American collection of original WW I flour sacks

Mr. Scott Kraska from Massachusetts brought an interesting contribution to my flour sack research after watching the webinar “Spotlight on the famous flour sacks”.

Mr. Kraska wrote:
“Hi Annelien, I enjoyed your presentation with the Hoover Presidential Foundation. I have a collection of Belgian relief flour sacks and other material of the Commission for Relief in Belgium (CRB) that I would be glad to share with you. I have three decorated and sixteen original sacks.”

On my turn I like to share the photographs and information with the readers of my blog.

Belgian Relief Flour, Pillsbury Flour Mills Co., Minneapolis, Minnesota. “Never Forget What America Has Done For Us”, 1915, painted, embroidered. Coll. Kraska

I first asked Mr. Kraska what was the background for his inspiration to create a collection.
“I have been a historian for 40 years and have studied American military history since the age of 13. I began to focus on WW1, when I was 17.
Over the years I gained an appreciation for American volunteers in foreign service during WW1. This includes ambulance drivers with the American Field Service, Norton Harjes and other organizations, aviators with the Lafayette Flying Corps and soldiers serving with the French, British and Canadian armies, all before America joined the War officially in 1917. This led to research in a variety of other civilian service organizations, like the American Fund for French Wounded, C.A.R.D.-The American Committee for Devastated France and the CRB. I have collected and preserved a lot of their material.”

Original sacks
Mr. Kraska’s collection is the first American collection I get to know of that  includes many original flour sacks without decorations.

An important distinction made by Mr. Kraska is the distinction between original sacks with prints of the relief organizations and just printed logos and addresses of the millers:

“Some have the one side printed with a greeting presentation.

“Some have the miller/manufacturer on one side and a greeting presentation on the other.”

“Then I have a collection of standard flour sacks, plain sacks, that just have the millers/manufacturers printed logo and address, they lack the messages from donors.”

Kehlor’s Rex, Kehlor Flour Mills Co., St. Louis, Missouri (recto) – C.R.B. (verso). Coll. Kraska

“This one is interesting due to its size, as you mentioned 50 Lbs. bags are the norm. This one held a very heavy 220 pounds of flour.”

How do we know these original sacks have actually been in Belgium?

“All of mine have the Belgian/Brabant district stamp except for one.”

Decorated flour sacks

“Standard”, Goodlander Milling Co., FT. Scott, Kansas, 1915, embroidered. Coll. Kraska

“The fully embroidered owl/moon is a wall banner and was made without top fringe.”

“This one is smaller but is actually my favorite.

“Combination of paint and embroidery.”

CRB material

“These small paper tags are about 1 x 1.5 inches. I believe they were attached to decorated sacks that were sold to raise funds.”

“I believe the photo was taken in a Canadian warehouse before they were shipped overseas.”

William C. Stevenson, CRB-delegate

William C. Stevenson, CRB delegate in Namur

“I have a diary written by one of the CRB-representatives serving in Belgium. Paper was scarce, so he actually wrote much of it on CRB stationary and forms. The Diary covers June 1 to Oct. 7, 1915 and is a combination of typed pages and hand written on the back of CRB stationary from his district in Namur.”

My further research gives additional information on William C. Stevenson.

William C. Stevenson, CRB delegate

William Cooper Stevenson (ºBellevue, Allegheny Count, Pa., July 30, 1888 +Middleburg, Va., May 15, 1968) was the son of a pastor, Rev. William P. Stevenson (1860-1944) and Elizabeth Cooper Stevenson (1866-1939). Rev. Stevenson had four happy pastorates in Pennsylvania and New York; he was the pastor of Maryville College from 1917-1941.
William Stevenson was in Europe when the war broke out. He was a student at Oxford. The letters which he sent home have been published in the newspapers The Yonkers Stateman and The Yonkers Herald (Yonkers, New York).

In his letter, published on November 14, 1914 he writes: “What a changed Oxford I found when I returned from France the other day! First of all, where are the students? …. With the exception of the 97 Americans and a few whom physical infirmaties debar, the undergraduates almost to a man have responded to the Vice Chancellor’s appeal to join”. (This is the link to the full article).
No wonder Stevenson would decide in the next year to join the work of the Commission for Relief in Belgium. He served the CRB from June 1 till October 1, 1915.
In December 1915 Stevenson returned home to be engaged with his future wife Elizabeth Walker, whom he married in October 1916. They had two children: the later Mrs. Nelson Stevenson McClary of Middleburg, Va., and William W. Stevenson of Charlottesville, Va.

CRB-representatives portraits

“I also have a leather-bound portrait presentation album of all the overseas serving members of the CRB from Hoover all the way to lower echelon staff. The red book I have is shown here. About 16 of the photos have signatures, the rest are unsigned.”


“I have collected and preserved a lot of material and will be displaying these materials in a museum which I have been building. It is approx. 2700 square feet and will cover the years 1600-1975.
The museum is the white building on the right.




Thank you, Scott Kraska, for sharing the photographs and information of your unique collection. They are a valuable contribution to my research.




Belgian Painters in Texas – Moulckers Collection 4

Even more Belgian artists appear to have painted flour sacks in 1915!
In this blog you will discover fourteen works of art on flour sacks, preserved in Texas, USA, in a private collection. They are part of the Moulckers collection.

Henri MEUNIER, “River in Hilly Landscape, 1915”. Flour sack Belgian Relief Flour from The Hunter Milling Co. Wellington, Kansas, USA (recto). Private coll. USA

To my surprise, grandchildren of Captain and Mrs. Albert Moulckers contacted me because they had found my blogs on the internet. They were working on a family tree and were surprised to find the accurate family description online in one of my blogs. Thanks to the research on biographical data conducted by Hubert Bovens in Wilsele, Belgium, in recent years, the family was able to fill several gaps in their family tree.

The Moulckers couple had one son, Francis. He had three sons: Mike (1957), Mark (1959) and Max (1960). They called their grandparents Julienne Moulckers, née Feuillien, and Albert Moulckers “Juju” and “Papy”. After the death of the grandparents and their father, the art collection came into their possession.

Part of the collection of painted flour sacks, 52 pieces, had meanwhile been donated to St. Edwards University, Austin, Texas.

Fourteen artworks on flour sacks in Texas
The family sent me photos of and information on fourteen works of art on flour sacks. The paintings are by the following Belgian artists, in alphabetical order:

  1. Léon BARTHOLOMÉ (°Lille (F) 1868-04-05 +Ieper 1952-02-14)
  2. Joseph Pierre (Jef) CODRON (°Brussels 1882-01-01 +Brussels 1942-09-27)
  3. Léonard DE BUCK (°Ghent 1874-09-06 +Ghent 1954-01-07)
  4. Marie DURAND (°Saint-Croix 1866-09-01 +after 1925-10-18)
  5. Gustave FLASSCHOEN (°Molenbeek-Saint-Jean 1868-05-20 +Brussels 1940-09-03)
  6. Mary GASPAROLI (°Saint-Josse-ten-Noode 1856-08-19 +Woluwe-Saint-Lambert 1933-02-17)
  7. Edmond HAUTEKEET (°Ixelles 1869-07-23 +Knokke 1945-11-11)
  8. Emile HOETERICKX (°Brussels 1853-01-10 +Ixelles 1923-05-19)
  9. Léon HOUYOUX (°Brussels 1856-11-24 +Auderghem 1940-10-10)
  10. Amédée Ernest LYNEN (°Saint-Josse-ten-Noode 1852-06-30 +Brussels 1938-12-28)
  11. Henri MEUNIER (°Ixelles 1873-07+25 +Etterbeek 1922-09-08)
  12. Rodolphe STREBELLE (°Tournai 1880-06-22 +Uccle 1959-05-09)
  13. Jean-Francois TAELEMANS (°Brussels 1851-08-08 +Saint-Gilles 1931-03-31)
  14. Guillaume VAN STRYDONCK (°Namsos, Norway, 1861-12-10 + Saint-Gilles 1937-07-02)
Léon BARTHOLOMÉ, “Breton Interior”. Painted flour sack, 1915. Private coll. USA
Jef CODRON, “Soupe Communale Quartier No. 1”. 1915, Brussels. Painted flour sack. Private coll. USA
Léonard DE BUCK, “Young soldier salutes, 1914-1915”. Painted flour sack. Private coll. USA

Painted flour sack “The Bells of Eppeghem” – Marie Durand

Marie DURAND, “Les Cloches d’Eppeghem, 1915, Brussels”. Painted flour sack. Private coll. USA
Marie Durand was a teacher at various girl’s seondary schools in the Brussels agglomeration

Marie Durand’s painted flour sack deserves extra attention.
Marie Louise Laurence Durand worked for 22 years as a teacher at various girl’s secondary schools, the Ecoles Moyennes, in the Brussels agglomeration.
Her own education started at the “Académie des Dames” in Liège. Encouraged by Félicien Rops, Durand continued her drawing studies at the Studio Ernest Blanc Garin in Brussels*) and her training in engraving with the artist Auguste Danse. Durand preferred making portraits and drawings in red chalk.

