This cherrywood rocking cradle of 1780-99 is an example of ‘Pennsylvanian Dutch’ work, made by Protestant north European communities who migrated to the American State of Pennsylvania. They were mostly from Germany and German-speaking areas. ‘Dutch’ in this case derives from ‘Deutsch’, the German word for German. Their arts and crafts were grounded in the European culture that they had grown up with and were further inspired by their new country.
This panelled cradle is rectangular with inward-sloping sides, the traditional form in Europe: British cradles at this time were straight sided. The maker of the cradle has decorated it at the head and foot with voided heart motifs. The heart is a recurrent symbol in Pennsylvanian Dutch art, where it links to a person’s religious beliefs and is a symbol of the individual. In this instance the heart motifs may also have had a practical use; the easiest way to move the cradle is to fit two fingers of each hand into the curves of the hearts before lifting it. The cradle also has a built-in safety feature. Along the outer top edge of each side are three wooden pegs: they were used in lacing the top of the cradle to keep the baby securely within.