• Franz Jozef Ponstingl (1927-2004), Seed to Seed, 1970-72. Oil on canvas. 24 x 30 inches. Collection of John Munice.


An artist with no formal training who achieved very little recognition during his lifetime, Franz Jozef Ponstingl (1927-2004) painted fantastical visions of surreal landscapes, future civilizations, and abstract networks. Born in Allentown, Pennsylvania, Ponstingl grew up on a 60-acre farm in Coopersburg. He served in the Air Force during World War II and the Korean War. Themes of war and the military pervade several of his works. Following his service, Ponstingl worked intermittently as an interior designer for the Bolling Officers’ Club and the Monocle restaurant and bar in Washington, D.C., where he painted large-scale murals. He frequently returned to the Coopersburg farm to paint, until the death of his father in 1967 forced him to sell the property and donate many of his paintings to the Salvation Army in Philadelphia. There, they were discovered by Bert Baum, a gallery owner and son of painter and educator Walter Baum (1884-1956). Bert Baum held a solo exhibition of Ponstingl’s work in 1971 at his gallery in Sellersville, Pennsylvania, introducing the artist’s work to a wider audience. In the late 1970s, Ponstingl moved to his sister’s property in Kunkletown, Pennsylvania, where he built a studio. He struggled to find success as an artist, however, and relocated to California in 1982, where he lived until his death in 2004.

Ponstingl’s extant body of work represented in this exhibition spans two decades from the 1960s until the late 1970s. Inspired by dreams, his work in the 1960s recalls the work of Salvador Dalí (1904-1989) and other Surrealist painters. In the 1970s, Ponstingl began exploring otherworldly landscapes inhabited by biomorphic, alien-looking forms. He also experimented with abstract patterning, creating a series of works that resemble circuit boards and interconnected networks. A recurring theme in his paintings are visions of abandoned, future civilizations, appearing as if discovered by intact, but uninhabited, by archaeologists. He was also preoccupied with the creation of a language of inscrutable symbols, evident in works like the monumental Tale of Bifurcations Through the Ages (1966).

Ponstingl: Dreams of Past Futures is the first solo exhibition of Ponstingl’s work at the Michener Art Museum and will include paintings and drawings from private collections, many of which have never been on public view. Featuring representative works from various stages of his artistic development, the exhibition will showcase the artist’s refined technical skill and extraordinary imagination.

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