“Les Cloches d’Eppeghem. Les Deux Amies”,  (The Bells of Eppeghem. The Two Friends), 1914 Illustré, December 1914

Les Cloches d’Eppeghem
The “Bells of Eppeghem” by Marie Durand recall the dramatic events during World War I in the Flemish Brabant town of Eppegem, now part of the municipality of Zemst. Houses were burnt to the ground, the church and the town hall were heavily damaged and civilians were killed.
The design executed on the flour sack is copied from a photo that appeared in the December edition of the magazine ‘1914-Illustré’. Félix Ardan wrote the story of the two bells of Eppegem in poetic prose: “Les Deux Amies” (the Two Friends).

Gustave FLASSCHOEN, “Guide – Belgian Cavalier  on horseback, 1915”. Painted flour sack. Private coll. USA
Mary GASPAROLI, “Bouquet of Poppies, Daisies and Cornflowers”. Painted flour sack “A.B.C.” Private coll. USA
Edmond HAUTEKEET, Bouquet of pink roses, “Remember Brussels – August 4, 1915”. Flour sack “Cascadia”, Portland Flouring Mills, Portland, Oregon, “A.B.C.” Private coll. USA
Emile HOETERICKX, “From a Grateful Belgian, 1915”. Painted flour sack. Private coll. USA
Léon HOUYOUX, “Bread Girl”, Auderghem, (Belgium). Painted flour sack, 1915. Private coll. USA
Amédée Ernest LYNEN, “In Flanders”, 1915. Painted flour sack. Private coll. USA
Henri MEUNIER, “Hill landscape with river, 1915”. Flour sack Belgian Relief Flour from The Hunter Milling Co. Wellington, Kansas, USA (verso). Private coll. USA
Rodolphe STREBELLE. “Eating by the water”. Flour sack “Cascadia”, Portland Flouring Mills, Portland, Oregon (recto). Private coll. USA
François TAELEMANS, “Water Mill”. Drawing on flour sack, 1915. Private coll. USA
Guillaume Van Strydonck, “Stock Exchange, Brussels, 1914-1915”. Painted flour sack. Private coll. USA

Edouard Feuillien art collection
Edouard Feuillien, Julienne’s father – great-grandson Mike knew him as “BooBoo” – had been managing director of the Cercle Artistique et Littéraire in Brussels. He received official permission from the Belgian Minister of Science and the Arts to export his art collection from Brussels to the United States. In total, this involved around 500 works of art. The export document is in the family archive.

Painted flour sacks from WWI were thus only a small, but for my research into WWI Decorated Flour Sacks, extremely significant part of the art collection.


Rodolphe STREBELLE. “Eating by the water”. Flour sack “Cascadia”, Portland Flouring Mills, Portland, Oregon (verso). Private coll. USA


Thanks to:
– Michael Moulckers for the photos of and information on the decorated flour sacks in the Moulckers collection;
– Hubert Bovens in Wilsele, for the biographical research on the artists.

*) Studio Ernest Blanc-Garin:
Wiertz, Wendy, From drawing manual to academy. The training of Brussels 19th-century female amateur artists pertaining to the nobility. Brussels Studies (Online), Article nr. 166, 2022

The links to my previous blogs about the painted flour sacks in the “Moulckers Collection” can be found here:

  1. Beschilderde meelzakken in de ‘Moulckers Collection’ 1 (Painted Flour Sacks in the “Moulckers Collection” 1)
  2. The Captain and Mrs. Albert Moulckers Collection 2
  3. Meelzakken van Belgische schilders in San Francisco – Moulckers Collection 3 (Flour Sacks of Belgian Painters in San Francisco – Moulckers Collection 3)

American Collections in Figures 2022

“What collections of decorated flour sacks exist in the United States? Can I represent these in figures?” I asked myself, in parallel with the inventory Belgian collections in figures 2022. “Will new insights arise when comparing the American and Belgian data?”

American flour sack = Belgian embroidered flour sack
First of all, a change of perspective seems required. The naming and framing of flour sacks in the US and Belgium is different.
What the Belgians call in Flemish: “Amerikaanse bloemzakken (American flour sacks)” or in French: “Sacs américains (American sacks)”, are known in the US as: “Belgian Relief flour sacks” or “Belgian embroidered flour sacks”.

American institutions
On my weblog page Museums there is a list of 13 American institutions [1] in nine states with an estimated 571 decorated WWI flour sacks. This is a listing with numbers kindly provided by the institutions’ staff, plus data I found online.

Flour sack “American Commission-Grateful Belgium”, lithography by Josuë Dupont, Antwerp. Coll. and photo: National WWI Museum and Memorial, Kansas City, Mo.

Two so-called “Hoover” collections stand out numerically, containing 90% of all Belgian Relief flour sacks in the US:
* 350 pieces in Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum, West Branch, Iowa (HHPL);
* 160 pieces in Hoover Institution Archives, Stanford University, Palo Alto, California (HIA)

Register of WWI Flour Sacks
In my Register of WWI Flour Sacks I have recorded 220 of these 571 decorated flour sacks in American collections; thanks to hundreds of photographs received from collectors and museum curators, I have been able to process the data of these sacks. With 40% of flour sacks registered, there is still much research to be done!

Providing an outline of the American “Belgian decorated flour sacks” collections based on these limited figures is a tricky task, but one I am venturing into to provide direction for my further research.
The comparison with the results of my research in Belgium provides a basis for a first exploration.

American public and private collections

13 public and 11 private collections collectively contain 220 flour sacks, of which 190 (86%) are in public collections and 30 (14%) are in private collections.

Flour sack table runner “Sperry Mills, American Indian”, recto “California”; embroidery “Remembrance” by Mary-Jane Durieux [2], 1914-19; American private collection
The two largest public collections are partially listed in my register: 77 flour sacks of HHPL and 52 flour sacks of HIA.

Decorated flour sacks
In the American collections, 99% of the flour sacks have been decorated. Unworked/unprocessed sacks are an unfamiliar phenomenon; American collectors are amazed at the Belgian collections of unprocessed, original WWI flour sacks.

Painting, embroidery and lace borders are the most important decorations of the flour sacks.
Of the 220 processed objects recorded, 89 flour sacks are painted, 145 sacks are embroidered, at least 15 sacks have bobbin lace or needle lace. Several sacks have undergone multiple treatments, they were first painted, then embroidered and/or fitted with lace.

Flour sack The Craig Mills, Newcastle, VA; embroidery and lace by Françoise Bastiaens, (°Brussels, 1892.07.02). Coll. HIA; photo EMcM

The origin of flour sacks
The countries of origin of the flour sacks are the United States and Canada. This information is provided by the original printing on the sacks. The indication of origin is sometimes missing, because the original print was cut away when flour sacks were transformed into tapestry, table runner, bag, etc. in Belgium; these sacks are included in the category “Unknown”.

70% of the flour sacks have the USA as their country of origin, 10% are from Canada and of 20% the origin is unknown.
That concludes the figures from my Register of WWI Flour Sacks.

Diptych flour sacks “Castle”, Canada, adaptation Ecole libre des Sœurs de Notre-Dame, Anderlecht, Brussels, 1915. Coll. HHPL; photo: Callens/Magniette

Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum Collection
HHPL’s collection list includes 350 flour sacks. What stands out numerically in this largest collection?
Counting and creating graphs provided me with new observations that I didn’t make before based on the Belgian collections: the importance of the outward and return journey.

The outward journey and the return journey of the flour sacks
In North America people are curious to know:
– by whom and from where was the sack filled with flour sent from here to Belgium?
– who in Belgium processed the emptied flour sack, who was the embroiderer, the artist, the lace maker and from where in Belgium was the flour sack sent back to the US?

The outward journey: “Belgian Relief” organizations
A rough count conducted into the origin of the HHPL flour sacks shows that approximately 200 flour sacks (55%) bear the printing of a “Belgian Relief” organization.

The shown imprints are ‘American Commission’ (100); ‘Madame Vandervelde Fund (8); ‘ABC-Flour’ (10); ‘Belgian Relief Flour’ (10); ‘Flour. Canada’s Gift’ of ‘Gift from the Motherland’ (60); Rockefeller Foundation (7); ‘War Relief Donation’ (8).

Flour sack “A.B.C. Flour- Gratitude”, 1916, embroidered in Assche (Asse), Brabant. Coll. and photo: Champaign County Historical Society Museum, Urbana, Ohio

Comparison with Belgian collections: 35% of flour sacks bear an imprint of a “Belgian Relief” organization.

The return trip: Belgian embroidered flour sacks
HHPL curator Marcus Eckhardt classifies the HHPL collection of flour sacks as “Gifted from”, among other criteria. It answers the question: “who in Belgium donated the flour sack to the Commission for Relief in Belgium or sent it back to the US?”

Names of schools and embroiderers on the flour sacks plus attached cards, the signatures of artists, all these details are listed on the collection list and are generally well preserved.
The list shows that of the total collection of 350 flour sacks, almost 200 items (57%) come from girls’ schools in Brussels.

The school of the Sœurs de Notre-Dame in Anderlecht takes the crown: 152 handicrafts made by pupils come from this school; that is 43% of the HHPL collection.

