Brienz Woodcarvers at Large Exhibitions in the World

An impressive series of Brienz carvers presented their works over two centuries at important exhibitions in Europe and overseas. An insight into a bygone era:

© Everett Collection /

1851 / World Fair London, GB

The “Great Exhibition” in London was the first world exhibition, which took place from May 1 – October 11 in Hyde Park in London and presented over 17 ‘000 exhibitors. In this illustrious setting, the reviews of the Brienz works on display were enthusiastic. The extraordinary talents of the carvers were highly praised.

Exhibiting carvers

  • Andreas Baumann; Boxes with alpine rose or rose garlands carved from a single piece of wood
  • Gebrüder Kehrli, Schwanden and J. Wirtz received medals and prize money for their articles which were exhibition objects for everyday use, such as nutcrackers, salad servers etc.
  • Johann Flück received an honorary mention for a carved table.
  • Margaretha Flück, Tochter von Johann. She was the first woman at such an exhibition with carved fruit bowls, sugar pots and cups.
  • T. Jaun, Meiringen, a group of nine chamois with hunter in maple wood.
  • Johann Mezener, Meiringen, a group of ten chamois with hunter on a hill.
  • Kaspar Michel, Brienz, a wooden chalet from the Bernese Oberland.
  • J. Schild, Brienz, carved table and a chalet.

1853/54 / World Fair New York, USA

The “Exhibition of the Industry of all Nations”. It was the first of its kind on the North American continent and was modelled on the first World’s Fair in London. It too had a Crystal Palace as its exhibition building and attracted around 1.1 million visitors. At that time, the American market was dominated by the British market. For the people of Brienz, it was the first opportunity to show their works in North America.

Exhibiting carvers

  • Andreas Baumann showed a flower vase.
  • Johann Wirtz showed a carved table, which had poor reviews because it was too impractical to use.

1862 / World Fair London GB

The Great Exhibition of London 1862 was a world’s fair held from 1 May 1862 to 1 November 1862 on the edge of the Royal Horticultural Society’s grounds in South Kensington, London, England, where museum buildings such as the Natural History Museum and the Science Museum now stand. The Great Exhibition attracted over 6 million visitors from all over the world.

The Wirth Brothers were the only exhibitors from the region. „The Art Journal“ praised the great diversity of their works.

© INTERFOTO / Alamy Stock Photo

1867 / International Exhibition of Paris, F

The “Exposition universelle d’Art et d’industrie” took place from 1 April – 3 November 1867 on the Champ de Mars. 32 countries with a total of 52,200 exhibitors took part. The exhibition area was 66.8 hectares. The innovations presented were a hydraulic lift and reinforced concrete. The woodcarving from Brienz was already known to many at this time through earlier exhibitions, from shops in London and Paris, or from visits to Switzerland. The novelty factor was no longer there, and the monotonous mediocrity and sloppiness of the works were noted very sceptically (Friedrich Salvisberg).

Only the Wirth Company received a Gold Medal in the category art (painting, drawing and sculpture).

1873 / World Fair Vienna, A

The 1873 World’s Fair was held in Vienna from May 1 to November 2, 1873. It was the fifth World’s Fair and the first in the German-speaking world. It was intended to present Austria’s renewed self-confidence after the lost wars against Piedmont/France and Prussia. 53,000 exhibitors were on site.

Brienz was represented for the first time, with 34 carvers. The Wirth brothers were not there. F. Salvisberg noted that great progress had been made since Paris with new ideas and objects. At least half of the carvers went home with medals. The Swiss works were exhibited in a Bernese Oberland chalet, which perfectly complemented the woodcarving.

Exhibiting carvers

  • Abegglen-Perrin, Iseltwald
  • Peter Althaus, Meiringen, teacher at the drawing school
  • Jakob Balmer, Meiringen
  • Baumann und Simon, Brienz
  • Fischer und Grossmann, Brienz
  • Johann Flück, Brienz. The expert F. Salvisberg emphasized the high level of the craftsmanship
  • Johann Grossmann, Ringgenberg with chairs and tables with inlays.
  • Johann Eggler und Jakob Thomann, Employees of Jakob Jäger and Co., Brienz
  • Peter Michel, Brienz
  • Peter Ruef Oberried, with flower-decorated picture frames
  • Friedrich Sterchi, Oberried
© North Wind Picture Archives / Alamy Stock Photo

1876 / Centennial Exhibition, Philadelphia PA, USA

The Centennial International Exhibition of 1876, the first official world’s fair in the USA, was organised in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the United States Declaration of Independence. The official title of the event was “International Exhibition of Arts, Manufactures and Products of the Soil and Mine”. Among the novelties presented were the Thonet chair, the sewing machine, the typewriter and the telephone. Around 10 million visitors attended the exhibition.

