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Surrealist Ponstingl exhibition opens at Michener Museum


Beginning Jan. 25, the Michener Art Museum presents the fantastical exhibition “Ponstingl: Dreams of Past Futures,” its first solo exhibition featuring the work of Franz Jozef Ponstingl (1927-2004).

While he received little recognition during his lifetime, Ponstingl is best remembered for his technical skill and keen ability to convey futuristic landscapes and whimsical patterns in his paintings. His work is reminiscent of the Surrealist movement, as he draws inspiration from dreams, like the work of Salvador Dalí (1904-1989).

A recurring theme in Ponstingl’s paintings are visions of abandoned, future civilizations that are discovered by archaeologists intact and uninhabited. The extant body of work represented in the exhibition spans two decades and provides a comprehensive understanding of the artist’s unique insight pertaining to the unconscious. “Ponstingl: Dreams of Past Futures” will be on view through June 20.

Born in Allentown, Ponstingl grew up on a 60-acre farm in Coopersburg where he first realized his artistic passion. As a young adult, he focused on farming, choosing to paint occasionally.

Ponstingl’s artistic endeavors were completely put on hold when he served in the United States Air Force during World War II and the Korean War. Although he was not working in the arts, this chapter in Ponstingl’s life had a lasting impact, as themes of war and the military pervade several of his paintings.

Following his service, Ponstingl worked intermittently as an interior designer, painting large-scale murals for the Bolling Officers’ Club and the Monocle restaurant and bar in Washington, D.C. He frequently returned to the Coopersburg farm to paint, recording his dreams in sketchbooks that would later serve to inform his paintings and help develop his surrealist style.

In 1967, Ponstingl was forced to sell the farm property after the death of his father. He donated many of his paintings to the Salvation Army in Philadelphia, where they were later discovered by Bert Baum, a gallery owner and son of the painter Walter Baum (1884-1956). In 1971, Baum hosted a solo exhibition of Ponstingl’s work at his gallery in Sellersville, introducing Ponstingl’s work to a larger audience.

In the late 1970s, Ponstingl decided to pursue the arts and devoted his life to painting. He moved to his sister’s property in Kunkletown, Pa. and built a studio. He struggled to find success as an artist and relocated to California in 1982, where he lived until his death in 2004.

The exhibition is curated by Laura Turner Igoe, Ph.D., curator of American Art. The exhibition includes paintings and drawings from private collections, many of which have never been on public view but demonstrate Ponstingl’s refined skill and extraordinary imagination.

To learn about complementing lectures and programming, visit

The Michener Art Museum is located at 138 S. Pine St., Doylestown. For information, visit or call 215-340-9800.

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