Other Brussels girls’ schools are: Ecole Moyenne-Sint Gillis, (27), Ecole Morichar (10), Ecole Professionnelle Bischoffsheim (4), Ecole Professionnelle d’Ixelles (4), Ecole Professionnelle Couvreur (4), Ecole Professionnelle Funck (2).

Flour sack “American Commission”, embroidered in Anderlecht, 1915. Coll. HHPL nr. 62.4.142; photo: EMcM

Thanks to the cooperation and assistance of many people worldwide, I was able to collect the data of hundreds of decorated Belgian Relief flour sacks preserved in the United States.
Are there more sacks kept in private collections and institutions, hidden in archives, depots, closets, attics, basements?
Further research into the American collections of “Belgian embroidered flour sacks” is needed!

Sacks are full of memories. Every sack houses a fragile and precious story.

Many thanks to:
– Marcus Eckhardt, curator of the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library-Museum, for sharing photographs, information, and providing the museum’s Flour Sack collection list.
– Georgina Kuipers, Jason Raats, Florianne van Kempen and Tamara Raats. With their expert advice and work I have created my “Register of WWI Flour Sacks”.
– Georgina Kuipers for her attentive corrections to the English translations of my blogs.


Notes on the two largest American collections of Belgian Relief flour sacks:

Stanford University, Palo Alto, Ca., Main Quad overlooking Hoover Tower where the Hoover Institution Archives are located; photo: E. McMillan, 2018

Since 1920 the archives and “memorabilia” (commemorative gifts, including the decorated flour sacks) of the Commission for Relief in Belgium (CRB) had been stored in the Hoover Institution Archives at Stanford University, Palo Alto, Ca. (HIA).

In 1962 the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum (HHPL) was established in Hoover’s hometown of West Branch, Iowa, and dedicated to the presidency of Herbert Hoover. He was the 31st President of the United States, his term ran from March 4,1929 to March 4, 1933.

Herbert Hoover Presidential Library-Museum, West Branch, Iowa, USA. Photo: online

When the Presidential Museum was created, the decision was made for some of the CRB’s archives to be transferred from HIA to West Branch. Hundreds of decorated flour sacks were part of that move. In other words, in 1962 the collection of flour sacks in the CRB archives was split into two parts: 70% came under the management of HHPL in Iowa and 30% remained at HIA in California.

Both collections continue to attract public attention to this day, thanks to HHPL’s presidential status and museum function and because of the HIA’s status as a leading institution.

[1] On my website under “Museums” the numbers of decorated flour sacks in American collections are different because I have discovered new items after writing this blog.

Detail flour sack “Sperry Mills”, verso; embroidered by Mary-Jane Durieux; American private collection

[2] The embroidery was made by Mary-Jane Durieux. It possibly concerns this young lady: Marie-Jeanne Durieux, ºBrussels 11.04.1893; her parents: mother Marie Everaerts, ºBrussels, father ‘Jean Baptiste’ Léopold Durieux, ºBrussels, furniture maker.
Thanks to Hubert Bovens for these biographical data.



Belgian Collections in Figures 2022

Four years ago, I began researching the origin of decorated flour sacks in WWI.

In the Textile Research Centre (TRC) in Leiden, the Netherlands, my fascination originated as it allowed me to discover the existence of these sacks. It led to research questions, “Where in Belgium could I view embroidered flour sacks; which museums and public collections preserve WWI flour sacks?”

The Flanders’ List of Masterpieces includes nine flour sacks, eight in public ownership (In Flanders Fields Museum collection) and one in private ownership. In 2016, the motivation for safeguarding this cultural heritage was, “This is one of the few material witnesses of food aid during World War I as there are few such embroidered flour sacks in public collections in our country.”

Many flour sacks passed through my hands: In Flanders Fields Museum, 2019. Photos: Marc Dejonckheere

By now I have tracked down hundreds of decorated flour sacks. I have held many in my hands, I photographed them and processed their details in my “Register of WWI Flour Sacks”. A year and a half ago, in the blog “Belgian Collections in Figures 2020”, I reported on 235 registered flour sacks. Now I count 310 flour sacks in the register, an increase of over 30%.

Time for an update: this blog presents the key figures of the Belgian collections as of January 2022.
Are you interested in a particular section? Then please use the links to my dozens of previous stories on decorated flour sacks for more information.

Belgian public and private collections

17 public and 25 private collections collectively contain 310 WWI flour sacks, with 196 sacks (63%) in the public collections [1] and 114 sacks (37%) in the private collections.

Bag of flour sack “Belgian Relief Flour”, 1915. Belgian private collection

Original and decorated flour sacks
Original/unprocessed flour sacks are emptied flour sacks, which remained as they were, cotton sacks with original printing of colored letters, logos, pictorial marks and stamps.

Decorated flour sacks are the emptied flour sacks that have been transformed in Belgium into cushion covers, wall ornaments, runners, pouches, bags, tea hats, aprons, dresses, jackets, or pants.

In the Belgian collections, 130 (42%) flour sacks are original/unprocessed and 180 (58%) are decorated.

The distribution of original and decorated flour sacks in the public and private collections, respectively, shows considerable differences.
In absolute numbers the distribution is as follows:

Original flour sacks
The public collections contain the largest part (87%) of the original/unprocessed flour sacks, while 13% of the original flour sacks are in private hands.

Isabella and Paul Errera. Photo: internet

A 100 original flour sacks are kept in three museums: the Royal Art & History Museum (RAHM) in Brussels preserves 54 of these flour sacks, collected during the Great War by textile expert and collector Mrs. Isabella Errera.
The WHI/Royal Army Museum has several dozen original flour sacks in its collection.
Musée de la Vie wallonne (MVW) in Liège preserves the educational series of the Welsch collection: 12 original/unprocessed and 12 decorated flour sacks with the same print in each pair.
Both RAHM and MVW seem to have consciously collected original flour sacks. Material and original printing were the reasons for preservation. Monsieur Welsch defined the printings as embroidery patterns. Madame Errera captured used materials of cotton and jute, printing techniques, colors and logo designs from overseas.

Flour sack “Yellowstone”, worked (embroidered) and original, 1915, donation Welsch. Coll. Musée de la Vie wallonne

Decorated flour sacks
46% of the decorated flour sacks are in public ownership and 54% in private ownership.
Throughout Belgium, many households have acquired and preserved one or more flour sacks as family heirlooms through grandparents or other family members. Knowledge and awareness of the history of the Belgian WWI flour sacks allows continued and increasing recognition of the country’s national heritage.

Flour sack “Sperry Mills, American Indian”, embroidered. Coll. and photo: Belgian private collection

Active private collectors visit flee markets, garage sales, thrift and brocante stores, local and online auctions through which several collectors have built up wonderful flour sack collections.
The transfer of decorated flour sacks from private owners to public collections takes place in small steps.

Young Belgian embroiderers of flour sacks in Mons. Photo collection of the Musée de la Vie wallonne

The crafts
Painting and embroidery were the main techniques used to decorate the flour sacks: 60 sacks were painted, 145 sacks were embroidered. Several sacks underwent both, they were first painted, then embroidered.

In public collections, 24% of the flour sacks are painted (by artists such as Godefroid Devreese, Armand Rassenfosse and Henri Thomas) and 76% are embroidered.

Armand Rassenfosse, Nu (Nude), 1915. Photo: Belgian private collection

In private collections, 32% of the flour sacks are painted (e.g., the painted flour sacks in Dendermonde) and 62% are embroidered.

The origin of the flour sacks

Pictorial trademark of the decorated flour sack “Portland”, Oregon, USA. Coll. and photo: Mons Memorial Museum

The countries of origin of the flour sacks are the United States and Canada. The original printing on the flour sacks provides this information.

Several decorated flour sacks lack the indication of origin because the original print was cut away in Belgium when flour sacks were transformed into wall hangings, tablecloths and table runners, bags, etc. They are included in the category “Unknown”.

Some (decorated) sacks are mistakenly labeled as “Belgian relief flour sacks”, they are not original “American” flour sacks. This is also the case for some embroideries made by Belgian prisoners of war. This is the category “Belgium”.

83% of the flour sacks have as their origin the USA, 11% are from Canada and of 3% the origin is unknown.

Thanks to the cooperation and help of many people, I was able to collect the data of 310 American/ Belgian Relief flour sacks preserved in Belgium.
I expect that hundreds more sacks will have been preserved by Belgian families. They are well hidden in cupboards, attics, cellars, sometimes forgotten…

Sacks are full of memories. Every sack houses a fragile and precious story.

Many thanks to Georgina Kuipers, Jason Raats, Florianne van Kempen and Tamara Raats. With their expert advice and work I have created my “Register of WWI Flour Sacks”.
Thanks to Georgina Kuipers for her attentive corrections to the English translations of my blogs.

[1] On my website under “Museums” the numbers of decorated flour sacks in Belgian collections are different for two reasons:
– a few publicly accessible institutions display flour sacks from private collections;
– I discovered the collection of 62 flour sacks of MAS Museum aan de Stroom in Antwerp after writing this blog.