The 10 Brienz carvers and their works were shown in the main building, in the “Education and Science” section and not in the “Arts or Crafts” section where the other wood carvers were located. However, the winners were from Brienz: Johann Huggler won the gold medal, Johann Brandenberger received the silver medal and Johann Kienholz the bronze medal. The total proceeds from the sale were Fr. 16’150.00. An article from “The Illustrated History of the Centennial Exhibition” noted: “The wood carvers, who are so numerous in Switzerland and so famous for their skill, presented a large and attractive exhibition. The works exhibited show a high degree of patience and skill, are very varied and excellent. Miniature chalets, churches, birds and various animals, cuckoo clocks, tables, etc.”

Exhibiting carvers

  • Abplanalp J., Brienz
  • Andreas Baumann, Vater und Sohn Peter
  • Jakob Eggler, Oberdorf, Brienz
  • Johann Eggler, Brienz
  • Johann Flück, Fluhberg, Brienz
  • Germann und Eggler, Brienz
  • Johann Grossmann, Ringgenberg
© FALKENSTEINFOTO / Alamy Stock Photo

1878 / World Fair Paris, F

The 1878 World’s Fair in Paris took place between May 1 and October 31, 1878, on the Champ de Mars and Chaillot Hill, with over 52,800 exhibitors.

At this exhibition, Ernesto Roggero from Geneva, appeared for the first time and surpassed all other Swiss wood sculptors with his skills. Roggero was the only one to be mentioned positively in the press coverage. The works from Brienz were dismissed as old-fashioned and cheap.

1883 / Schweizer Landesausstellung Zürich, CH

The first Swiss National Exhibition of 1883 opened in Zurich on May 1and lasted until October 3. The occasion for the exhibition was the opening of the Gotthard railway, which took place in 1882. Originally, the exhibition was to take place in the same year but was postponed by one year. The aim of the exhibition was to demonstrate the country’s economic performance, to feature the export industry and to spread the belief in progress to strengthen national cohesion. Furthermore, compulsory education was promoted, and the first national map was presented.

Of the 39 exhibiting carvers, 17 were from the Bernese Oberland.

Exhibiting carvers

  • Johann Abplanalp, Brienz, carvings and inlays
  • Abplanalp und Sohn, Brienz, with plant-decorated frames
  • Peter Althaus, Meiringen,
  • Gebrüder Amacher, Brienzwiler
  • Gottlieb Amacher, Brienzwiler
  • Andreas Baumann, Brienz, wall decorations and boxes
  • Carl von Bergen & Co, Interlaken
  • P. Buri-Michel, Ringgenberg, a deer from walnut wood
  • Christian Fischer, Beckenried, (grandson of the founder) tables, chairs, frames and ornaments
  • Johann Flühmann-Abplanalp, Brienzwiler, fruit bowls
  • J. Grossmann-Ritschard, Ringgenberg, a carved buffet table, a table with inlay and the matching carvings and chairs.
  • Jakob Hunziker, Brienz, frames and photo albums
  • Johann Kehrli, Nessental, small smoking tables
  • Klein & Söhne, Meiringen, all kinds of carved boxes, flower vases, picture frames, small chalets and smoking tables
  • Anton Schmidiger, Brienz, jewellery boxes
  • Fridolin Schmidiger-Frutiger, Brienz, various boxes
  • Peter Stähli, Brienz
  • Jakob Thomann, Brienz, frames
  • Charles Zumbrunn, Ringgenberg
© Emilio Ereza / Alamy Stock Photo

1885 / World Fair Antwerpen, B

The 1885 World’s Fair was more of a smaller exhibition, also known as the “Wereldtentoonstelling van Antwerpen”, Belgium, between May 2 and November 2, 1885. It covered an area of 220,000 m2 and welcomed around 3.5 million visitors. Officially 25 nations participated.

It was remarkable that the newly founded Carving School Brienz received a medal for “art furniture”.

1889 / World Fair Paris, F

The Paris World’s Fair of 1889 was the tenth world’s fair. It was held from May 6 to October 31, 1889, to mark the centenary of the French Revolution, and for this reason it was politically controversial in Europe, where the majority of the population was monarchical.

Only six exhibitors took part, the disappointment of the last Paris exhibition may have been the reason. American commentators mentioned some reliefs as “very nicely done”, these reliefs were made in the woodcarving school, a sign that the school was already highly regarded in the woodcarving industry.

© Everett Collection /

1893 / 19th World Fair Chicago, USA

On May 1, 1893, the Chicago World’s Fair opened. It was to be the largest up to that date. 70,000 exhibitors from 46 nations had come to present their technical achievements, and these marked the beginning of a new era. “The entire exhibition site was electrified, electrically lit.” With this and other innovations, the USA wanted to prove 400 years after Columbus’ arrival that it had fully emancipated itself from the Old World. The exhibition attracted a crowd of 27 million visitors. In arts and crafts, this was the beginning of Art Nouveau.

The Swiss pavilion with a huge panorama of the Bernese Oberland mountains hosted 40 carvers. The Bernese Oberlanders were on their own and Brienz carving was synonymous with “Swiss Woodcarving”.

Jakob Abplanalp (teacher) carved an extraordinary bouquet of flowers for the showcase of the Woodcarving School.

