiated to comprehend. Some of these writings are dissertations on the history or philosophy of humankind. Others are fascinating descriptions of old rituals that have since been transformed to suit the contemporary mind. Included is the protocol of a “Table Lodge”. It is clearly described and its strange origin and vocabulary are explained. To the initiated, “firing a cannon loaded with strong red powder” simply means “to drink a glass of red wine.” Its beautifully reproduced calligraphic pages also include a handwritten account of early French hauts grades up to the 25th degree—then considered the “highest” degrees developed in 1804, and what transformed eventually into the Scottish Rite here.


After 27 years of publication, the Scottish Rite Research Society has collected together every single issue of their outstanding quarterly newsletter, The Plumbline 1991-2016, into one complete hardbound, facsimile volume. Every page, every article, every photograph is reproduced, and it fills more than 660 pages of indexed gold.  To call The Plumbline a “newsletter” does it a horrible disservice, as the substantive articles that have filled it all these years are NOT lighthearted announcements of meetings, elections, and event dates. There is WONDERFUL information to be found here, by many of the top Masonic authors and researchers of the last three decades – as well as outstanding brethren you may not have heard of before. Most of these papers were specially written for The Plumbline and not simply too short for the SRRS’s hard-backed, thicker cousin publication. And they are not just about the Scottish Rite, either. Over the years, The Plumbline has been edited by Pete Normand, S. Brent Morris, John Boettjer, Forrest Haggard, Jim Tresner, Michael Halleran, Robert M. Wolfarth, and today by Adam Kendall.


And finally, thanks to contributions by several brethren, the Library’s collection of London’s Quatuor Coronati Lodge of Research’s annual publication of original papers, ARS QUATUOR CORONATORUM, is now complete. The online index for all AQC volumes published since 1886 through 2016 can be seen HERE.

All books described above are for reference use in the Library only, and may not be removed.  However, we are able to loan other books from the Collection under certain circumstances. Please contact the Director or one of our volunteers to request any library loans.

 

 

 

 

Masonic Library & Museum’s New Online Digital Archive Is A Researcher’s Dream

The Masonic Library and Museum of Indiana is soon making an invaluable historical asset available to researchers everywhere.  We have completed digitally scanning all issues of the Indiana Freemason Magazine from 1923 through 2003, and are in the process of making over 30,000 pages available online through our website. Keep watching this space, as we will be publishing links to the archive here as soon as we have established a suitable search system.

During the height of its production, the Indiana Freemason was published monthly and featured articles, essays, photos, announcements of events, rule changes, transcripts of speeches, advertising, and much more.  By the 1950s under the guidance of Dwight L.  Smith, and with Wayne Guthrie (Indiana’s most popular syndicated newspaper columnist at the time), Charles R.  Brown and other major contributors, the Indiana Freemasonbecame one of the most respected, popular and informative Masonic magazines in the country, with more subscribers out of state than among Hoosier Masons themselves.  Such was its reputation and popularity that it even had a substantial number of overseas readers in an age long before the Internet permitted easy international communication.

In the years before the turn of the 21st century the magazine had several editors besides Dwight Smith, including Laurence Taylor, Doyle Oursler, Walter Worland, Alan Lisle Jr., and Roger VanGorden.  In addition to Indiana’s own Masonic authors and contributors, the Freemason published articles from some of the luminaries of the 20th century Masonic world: H. L.  Haywood, Carl Claudy, Joseph Fort Newton, Lowell Thomas,  Conrad Hahn, Alphonse Cerza, Melvin M.  Johnson, and countless others.  There are articles on history, practices, ritual, symbolism, philosophy, religion, archeology, patriotism.  And nearly every issue featured news from around the Masonic world outside of Indiana as trends and rule changes were debated throughout the fraternity.  They are a treasure trove for members researching their own lodge’s past, and they are a genealogist’s dream.