Eight students in Saint-Gilles on American Commission flour sacks

The Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum (HHPLM) in West Branch, Iowa, USA, preserves a remarkable series of 27 decorated flour sacks made by the students of the girls’ school “Ecole Moyenne de Saint-Gilles”, Brussels.

Ecole Moyenne Saint-Gilles, Brussels, today: Athénée royal Victor Horta, seen from Place L. Morichar, 2004. Foto:

Marcus Eckhardt, curator of HHPLM, drew my attention to the class project of the school in Saint-Gilles. He wrote to me, “It appears that there are several class projects in our collections. We have several of the mostly identical projects, very obviously done by different students — some of the girls are more skilled needle workers.” It made me curious about these class projects, hence this blog was born.

Simone Sauvenée, Ecole Moyenne Saint-Gilles, 1915. Coll. HHPL; photo: Callens/Magniette
Detail flour sack. Embroiderer Suzanne Goetgebuer, Ecole Moyenne Saint-Gilles

The entire series of decorated flour sacks has been signed with the name of the school, and each student has recorded her own name. The origin of the flour sacks is the same: American Commission.

Biographical research
The girls were students, thirteen to fifteen years old, in 1915. This was revealed through Hubert Bovens’ valuable research into the girls’ biographical data.

Adrienne Vervliet, Ecole Moyenne Saint-Gilles, 1915. Coll. HHPL; photo: Callens/Magniette

Hubert motivated his special contribution to my study of the WWI decorated flour sacks as follows: “By looking up data on the people who embroidered the flour sacks (young, socially engaged women) or painted them (often well-known artists) we get to know the social entourage of these people. Often upper middle class.
I am trying to draw out their lives further, to determine their lifeline, a lifeline with a beginning and an end. Through my biographical research we have already encountered unexpected findings.”

The origins of the flour sacks AMERICAN COMMISSION
Decorated flour sacks bearing the name “American Commission” are frequent in the collections of museums and individuals worldwide.

Kittredge, Tracy B., The History of The Commission for Relief in Belgium 1914-1917, p. 50. London: Crowther & Goodman Limited, Printers.

The “American Commission for Relief in Belgium” or “American Commission” for short, was formed in London in October 1914 with American Herbert Hoover as its director. The commission’s goal was to help the suffering population in occupied Belgium with food and clothing.

“The Commission for Relief in Belgium” letterhead in December 1914. Collection State Archives in Belgium, Brussels; photo: author

Almost immediately, however, the official name of the commission was changed to “The Commission for Relief in Belgium”, abbreviated to “CRB”. According to the CRB’s letterhead in London, the American Commission for Relief in Belgium was part of the CRB. The name “American Commission” has always remained in popular speech and in American media.

“Large order: a quarter of a million dollars’ worth of flour”

The Northwestern Miller, December 2, 1914

Newspaper articles in early December 1914 reported on the purchase in Minneapolis, Minnesota, of large batches of flour by a principal intended for emergency aid to Belgium.

“Last week an order was received direct in Minneapolis for a quarter of a million dollars’ worth of flour, to be shipped as soon as possible for Belgian Relief purposes. Telegraphic instructions to purchase this amount were given to the editor of the Northwestern Miller (Mr. William Edgar (AvK)). Ability to manufacture the amount required within a definite and limited time, and to ship in solid trainloads, as well as the price, were conditions of the sale…..

The Duluth Herald, December 3, 1914

All of the flour was to be packed in 49-lb export cotton sacks, to be made and shipped on receipt of instructions as to billing, which were sent by mail.
This order is paid for from funds in possession of the buyer, reserved for emergency flour purchases… ”(The Northwestern Miller, December 2, 1914)

“The New York branch of the Belgian Relief Fund association (this should be the CRB, (AvK)) yesterday bought 50,000 barrels of flour (equaling 200,000 49 pound bags (AvK)) in Minneapolis.”
(The Duluth Herald, December 3, 1914)

Would the 49 lbs flour sacks of export quality have been imprinted with the “American Commission” stamp? Who decided to use this name on the ordered flour sacks? Pay attention to the recommendation that Madame Vandervelde made!

Addition July 16, 2022: Branding instruction AMERICAN COMMISSION
My research on May 26, 2022 at the Hoover Institution Library & Archives in Palo Alto, Ca., showed that Lindon W. Bates, as Vice-Chairman of the CRB in New York, ordered 50,000 barrels of flour fob Minneapolis on behalf of the CRB. The order was given by telegram on November 24, 1914. The instruction for the marking on the flour sacks was “two words, simply American Commission“.

Order of 50.000 barrels flour. Branding instructions “AMERICAN COMMISSION”. November 24, 1914. Archives: CRB records, box 256, HILA

How were the full sacks of flour transported?

Map: © Annelien van Kempen, 2021

The transportation went overland by train to New York and Philadelphia on the east coast of the United States. From both ports, steamships transported the loads of flour sacks to Rotterdam, The Netherlands.
At the port of Rotterdam, the cargoes of flour were transferred to barges and transported to Belgium into Brussels and other places.

Ecoles Moyennes, Saint-Gilles, Brussels, 1903; photo:

Ecole Moyenne for Girls in Saint-Gilles
On October 4, 1880, the municipality of Saint-Gilles opened two “écoles moyennes” (middle schools) one for girls, one for boys. Both schools had two preparatory classes and one secondary class. The school building was newly built and opened in April 1882 by the Saint-Gilles’ mayor in the presence of the Minister of Public Works. In 1910 the girls’ school had 651 students, it provided good education by capable teachers, had a modern building and used the appropriate didactic materials.
The Saint-Gilles school teachers will have prepared their lessons in early 1915 to work with the girls on the empty “American Commission” flour sacks.

Yvonne Van Cutsem, Ecole Moyenne Saint-Gilles, flour sack American Commission/Thanks!, embroidered, 1914-1915. Coll. HHPL; photo: Callens/Magniette

Twenty-seven decorated flour sacks
The Herbert Hoover Presidential Library-Museum preserves 27 flour sacks decorated by the “Ecole Moyenne de St-Gilles”: HHPL- inventory numbers include 62.4. 13 – 38 – 40 – 43 – 4446 – 49 – 64 – 67 – 70128 – 129 – 151 – 195 – 198 – 204 – 205 – 206 – 211 – 223 -338 – 384 – 395 – 402 – 430 – 433 – 436.

The sacks were twisted open, creating a piece of cotton cloth of approximately 60 cm height and 80 cm wide; the edges of the fabric were left unfinished.

Detail flour sack. Embroiderer Henriette Delfosse, Ecole Moyenne Saint-Gilles

On one side there are the blue letters: note that the letters are either on the left or on the right side of the cloth. Apparently, instructions were given by the teacher to work on the letters of the words AMERICAN COMMISSION as follows: the outlines embroidered with a red thread, then a white thread; within the letters, stars with a white thread.
Most of the pieces were indeed decorated this way, but a few deviate. For example, Jeanne Everaerts embroidered the outlines with a light green thread; Simone Sauvenée and Marthe Pander left the words as they were in original print.

For the other -blank- side of the flour sack, the students were given the freedom to decorate it as they wished.

I currently have photos of eight embroidered St.-Gilles flour sacks. Hubert Bovens provided the biographical data of the eight students.

Eight decorated flour sacks from Saint-Gilles

Yvonne Van Cutsem, Ecole Moyenne Saint-Gilles, flour sack American Commission / Thanks!, embroidered, 1914-1915. Coll. HHPL; photo: Callens/Magniette
Studio of Gabriel van Dievoet, (standing right), with at his side Léon Van Cutsem, Yvonne’s father, (two assistants on the left), ca. 1895. Photo: Wikimedia

Yvonne Van Cutsem (Saint-Gilles 1900.04.08 – Ixelles 1957.03.29; her father was a painter/decorator; she remained unmarried). Yvonne drew a pattern of branches, flowers, and leaves on the flour sack. Five little birds sit on the branches, one bird comes flying. She stitched the pattern with stem stitches in the colors green, red, yellow, and orange. The birds are embroidered as sparrows in grey and brown with golden beaks and legs (inv. HHPLM 62.4.44).

Henriette Delfosse, Ecole Moyenne Saint-Gilles, flour sack American Commission, embroidered, 1915. Coll. HHPL; photo: Callens/Magniette

Henriette Delfosse (Anderlecht 1900.07.09 – she remained unmarried; she was still alive when her father died in 1964. Her grandparents on her mother’s side were bootmakers, her mother was a saleswoman). Henriette embroidered four abstracted flower baskets in red, yellow, and black threads (inv. HHPLM 62.4.70).

Adrienne Vervliet, Ecole Moyenne Saint-Gilles, flour sack “American Commission/Merci!”, embroidery and sewing, 1914-1915. Coll. HHPL; photo: Callens/Magniette

Adrienne Vervliet (Schaerbeek 1900.11.16; her father was a lithographer; she remained unmarried; she worked at the main board of the National Bank of Belgium in Brussels and retired in 1960). Adrienne embroidered a garland of flowers and leaves in white threads. With needlework she created a rectangle. Within the rectangle she embroidered: “1914 merci! 1915” (inv. HHPLM 62.4.40).