A richly carved buffet by the Wirth brothers was listed at Fr. 4’000 (today approx. US $ 78’000).

© Flavius Jobin

1896 / Swiss National Exhibition Geneva, CH

An ideal world and reality. At the second national exhibition in Geneva in 1896, 2.3 million admissions were sold. Nevertheless, it ended with a high deficit. This was due not only to the long journey for many visitors, but also to the bad weather that prevailed in the summer of 1896.

For the first time, a national exhibition was supplemented by an amusement park to attract additional visitors.

The Wirth brothers were not there. Binder & Cie. distinguished itself as the new “industrial leader”, with the group “Five St. Bernards” carved by Melchior Stähli, Hofstetten, exhibited for the first time.

Exhibiting carvers

  • Binder & Cie/Melchior Stähli, five St. Bernhards
  • Johann Huggler, oversized eagles, chamois and ibexes
  • Jakob Abplanalp, a magnificent rose
  • Johann Abplanalp
  • Die Schnitzlerschule, various cases and furniture
  • Gebrüder Zumbrunn, Ringgenberg, furniture and reliefs
© Everett Collection /

1900 / World Fair Paris, F

The “Belle Epoque” reached its peak here, and “Art Nouveau” was in full bloom. The 1900 Paris World’s Fair was the fifth Paris World’s Fair. It took place from April 15  1900 to  November 12,1900, and attracted over 48 million visitors. It was one of the most successful exhibitions of its kind. 76,112 exhibitors presented themselves.

The Swiss Confederation did not want to be left out and built a real “Swiss village” and  Brienz carving was one of the highlights there. The “Brienz Room” of the Federal Parliament building was shown, which was made in the Woodcarving School under the direction of Hans Kienholz and Albert Huggler. It received a gold medal.

Further exhibitors

  • Jakob Abplanalp, Brienz
  • G. Althaus, Meiringen
  • Ed. Binder & Cie. Brienz
  • Jan Brandenberger, Brienz
  • Jacob Fuchs, Brienz
  • J. Fischer, Brienz
  • Gebrüder Huggler, Brienz
  • J. Hunziker, Brienz
  • Gebrüder Michel, Bönigen
  • Peter Michel, Bönigen
  • Ernesto Roggero, Brienz
  • Ulrich Ruef-Huggler, Brienz
  • Antoine Schmidiger, Brienz
  • Kaspar Stähli, Brienz
  • G. Wirz, Brienz
© Pictures Now / Alamy Stock Photo

1904 / World Fair St. Louis, Missouri, USA

St. Louis had a large German-speaking community, which was a special opportunity for the Swiss exhibitors. The “Louisiana Purchase Exposition” (informally also known as “The Saint Louis World’s Fair”) was a world’s fair held from April 30 to December 1, 1904, in St. Louis in the American state of Missouri. The exhibition area in Forest Park was 515 hectares. The exhibition was organised – one year late – to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, i.e., the sale of the French colony of Louisiana to the United States. The 1904 Summer Olympics were also held as part of the World’s Fair but received little attention. A total of 19.7 million people visited the exhibition.

The Swiss Chalet was a free-standing building that the exhibitors paid for themselves because the Swiss Confederation contributed nothing towards it.

The Swiss Chalet became a must-see object for the duration of the exhibition. For this purpose, a Swiss Day was even organised with many American-Swiss people. Young women in Swiss national costumes provided information about the carvings and other exhibits.

The name “Ed. Binder& Cie.” was emblazoned on the ridge of the chalet, directly under the sign “Switzerland”, as if the carving industry were synonymous with the nation.
Among the exhibitors were a number of the best-known names.

© Everett Collection /

1964/5 / New York City World’s Fair

The New York World’s Fair of 1964-1965 was a world’s fair with over 140 pavilions and 110 restaurants representing 80 nations, 24 US states and over 45 companies with the aim of using it to create “Flushing Meadows” as a building, multi-purpose and exhibition facility.  The majority of the exhibitors were of North American origin. At this exhibition, many of the visitors came into contact with the first computer systems and equipment for the first time.

Fritz Abplanalp, a woodcarver from Brienz who had lived in Honolulu since 1935, represented the Brienz woodcarvers. For the World’s Fair, he created every large, hand-carved statues of Hawaiian deities from old models, which made him famous far and wide.

Exhibiting carver

  • Fritz Abplanalp, Hawaiian figures and more

2005 / World Fair Aichi, Japan

The World Expo 2005 (Japanese: Aichi bampaku) was held at the Expo site in Nagakute municipality, east of Nagoya, and partly in Seto city. It was already the 5th exhibition on Japanese territory. The site was originally intended for the Summer Olympics. With around 22 million visitors, the results exceeded expectations. From a cultural point of view, the “Super World Orchestra” with musicians from all over the world was exceptional.

Switzerland had chosen a Swiss House for its presence, in which woodcarving played an important role. The design was supervised by the company Jobin Inc. in Brienz.

Exhibiting carvers

  • Jobin Company Inc., Brienz