The Indiana Freemason was printed during this period at the Indiana Masonic Home, and the on-site print shop there was originally designed as a vocational training program for the boys at the Home.  The print shop was started with almost $4,000 (equivalent to nearly $60,000 today) in donations from Mystic Tie Lodge 398 in Indianapolis. The boys learned a trade, and the fraternity got a tremendous resource in return.  By the 1950s, the print shop was staffed with paid employees, and it was a major operation that cranked out not just the magazine each month, but reams of books, pamphlets, forms, reports, stationary, and other paperwork that served the 185,000 Masons of Indiana at its height.

In addition to the Freemason magazine collection, we have also scanned several individual histories of lodges from the Library’s collection.  These include: Warren 15; Terre Haute 19; Webb 24; Clinton 54; New Castle 81; Richmond 196; Lessing 464; Tippecanoe 492; Garfield 569; West Lafayette 742; and Tell City 823.  These make up a fraction of our archive of lodge histories. In the course of preparing this massive scanning job, we have also uncovered several unpublished manuscripts of major importance to Indiana’s Masonic researchers and other historians, and we look forward to there being enough interest from readers in continuing this process.   We are also hoping to permit the future online exploration of our objects in the Museum’s extensive collection. With this in mind, we are pursuing a partnership with the Indiana State Library and their Indiana Memory database to reach a wider audience, and to ensure the long-term online presence of this material in the ever-shifting Internet landscape.

Finally, Dwight Smith’s 1968 Grand Lodge history, Goodly Heritage, is now available online for the first time, and will be obtainable as a print-on-demand traditional book, as well.  Smith’s indispensible volume has not been available in print or online since it sold out in the 1970s, and every Indiana Mason should have ready access to it.  Be sure to keep checking in with our website as we update access information throughout the fall.

This mountain of Masonic education and history available online will be an indispensible resource for Masons and non-Masonic historians, academic researchers and genealogists.  It was made possible in part by donations from lodges and individual Masons all over Indiana.  Brethren have made both large and small donations to the MLMI this year, and we are deeply appreciative of everyone’s support.  We would like to take this opportunity to especially thank the Prather York Rite bodies for their generous contribution in May.

When you are in Indianapolis, be sure to stop in and visit the Masonic Library and Museum in person on the 5th floor of the Grand Lodge’s headquarters in the Indianapolis Masonic Temple. We are open to the public, and our exhibits are always changing.  Also, we are always in need of volunteers to act as guides to expand our hours, as well as to assist with projects.  For more information about accessing the MLMI collection and our growing list of online resources, be sure to check the MLMI website at www.mlmindiana.org and also follow our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/mlmindy

 

Library Museum Open During 2018 Annual Communication

The Masonic Library and Museum of Indiana will be open and staffed during the Annual Communication of the Grand Lodge of Indiana F&AM on Tuesday and Wednesday, May 15th and 16th, 2018. Please take the opportunity to visit and see our latest exhibits.

On display for a limited time: the Tippecanoe battle sword of Kentucky Grand Master Joseph Hamilton Daveiss (on loan from the Grand lodge of Kentucky AF&AM), and the silver officers’ jewels of Versailles Lodge No. 7 briefly stolen during the Civil War by Morgan’s Raiders, and returned by order of General John H. Morgan himself.


Saturday hours through March 24, 2018

The Library and Museum will be open on Saturdays from now through March 24, 2018, without need for an appointment.

(One exception:  The L&M will NOT be open on Saturday, February 10.)

The hours will be 9:30 AM to 5:00 PM.

Please plan to visit us to see our various special exhibits during this 200th Anniversary year of the Grand Lodge of Indiana, F&AM.  These exhibits include the George Washington Masonic Bible, on loan to the L&M from Fredericksburg (Virginia) Lodge #4, AF&AM, which will be in the museum only through February 22.

 

Back on the air

The Indiana Masonic Library and Museum website is back on the air, but currently under reconstruction.  Please pardon our dust as we start to provide a quality website for the edification of Freemasons (both in Indiana and in the world at large) and of the general public.