Jeanne Everaerts, Ecole Moyenne Saint-Gilles, flour sack “American Commission/Thanks!”, painted, 1915. Coll. HHPL; photo: Callens/Magniette

Jeanne Everaerts (Ixelles 1900.12.29 – she graduated from the University of Brussels in 1921; she married American diplomat Archibald Edmund Gray (Cincinnati, Ohio 1900.11.16 – Hillsborough County, NH, 1981.11.02) in 1925; by September 1964 she was living in Massachusetts, USA). Jeanne painted a Belgian pennant and coat of arms with the lion, plus nine gold-toned corn stalks and the word “Thanks!” (inv. HHPLM 62.4.46).

Léonie Rochette, Ecole Moyenne Saint-Gilles, flour sack American Commission, painted, 1915. Coll. HHPL; photo: Callens/Magniette

Léonie Rochette (Brussels 1901.03.03 – she (probably) married in Brussels on March 4, 1917 to the pastry chef Armand Chaussette). Léonie painted two flags, the Belgian and American, with crossed flagpoles and a green banner (inv. HHPLM 62.4.13).

Simone Sauvenée, Ecole Moyenne Saint-Gilles, flour sack American Commission/Merci, embroidered, 1915. Coll. HHPL; photo: Callens/Magniette

Simone Sauvenée (Watermael-Boitsfort 1901.04.20 – Saint-Laurent-du-Var (F) 1995.02.02; her father was a sales representative). Simone embroidered in cross-stitch a rectangle with black lines. Inside the rectangle she embroidered “Merci” with yellow and red flowers and leaves (inv. HHPLM 62.4.206).

Suzanne Goetgebuer, Ecole Moyenne Saint-Gilles, flour sack American Commission/Merci, painted and embroidered, 1914-1915. Coll. HHPL; photo: Callens/Magniette

Suzanne Goetgebuer (Saint-Gilles 1901.05.21 – Forest 1970.02.04; her father was a designer/publisher-book dealer; she married Robert Van Cutsem, younger brother of Yvonne Van Cutsem). Suzanne painted two laurel branches with red, yellow, and black leaves, embroidered the outlines of the leaves and a bow in the Belgian colors and painted a lion in red, yellow, and black. The word “Merci” (Thanks) in ornate letters, is fully embroidered in satin stitch with red, yellow and black threads. The dates 1914-1915 are painted in red (inv. HHPLM 62.4.64).

Marthe Pander, Ecole Moyenne Saint-Gilles, flour sack American Commission/Hommage aux Etats-Unis, embroidered, 1914-1915. Coll. HHPL; photo: Instagram @lundberg_tom

Marthe Pander (Molenbeek-Saint-Jean 1902.07.19); in the family Léon Pander (Marcinelle 1874.06.05 – Woluwe-Saint-Lambert 1947.02.18) and Marie Jeanne Kersten (Molenbeek-Saint-Jean 1876.05.22 – Molenbeek-Saint-Jean 1907.06.22) there were three children, the middle one was called Marthe Fernande Victorine. Her mother died young, when Marthe was 5 years old. Father Léon Pander was a telegraph operator.
Marthe married Maurice Poulet, ingénieur commercial at Solvay (ULB); permission for their marriage was obtained in Woluwe-Saint-Lambert on May 15, 1939. On 1961.07.19 both were still alive. They lived at rue Général Lartigue 101, Woluwe-Saint-Lambert; in 1965 they had moved away.
Her flour sack is decorated from top to bottom with embroidery of swimming swans; a Belgian and American flag and the dates 1914-1915 in red, yellow, and black. A banner flutters with the text “Hommage aux Etats-Unis”. Marthe has signed her piece with the text: “Marthe Pander; Ecole Moyenne de Saint-Gilles-chez-Bruxelles; Classes préparatoires; 6e année d’études” (inv. HHPLM 62.4.128).

Gift to America

Suzanne Goetgebuer, Ecole Moyenne Saint-Gilles. Coll. HHPL; photo: Callens/Magniette

The class contribution from the Ecole Moyenne in Saint-Gilles, as a gift for the Belgian Relief, would have been sent to the United States via the American delegates of the Commission for Relief in Belgium.

Thanks to the compilation of all the items in the collection of the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum and the background information on the girls who decorated the sacks, we have gained insight into the work of a class of young students that decorated the flour sacks.


Saint-Gilles students’ contribution to today’s educational opportunities
The Consulate General of Belgium in New York shared this blog on social media. The consulate drawes a connection between the flour sacks decorated at school for charity and the Belgian American Educational Foundation Inc (BAEF). The BAEF provides scholarships for Belgian students to study in the USA, and for American students to study in Belgium; the fund was created in 1920 from the financial surpluses of the charitable contributions to the Commission for Relief in Belgium.

“𝑴𝒂𝒌𝒊𝒏𝒈 𝒂 𝒗𝒊𝒓𝒕𝒖𝒆 (𝒂𝒏𝒅 𝒆𝒅𝒖𝒄𝒂𝒕𝒊𝒐𝒏) 𝒐𝒖𝒕 𝒐𝒇 𝒏𝒆𝒄𝒆𝒔𝒔𝒊𝒕𝒚
These flour sacks on display at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum in West Branch, IA were decorated by Belgian school girls at the “Ecole Moyenne de Saint-Gilles” in Brussels in 1915. The girls decorated these sacks as a means of saying thank you to the Commission for Relief in Belgium (CRB), an organization that provided food relief to Belgium during WWI.

When the first World War ended, the CRB had a leftover budget. As CRB Chairman, Herbert Hoover, who later became the 31st President of the United States, agreed with the Belgian government the money was to be used for educational purposes. And that’s how the Belgian American Educational Foundation Inc. (BAEF) was born. Today, the BAEF gives grants for Belgian students to study in the US and American students to study in Belgium. Since its inception in 1920, the organization has helped almost 5000 Belgian students to study at top universities in the US” (Consulate General of Belgium in New York, post Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, December 17, 2021).

Early crowdfunding: through their work the Saint-Gilles’ students of 1915 contributed to the educational opportunities of today!



Henriette Delfosse, Ecole Moyenne Saint-Gilles. Coll. HHPL; photo: Callens/Magniette

Many thanks to:
– Hubert Bovens for his research into biographical data. I respect his work. He usually manages to solve huge and complicated puzzles in record time.

– Marcus Eckhardt; in October 2019 he showed seven decorated flour sacks of the Saint-Gilles class project to three Belgian visitors in the HHPL-Research Room: Hilda, the wife of Paul Callens, son Mauro and daughter-in-law Audrey Magniette from Tielt.

– Audrey Magniette and Mauro Callens; they sent me the photographs of seven of the eight Saint-Gilles’ decorated flour sacks with the students’ signatures.

– Tom Lundberg; he took the photo of Marthe Pander’s flour sack and posted it on Instagram.

– Evelyn McMillan; she succeeded to get digital access to The Northwestern Miller Fall 1914 editions (Minneapolis).

– Georgina Kuipers for her attentive corrections to the English translations of my blogs.


The watercolored comic on an Idaho flour sack in Liège

Nelly Sasserath, a student at the Ecole Moyenne Professionnelle in Liège, painted and embroidered an Idaho flour sack to transform it into a tablecloth.
In this blog, I will tell the impressive life story of Nelly and her family.

Nelly Sasserath, tablecloth made from flour sack “Record Flour”, Farmers Elev. & Milling Co., Rexburg, Idaho, painted, embroidered, lace, 1915. Coll. MVW
Nelly Sasserath, tablecloth made from flour sack “Record Flour”, 1915. Coll. MVW no. 5058638

I saw the tablecloth in the collection of Musée de la Vie Wallonne in Liège (MVW); it was part of the donation from the Welsch family.
Please see my blog Musée de la Vie wallonne’s Educational Collection, Liège.

Together with Nadine de Rassenfosse, in charge of the museum depot, I admired the fine watercolor drawings, set in a carousel on the cotton canvas.

Original flour sack “Record Flour”, Farmers Elev. & Milling Co., Rexburg, Idaho, 1915. Coll. MVW

The flour sack “Record Flour” originated in Rexburg, Idaho at the Farmers Elev. & Milling Co.; presumably it arrived in Liège with American food relief in late April, early May 1915. After the sacks of flour were emptied at the bakeries, a series of sacks were transferred to the Ecole Moyenne.

Nelly chose to cut a square from the flour sack with the print as the center. In the four corners she painted a watercolor.

In a comic strip of four paintings, she tells her story about the food relief:

– In the field: two farmers plow their field, one farmer guides the draft horse, the other leads the plow; they will sow the field with wheat, after the harvest the wheat will go to the mill.



– In the field: a woman readies her donkey; the miller makes a deep bend to load a sack of flour on the animal’s back.



– In the bakery: the ovens are burning, the baker’s wife is kneading the dough in a trough, the baker -with bare torso- chases away three startled black mice with his peel.


– In front of the house: a girl bites into her sandwich, another child is being handed a sandwich by her mother, while their cat looks on expectantly!




