Imitating Chromolithography for the Steam Hobby

Michigan man pours heart and soul into artwork

| August 2009

  • A Case 9-by-10 cylinder 15 hp simple traction engine painted by Dave Kemler.
    A Case 9-by-10 cylinder 15 hp simple traction engine painted by Dave Kemler.
    Don Voelker
  • A 1917 Port Huron 32-100 engine painted by Dave Kemler.
    A 1917 Port Huron 32-100 engine painted by Dave Kemler.
    Don Voelker
  • The Advance Thresher Co.’s banner boy. This tin sign dates to 1907-1910.
    The Advance Thresher Co.’s “banner boy.” This tin sign dates to 1907-1910. Dave Kemler’s collection includes an original decal used on Advance engines built prior to 1904. He also has the printer’s proof (the reverse proof from which the tin was made).
    Don Voelker
  • Dave Kemler paints scenes familiar to him: steam engines, separators and threshing scenes.
    Dave Kemler paints scenes familiar to him: steam engines, separators and threshing scenes.
    Don Voelker
  • A steam engine and threshing machine are “Balanced in the Scales of Fame” in this stone lithograph produced for the Gaar-Scott Co.
    A steam engine and threshing machine are “Balanced in the Scales of Fame” in this stone lithograph produced for the Gaar-Scott Co., Richmond, Ind., in the 1880s.
    Don Voelker
  • Playing cards printed with the Advance Thresher Co. name and logo dating to 1910.
    Playing cards printed with the Advance Thresher Co. name and logo dating to 1910.
    Don Voelker
  • A stone lithograph promotional pamphlet for the Lansing Iron & Engine Works dating to the 1880s.
    A stone lithograph promotional pamphlet for the Lansing Iron & Engine Works dating to the 1880s.
    Don Voelker
  • A 12-roll Advance corn husker dating to about 1911, painted by Dave Kemler.
    A 12-roll Advance corn husker dating to about 1911, painted by Dave Kemler.
    Don Voelker
  • A 20 hp Advance steam engine belted to a separator.
    A 20 hp Advance steam engine belted to a separator.
    Don Voelker
  • This checkerboard, a stone lithograph with illustrations of a steam engine and threshing machine on the reverse side, promoted Advance threshers and engines.
    This checkerboard, a stone lithograph with illustrations of a steam engine and threshing machine on the reverse side, promoted Advance threshers and engines. In 1885, when this piece was printed, Case & Willard Thresher Co., Battle Creek, Mich., manufactured Advance equipment. In 1886, the company name was changed to Advance Thresher Co.
    Don Voelker
  • A 1931 Rumely OilPull Model Z painted by Dave Kemler.
    A 1931 Rumely OilPull Model Z painted by Dave Kemler.
    Don Voelker
  • Circa-1910 Advance Thresher Co. stickpin.
    Circa-1910 Advance Thresher Co. stickpin.
    Don Voelker
  • Circa-1910 Advance Thresher Co. marble bag.
    Circa-1910 Advance Thresher Co. marble bag.
    Don Voelker
  • Circa-1910 Advance Thresher Co. match safes.
    Circa-1910 Advance Thresher Co. match safes.
    Don Voelker

  • A Case 9-by-10 cylinder 15 hp simple traction engine painted by Dave Kemler.
  • A 1917 Port Huron 32-100 engine painted by Dave Kemler.
  • The Advance Thresher Co.’s banner boy. This tin sign dates to 1907-1910.
  • Dave Kemler paints scenes familiar to him: steam engines, separators and threshing scenes.
  • A steam engine and threshing machine are “Balanced in the Scales of Fame” in this stone lithograph produced for the Gaar-Scott Co.
  • Playing cards printed with the Advance Thresher Co. name and logo dating to 1910.
  • A stone lithograph promotional pamphlet for the Lansing Iron & Engine Works dating to the 1880s.
  • A 12-roll Advance corn husker dating to about 1911, painted by Dave Kemler.
  • A 20 hp Advance steam engine belted to a separator.
  • This checkerboard, a stone lithograph with illustrations of a steam engine and threshing machine on the reverse side, promoted Advance threshers and engines.
  • A 1931 Rumely OilPull Model Z painted by Dave Kemler.
  • Circa-1910 Advance Thresher Co. stickpin.
  • Circa-1910 Advance Thresher Co. marble bag.
  • Circa-1910 Advance Thresher Co. match safes.

It doesn’t take an artist to appreciate the beauty of early chromolithography produced for farm equipment manufacturers.

But it does take an artist to re-create that work, and that’s where Dave Kemler excels. A collector of vintage ephemera, the Stanton, Mich., man also creates hand-painted versions of those pieces.

One of Dave’s prized possessions is a very rare, one-of-a-kind oil painting featuring the Advance Thresher Co. “banner boy” on horseback. The 4-by-6-foot painting once hung in the home of Ammi Willard Wright, Alma, Mich. Wright was president of Advance Thresher Co., Battle Creek, Mich., from 1885 to 1912. The painting would be a gem in any collection, but what Dave really hankered for were promotional pieces.

“I wanted some of those lithographs to hang on my walls,” he explains. “But the cost was prohibitive and the chance of finding them is not good, so I made my own.” The result is nearly indistinguishable from the original, complete with achingly detailed lettering and logos. It’s work Dave seems to have been born for.

Rooted in tradition

Raised in a steam engine family, he’s long been captivated by a perfect blend of interests: old iron, history and art. “I was drawing steam engines and separators by the time I was 4,” he says. “I just kept on from there and never stopped. There were no lessons; I just painted.”

In college, Dave initially majored in history. But art remained a passion, and he ended up with a degree in art education. He went on to teach art in Indiana and later in Michigan. Old iron proved an enduring theme. Dave’s work includes paintings of threshing scenes (complete with steam engines) and pinstriping projects.



Meanwhile, he built a collection of early posters, brochures and trade cards produced by stone lithography, a printing technique of the late 1800s and early 1900s, a period corresponding to the glory days of the steam traction engine. More than 100 years later, the colors are strong and vibrant, and the pieces remain very collectible.

“Years ago it was quite common for people to keep these trade cards and posters in scrapbooks,” Dave says. “I have an image of the Advance ‘banner boy’ on a horse that had been pasted in a scrapbook, and some Port Huron information that has been cut out of an original catalog.”



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