Many years ago I was contacted by Annelien van Kempen of the Netherlands inquiring about the Burrer Mill in Sunbury. She was doing research on the flour sacks used in the World War I Belgium Relief Fund. I had seen some of the flour sacks owned by Carleton and Dilly Burrer.
Burrer Mill in Sunbury
The Burrer Mill, located along North Street east from Columbus Street, was known for its white loaf flour and Red-A-Mix pancake flour. This was shipped locally and overseas. During WWI, Herbert Hoover’s Belgium War Relief needed flour, so G.J. Burrer (known as Jakie) and Sons sent white loaf flour to Europe in sturdy white linen bags. The bags were stamped with the logo for the mill in bright colors.
In Charleroi, Belgium, Alice Gugenmeim’s family had a warehouse of embroidery thread which had been used by the embroidery workers prior to the war. Because of the war, there was no material to embroider and the workers were out of business. She could find no bleach to remove the writing on the flour sacks but the fabric was good and strong. Women began enhancing the designs, which were used to cover lampshades, waste baskets, tea cozies, pillow covers and even school smocks. The items were sold on a prominent street in Brussels and yielded tens of thousands of gold-standard francs to the Belgium Relief. In appreciation, some of the school children embroidered 500 of the bags and sent them to Herbert Hoover. One of the enhanced Burrer Mill bags was put on display in the Hoover Peace Tower.
Charlotte Pagels Burrer, who married Jakie Burrer’s youngest son, Gordon, and lived in Cincinnati, embroidered a bag to make a replica. A photo of it can be seen in the Community Library.
Annelien van Kempen
Annelien van Kempen has always been interested in learning new fields of expertise, while aiming to integrate them with her previously acquired skills.
Born a farmer’s daughter in the Netherlands, she obtained a Master of Law degree then spent one year studying French in Switzerland. Her second job was as a corporate lawyer was in industrial textiles, which she really liked but she switched to the glass packaging industry and became general manager of the artisan glass blowing facility Royal Leerdam Crystal, which included managing the Dutch National Glass Museum. At the museum, she developed her passion for the preservation of cultural heritage.
Thus, van Kempen established herself as an artist and researcher. The ongoing theme in her own creative work has been the richness of the Earth, harvest of nature, and the role of women.
Symbols for this theme are sculptures like sacks/bags, materialized in textiles, paper or glass, and the concept of recycling and creative use of previously used products.
From the Netherlands
Over the years I have received van Kempen’s emails and her blogs about the bags. Then about six months ago, she said she was making a program about the Belgium Relief fund and the flour bags in her Netherlands language.
In November 2019, I got an email saying, “Dear Polly, My first article about the WWI decorated flour sacks has been published in print!
“Embroidered flour sacks in WW I: Nice souvenirs, serve well as gifts; the profits are worth talking about. The relic of a heroic people.
“25 pages with text, photos and a bibliography can be found in the September 2019 issue of Patakon, the bakery heritage magazine of the Furnes Bakery Museum.”
The article originally appeared in the Dutch language but she had translated it into English.
Roger Roberts agreed this would make an interesting program for the Big Walnut Area Historical Society, so we began negotiating.
So, through October, a link will be on our website, http:/BigWalnutHistory.org, to present our first international program via YouTube. Imagine yourself giving a program in another language!
Polly Horn is curator of the Myers Inn Museum in Sunbury.