When the watercolors had been finished, Nelly added the embroidery: she embroidered the brand name Record and the circle of the logo in the Belgian colors red, yellow, black.




Finally, she added a lace decorative border at the edges of the cloth. The total size is 20 by 19 inches (52 by 50 cm).




Painting and drawing class Ecole Moyenne Professionnelle, Liège, February 1915. At this school, many students and classes worked on decorating empty flour sacks. Photo: coll. HHPLM

Alfred Sasserath
Nelly’s father was Alfred Sasserath (ºLiège 1869.05.19 – +Wilrijk 1945.04.11). He was the youngest in a family of five children: Salomon (º1860), Rosalie (º1861), Charles (º1864†), Maurice (º1866) and Alfred.

La Meuse, October 11, 1890

As a very young, hard-working dentist in Liege, Alfred regularly advertised his practice in the newspaper La Meuse. Already at the age of twenty he began doing so, established as “M. Alfred Sasserath, chirurgien-dentiste, Quai d’Université 7 in Liège”. On October 11, 1890, he “informed his venerable clients that he had returned from vacation and resumed his practice!

La Meuse, April 25, 1891

A few months later, he warned the public against the misuse of his name, by people who pretended to be dentists without proper schooling.

Les Degrés de St.-Pierre, Liège, where Alfred Sasserath practiced dentistry. Postcard, circa 1911; website:
La Meuse, May 2, 1892

By May 2, 1892, he had established his practice at Place Saint-Pierre no. 2 in Liège, near the Palace.


“Dentistry”, La Meuse, October 8, 1902

In 1902, his practice was located at no. 6. The newspaper La Meuse praised his dentistry.






Betty Dürhenheimer
Nelly’s mother was Betty Dührenheimer (ºNeidenstein, Germany 1869.06.20 – +Liège 1910.11.21). Betty and Alfred probably married in Germany. They had two daughters: Nelly Henriette (ºLiège 1897.10.08) and Lucienne Berthe (ºLiège 1902.04.01).

There was a great sense of grief when Mother Betty died at the age of 41; Nelly was only thirteen years old, Lucienne was eight.

La Meuse, November 23, 1910

“Madame Sasserath was a charming young woman, she was gifted, with the best qualities of heart and mind. She will be greatly missed by all who knew her”. (La Meuse, November 23, 1910)

La Meuse, April 16, 1912

In April 1912, Grandpa Dührenheimer (+Liège 1912.04.14), Betty’s father, died.



Louise Van Hamberg
Alfred Sasserath remarried a year later to Louise Van Hamberg in Antwerp. The ties to Antwerp were present through Alfred’s brother Maurice Moritz (ºLiège 1866.10.25 – +Antwerp 1913.06.08), he had settled in Antwerp as a dentist; his children were daughters Yvonne (ºAntwerp 1901.02.06 – +Auschwitz 1942.09.04) and Reine (ºAntwerp 1903.07.18) and son Ernest (ºAntwerp 1904.09.10), thus peers of Nelly and Lucienne.

Alfred’s second wife was Louise Ludovica Charlotta Van Hamberg (ºAntwerp 1874.07.05 – +Liège 1925.07.13). Louise was the eldest in a family of six children; she had three sisters Charlotta (º1876), Rosalia (º1877), Marianne (º1880) and two brothers Maurice (º1879) and the Benjamin of the family, Louis (º1889). The Van Hamberg family was originally from Amsterdam. Grandfather Mozes Van Hamberg was based there as a leather merchant.

The marriage took place on 1913.06.24 in Berchem.
The celebration had a tinge of grief: Alfred’s brother Maurice had died a few days earlier at the age of 46.
Nelly was 15 years old and would have been a pupil at the Ecole Moyenne in Liège. A year later, war broke out; on August 4, 1914, Liège was in the middle of the firing line.

Food relief, watercolored comic by Nelly Sasserath on Idaho flour sack, 1915. Coll. MVW

Nelly Sasserath
The arrival of Louise, her stepmother, in Liège and the contacts with the Van Hamberg family in Antwerp must have meant a lot to Nelly and her sister Lucienne. This I infer from the choice of Nelly’s marriage partner.

Charitable donation of 110 francs for war invalids at the wedding of Nelly Sasserath and Louis Van Hamberg. La Meuse, January 21, 1920

She married Louis Benjamin Van Hamberg (ºAntwerp 1889.09.26 – +Antwerp 1931.01.27), Louise’s youngest brother, over a year after the Armistice; he had been a war volunteer. The marriage took place on January 15, 1920, in Liège.

Markgravelei 140, Antwerp, current situation streetview Google Maps

Together they had three children: daughters Betty Hélène Louise (ºBerchem 1921.08.20), Claudine Claire Nelly (ºBerchem 1923.06.26) and son Lucien Alfred Isidor (ºAntwerp 1925.04.04). Nelly’s family Van Hamberg lived at the address Markgravelei 140, Antwerp.

A few months after Lucien’s birth the family again bore witness to great sadness: Louise, Nelly’s stepmother, sister of Louis and second wife of Alfred Sasserath, died, a week after her 51st birthday.

Lucienne Sasserath
Lucienne Sasserath followed her sister to Antwerp. She married the engineer Alexander Stein (ºBogopole, Russia 1892.10.01) in Liège in 1924. They had two children: daughter Jeanine-Betty-Tatiana (ºAntwerp 1925.07.05) and son Robert-Joseph-Alfred (ºAntwerp 1929.03.31).
Jeanine was thus born in Antwerp on the birthday of her step-grandmother Louise, a week before she was to die in Liège. Robert was born a day before his mother’s birthday, turning 27. Lucienne’s Stein family lived at 297 Lange Leemstraat in Antwerp.

Nelly Van Hamberg-Sasserath

De Nieuwe Gazet, January 30, 1931

Fate struck once more. After a short illness, Nelly’s husband Louis Van Hamberg died. He was 41 years old and was buried in the family plot at Schoonselhof Cemetery in Antwerp. Nelly was left behind, widowed with her daughters aged nine and seven and her son aged five.

Charlottalei 34, Antwerp, current situation streetview Google Maps

She remarried in Antwerp in May 1936 to Edouard Frenkel (ºTilburg, NL, 1894.05.31; he was a sales representative. (Betty’s Swiss pen pal (see below) described him: “Ihr Vater war ein angesehener Geschäftsmann im Schiffsbau auf den Werften der Hafenstadt”. (“Her father was a respected shipbuilding businessman in the port city’s shipyards” )).

Nelly’s family Frenkel-Van Hamberg lived at 34 Charlottalei in Antwerp.

Daughter Claudine attended the school Athenée Communale pour Jeunes Filles as a teenager. In 1939 she made a school trip to Liège and the newly opened Albert Canal. In the photo book of Henny Moëd, a former classmate, she is in the group photo at the bottom right.

Claudine Van Hamberg on a school trip, 1939; photo book “Just a Jewish Girl. A Pictorial Family Album of Pre-World War II”. Antwerp, Belgium by Henny Moëd, p. 24; (

Sas-Frenel Family
After the outbreak of the Second World War, the threat of deportation became ever greater for Jewish families. Nelly’s family went into hiding; perhaps her father Alfred went with them.

They took refuge in Château de Bassines near Méan in the late summer of 1942. The estate was home to the Ecole Nouvelle des Ardennes, a boarding school where Lucien Van Hamberg would be educated.

Betty and Claudine were 21 and 19 years old, they may have helped teaching the youngest at school.

Château de Bassines near Méan (

Nico Hamme, a Dutch Jewish boy, also spent a year, from September 1942 to October 15, 1943, at the boarding school:
“At our boarding school there were boys and girls, from 5 to 18 years old, in a primary and a kind of secondary school. In total there were about 60 people: pupils, teachers, and other staff. The school was in a sort of Renaissance-style palace called “Château de Bassines”. It was located amidst vast forests, near the village of Méan, in the region of “Condroz”.
The director of the school was Eugène Cougnet. Château de Bassines offered a hospitable home to the persecuted since the beginning of the war. It housed 40 Jewish people in hiding. Of the remaining 20, some also had to hide; either they were in the resistance, or they had to go to Germany to work, etc.
People who had the money paid, others did not. The adults made themselves useful by working. They became teachers, cooks, bakers, or tilled the vegetable garden. The baker, for example, was an economist from Austria, [1] and by the way, he baked delicious bread. There was plenty of food; the school was in an agricultural area near a large farm. The atmosphere was pleasant, the education excellent and the surroundings beautiful. I think back to those days with pleasure.” (

Cougnet Family
The school was run by founder and director Eugène Cougnet (ºLedeberg 1891.01.16 – +Nordhausen/Bergen-Belsen, March 1945). Cougnet married Joséphine Fouarge (ºRocourt 1890.08.22 – +Kalmthout 1935.02.10) in 1915. They had three sons, Pierre (ºRocourt 1917.12.18 – +Libramont 2009.09.22), André (ºLiège 192 1 – 1997, see below) and Jean-Pierre (ºGhent 1927.01.07 – +Liège 2007.01.18) [2].

“Eugène Cougnet was an educator and a teacher who devoted his entire life, not only to young people but to anyone in difficulty who called on him. This was especially the case during the occupation.” [3] (

Inquiries of the City of Antwerp about registration in the Register of Jews of Lucien Van Hamberg. Letter November 16, 1942; photo from: André Dessaint, Glanages a Méan

The threat of discovery was constant. The Registry Office of the City of Antwerp inquired about Lucien Van Hamberg on November 16, 1942, with the Mayor of Méan concerning his registration card of the Jewish Register. However, the municipality of Méan did not cooperate with such inquiries.

The art teacher at the school was Klaus Grünewald [4] (pseudonym Maurice Torfs). He made sketches of the castle’s daily life.

Listening to Radio London in Château de Bassines (

Nico Hamme noted on this drawing:
“An animated conversation in the large salon. One sees the antique-style chairs, the paintings, and the high windows. The people are easy to recognize, on the sofa from left to right Mr. Cougnet, Mrs. Van Liefferinge, Mr. Sas (real name Sasserath?). On the seats from left to right Mr. Brancard (correct name Brancart), teacher of classical languages, Mr. Frenel (real name Frenkel) from Rotterdam and Mr. Pappy (correct name Georges Papy), teacher of mathematics. Mrs. Frenel, (not in this photo) was called Von Hamburg (real name Van Hamberg) and was a widow but Mr. Frenel was now her husband or partner. She had a son, Lucien, and two daughters. The entire Frenel family was deported to Auschwitz.”

Conversation in the salon at Château de Bassines (

The people in hiding at Château de Bassines were betrayed.
On Monday October 25, 1943, the gardes wallonnes surrounded the castle. German soldiers invaded and interrogated everyone present. Every person they could identify as Jewish was captured and taken away in trucks.
Nelly’s family disappeared.

In the Belgisch Staatsblad/Moniteur belge under no. 16735 on July 15, 1949, the judicial declaration of death appeared for seven people, presumed dead at Auschwitz on January 17, 1944, resp. presumed dead at Monowitz in early January 1945:
Stein, Alexander, 51 years old
Sasserath, Lucienne-Berthe, 41 years old
Stein, Jeanine, 18 years old
Stein, Robert, 14 years old
Frenkel, Edouard, 49 years old
Sasserath Nelly-Henriette, 46 years old
Van Hamberg, Lucien, 19 years old.

Belgisch Staatsblad/Moniteur belge, July 15, 1949

 The archivist of Dossin Barracks in Malines explains what happened:
“Nelly was registered with her second husband Edouard Frenkel and her three children from her first marriage – Betti Van Hamberg (°1921/08/20, Antwerp), Claudine Van Hamberg (°1926/06/26, Antwerp) and Lucien Van Hamberg (°1925/04/04) – at the Dossin Barracks on November 17, 1943. For some time, they had been living in hiding under the name of Freney at the Château Bassines in Méan. During a raid on the castle on October 25, 1943, the Jews hiding there were arrested. They were held in the citadel of Huy and the prison of Liège before being taken to the Dossin Barracks in Malines. The real names of Nelly and the children were added to the deportation list of Transport XXIII under numbers 504 to 507. An application was made to the Secretariat of Queen Elisabeth to obtain a release of the family, but without result. The train left the Dossin Barracks on January 15, 1944 and arrived at Auschwitz-Birkenau on January 17, 1944. What exactly happened to Nelly and Edouard is not known to us. Son Lucien was selected as a laborer. The number 172335 was tattooed on his arm. However, he did not survive. Daughters Betti and Claudine were selected as laborers. They survived Auschwitz; they returned to Belgium.” (email message Dorien Styven, Dossin Barracks, Malines, Belgium, October 2021)

Nelly Henriette Frenkel, born Sasserath is listed in the virtual monument “Gerechte der Pflege” (Righteous of Care) (

Nelly Henriette Frenkel, born Sasserath, is listed in the virtual monument Gerechte der Pflege (Righteous of Care).  I infer from this that she was a nurse.

The family of Lucienne Stein, née Sasserath
The Dossin Barracks tell the story of the deportation of Lucienne Stein-Sasserath, her husband Alexander Stein and their children. A new owner of their house at 297 Lange Leemstraat in Antwerp, discovered a hidden container including 26 documents underneath the floor in 2013.

Portrait Lucienne Berthe Stein-Sasserath, sister of Nelly. The Image Bank of Dossin Barracks contains more than 20,000 portraits of deportees; there are no photos of Nelly Sasserath and her family, their names are listed on the transport lists; website:

“Alexandre Stein was born in Elizabethgrad (suburb Bogopol, Russia) in 1892. He migrated to Belgium in 1910 to study at the university of Liège (Lüttich) to become an engineer. In 1914, Alexandre, as a Russian citizen, served as a paramedic with a Belgian ambulance. He then joined a German ambulance crew, supposedly to spy for the allies, and was subsequently arrested by the German military. Alexandre Stein was sent to Chartreuse and was later on deported to the internment camp in Munster (Germany). In 1920 he was able to return to Belgium from Wolfenbüttel. Belgian immigration authorities distrusted him due to his reputation as a Bolshevik adept in Liège (Lüttich) before the First World War. When presenting himself at the immigration authorities in April 1920, Alexandre Stein was arrested for illegally crossing the Belgian border. In May 1920 he was allowed to settle in Belgium again, where he finished his engineering studies.

Lange Leemstraat 297, Antwerp, actual situation streetview Google Maps

He married the Belgian national Lucienne Berthe Sasserath in Liège (Lüttich) in 1924. The couple moved to Antwerp where their first child, Jeannine Betty Tatiana Stein, was born in 1925. In 1927, Alexandre Stein himself became a Belgian citizen. A son, Robert Joseph Albert Stein, was born in Antwerp in 1929. From 1930, the Stein family lived at Lange Leemstraat 297 in Antwerp. Alexandre Stein, his wife and both children were arrested there in the night of 3 on 4 September 1943 when the Nazis organized Aktion Iltis, arresting hundreds of Jews whose Belgian nationality had protected them until then. The complete family was deported via transport XXII B from the Dossin barracks on 20 September 1943. None of the family members survived.

Archival: 26 documents were discovered in 2013 in a tube hidden beneath a double floor in the attic of the former Stein family home at Lange Leemstraat 297, Antwerp, by the current owner Ann Verhaert.”(

Betty and Claudine Van Hamberg
Betty and Claudine’s experiences in captivity were recorded by Betty’s Swiss pen pal, Ellen Keckeis-Tobler of Küsnacht, Zürich, Switzerland. Betty and Ellen wrote each other letters in the French language since 1937. In 1938 Betty came to Küsnacht on holidays, it was a carefree time. With the outbreak of war, the correspondence was disrupted, and Ellen no longer received replies to her letters.

Ellen Keckeis-Tobler, “Meine Freundin Betty aus Antwerpen (My friend Betty from Antwerp)” in: Küesnachter-Jahrheft, 1996, p. 86 (

Until 1945, when Betty wrote a letter that she and her entire family had been deported to the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland. The parents and grandparents were separated from the children and murdered in the gas chambers. Betty, Claudine, and Lucien were employed as young workers. Betty and Claudine worked over 12 hours a day in a German weapons factory but managed to hold out. Lucien had to work in Monowitz until he died of pneumonia and malnutrition.

Ellen Keckeis-Tobler, “Meine Freundin Betty aus Antwerpen” in: Küesnachter-Jahrheft, 1996, p. 87 (

Betty and Claudine visited Küsnacht shortly after the war. They told their stories; they showed the number branded into their forearms. Betty had become thin and pale. Betty spoke most about the horror of the journey home on foot from Auschwitz to Antwerp. “Once again, the sisters had to experience the horrors of men. For the victorious Russian army, which had conquered the area from Poland to far in East Germany, also behaved shamelessly! The Soviet soldiers “plucked” young and old women from the streets wherever they could be found. Despite their emaciated bodies and dirty clothes, they took Betty and Claudine by force and raped them in the open. . . Thank God, without consequence, Betty said. For after so much hunger and effort, the girls’ menstruation had long since been disrupted or stopped. Their weak bodies had become infertile.
So, the girls decided to hide and sleep in haystacks during the day and walk further west at night. Far from civilization, they found peasant women, without husbands or sons, taking care of the fields and their remaining livestock. They were kind to the two girls and, when food was available, gave them the meals they needed to survive. Thank God it was summer after the war ended in May 1945; therefore, they did not have to freeze to death.” (

Ellen concludes with the marriages of her friends: “Betty hat in Belgien ihren christlichen Jugendfreund wieder gefunden. Die beiden haben geheiratet und wurden Eltern von zwei gesunden Kindern. Auch Claudine hat eine Familie. Sie haben gelernt, vorwärts zu schauen. Ihre Lagernummern an den Armen haben sie nach einiger Zeit wegoperieren lassen.”
(“Betty found her Christian childhood friend in Belgium. The two married and had two healthy children. Claudine also has a family. They have learned to look ahead. They had their camp numbers on their arms removed after some time.”) (

Photo of André Cougnet at Château de Bassines, circa 1942 (

It was during their year in hiding at Château de Bassines that the sisters met their future life partners.

Claudine married André Auguste Paul Jozef (Pous) Cougnet (ºLiege 1921.02.23 – +1997.02.27), the second son of Eugène Cougnet.




Raoul Brancart, a teacher of classical languages at the Ecole Nouvelle d’Ardennes in Château de Bassines, became Betty’s husband after the war (

The legacy of Nelly Sasserath
Betty married Raoul Eugène Aurélien Ghislain Brancart (ºBraine-le-Comte 1921.01.15). He was a teacher of classical languages in Bassines and a contemporary of Betty. They had two daughters.

These daughters also married and had daughters.
“We had no idea that our (great) grandmother was an artist! Mother spoke of her as a wonderful woman and a very talented singer, but she probably knew nothing about these flour sacks. It was a shock to become aware of so many aspects of Nelly”.

Nelly Sasserath’s signature to her watercolored comic strip, 1915. Coll. MVW; photo: author

Thus, Nelly Sasserath stands in the lineage of generations of women.
Her decorated flour sack invited us to find out and document her life story. So that our daughters, granddaughters, and great-granddaughters will know the origin of this special flour sack and know the impressive life story of the Liège student Nelly Sasserath, who as a seventeen-year-old drew the comic strip in watercolor at the Idaho flour sack.

Nelly Sasserath, back of flour sack tablecloth “Record Flour”, painted, embroidered, lace, 1915. Coll. MVW


Many thanks:
– Hubert Bovens in Wilsele, Belgium, for the searches of biographical data, and his extensive search for many of my sources. Sharing the sad life story of Nelly Sasserath has deeply affected both of us.
Please note that new questions continue to arise. For example, we did not find a photo of Nelly Sasserath, nor photos of her family(s). If we find more information, it will be added to this blog.
– Dorien Styven, Dossin Barracks, Malines, Belgium, for her information on the Sasserath/Van Hamberg/Stein family;
– André Dessaint in Méan, Belgium, for his information on Château de Bassines;
– Nadine de Rassenfosse, Musée de la Vie Wallonne in Liège, Belgium, for showing the museum’s flour sack collection.
– Georgina Kuipers for her attentive corrections to the English translations of my blogs.

[1] The economist from Austria was Kurt Pick. The story of his life in WWII is described in Jennifer Henderson’s book, Against All Odds: the Story of Kurt Pick, London, Radcliffe Press, 1998.

[2] We did not find descendants of Eugene Cougnet’s sons.

[3] Quote from George Liefferinge in letter January 7, 1982, to Yad Vashem, for a recognition as Righteous Among the Nations for Eugene Cougnet.

[4] Drawings and paintings by the artist Klaus Grünewald are preserved in the collection of the Jewish Museum of Belgium, Brussels.
His sister Margot Grünewald, later married to Massey, also stayed at Château de Bassines; she published the book Spring into Winter: A Novel, Ann Arbor, MI: Wyman House Publications, 1994, about her life in WWII.

Dessaint, André, Glanages a Méan. Histoire(s) d’un village condrusien. Troisième partie. Special 1940-1945. Méan: 2019.

Hamme, Nico, website: Un Hollandais, caché en Belgique (A Dutchman, hidden in Belgium). 1995/2008. ( consulted in December 2021. This website is not available anymore in March 2022.
George Liefferinge provided the images of drawings by Klaus Grünewald for the website; he sent photos to Nico Hamme. There is said to be a small book of all the Bassines sketches by Klaus Grünewald in the Jewish Museum of Belgium in Brussels. When asked, the curator of the museum informed me on 2021.12.16 that unfortunately he cannot find any trace of the book of drawings. Hopefully the book will be found.

Pauwels, Ivo, Huts, Karine, Wat mijn kleinzoon weten moet. Hoe een joodse jongen onderdook in België (What my grandson needs to know. How a Jewish boy went into hiding in Belgium) (1939-1945). Tielt, Belgium, Uitgeverij Lannoo, 2017. This romanticized chronicle tells the colored life story of the Jewish boy Georges Kluger from Austria including his experiences at Château de Bassines.

Brouwers, Fred, De Koninginnewedstrijd. Gesprekken met 18 Elisabethlaureaten (The Queen’s Competition. Conversations with 18 Elisabeth laureates). BRT, 1987.

Keckeis-Tobler, Ellen, Meine Freundin Betty aus Antwerpen in: Küesnachter-Jahrheft, 1996 (website:, consulted in December 2021)

Moëd, Henny, Just a Jewish Girl. A Pictoral Family Album of Pre-World War II. Antwerp, Belgium. Los Angeles, California: Jans Custom Photobooks, 2011. (website:, consulted in December 2021)

Musée de la Vie wallonne’s Educational Collection, Liège

In early September 2021 I was finally able to go on another Flour Sack Trip to Belgium! I visited the city of Liège where I studied more than thirty decorated flour sacks at Musée de la Vie wallonne. I enjoyed speaking to the museum staff and visiting the depot, so I could photograph the flour sack embroideries in detail. Musée de la Vie wallonne (MVW) preserves an interesting collection of decorated flour sacks. An important donor, as early as 1919, was the Welsch family.

Welsch family[1]
Ernest Welsch, married to Marie Anne Dupont, worked as an education inspector. Their son Paul, married to Elise Sauvage, also worked in education.

Painting class at the Ecole Moyenne Professionnelle, Liège, Feb. 1915. Photo: coll. HHPLM

Ernest and Marie Anne Welsch-Dupont and/or their son and daughter-in-law collected 24 flour sacks of great educational value: a class project of twelve original flour sacks, and -of the same origin- twelve decorated flour sacks.

Ecole Moyenne Professionnelle

Thérèse Foidart was 17 years old when she painted and worked on her flour sack. Coll. MVW; photo: author

Pupils of the girls’ school Ecole Moyenne Professionnelle in Liège have decorated the flour sacks in 1915. Three of these flour sacks have been signed by the student who decorated them: Nelly Sasserath, Lucy Jossa, Thérèse Foidart, and the name of the school Ecole Moyenne de Liège. The girls were advanced students, at sixteen and seventeen years old.

Students of the Ecole Moyenne are taught in a room full of patriotic decorations, February 1915. Photo: coll. HHPLM

The origins of the twelve flour sacks

Twelve places in the United States where the flour sacks in the Welsch collection originated in late 1914/early 1915. Map: © Annelien van Kempen, 2021

Where did the twelve flour sacks originally come from?

  State in USA
Place Milling Co.
1 Idaho Preston Preston Milling Co Cream of the Valley
2 Rexburg Farmers Elev. & Milling Co. Record
3 St. Anthony St. Anthony Milling & Elevator Co. Yellowstone
4 Kansas Pawnee County Keystone Milling Co. Keystone
5 Peabody Moffet &Co. Pride of Peabody
6 Wichita Kansas Milling Co. Silk Floss
7 Hillsboro Ebel Bros White Lilly
8 Hillsboro Ebel Bros White Lilly
9 North Dakota Valley City Russell-Miller Milling Co. Producer
10 Ohio Columbus The Gwinn Milling Co. Square Deal
11 Oregon Portland St. Jobes Milling Co. Portland
12 Washington Tacoma Tacoma Grain Co. Millers Balloon

How were the full sacks of flour transported?

Map: © Annelien van Kempen, 2021

The transportation went overland by train to ports on the east or west coast of the United States. From the ports, steamships transported the loads of flour sacks to Rotterdam, The Netherlands.

The Oregon Daily Journal, January 10, 1915

East Coast:
– SS Hannah: the sacks of flour from Kansas (New York d. Jan. 5 – Rotterdam a. Jan. 27, 1915)
– SS South Point: the sacks of flour from North Dakota (Philadelphia d. Feb. 11 – Rotterdam a. Feb. 27, 1915)
– SS Naneric: the sacks or flour from Ohio (New York d. March 27- Rotterdam a. April 20, 1915)

West Coast:
– SS Washington: the sacks of flour from Idaho, Oregon and Washington (Seattle v. Jan 29 – Rotterdam a. March 30, 1915)

© Annelien van Kempen, 2021

In Rotterdam, the sacks of flour were transshipped into barges and transported to Liège via the Meuse River (period January-April 1915).

The Welsch donation in 1919
In 1919 the Welsch family donated twelve original flour sacks and -of the same origin- twelve decorated flour sacks to Musée de la Vie wallonne.
Here are my photos per set with original and decorated flour sacks.

1 Cream of the Valley, tablecloth; painted, embroidered, trim along the edge with band and fringe.

2 Record, tablecloth; painted, embroidered, edged with needle lace and fringe.

Nelly Sasserath, 17 years old, Coll. MVW; photo: author

Signed with the name: Nelly Sasserath (ºLiège 1897.10.08 – +Auschwitz, Poland 1944.01.17; she married Louis van Hamberg; they had three children of which two daughters survived WW II: Betty Helène Brancart, née Van Hamberg (ºAntwerp 1921.08.20) and Claudine Cougnet, née Van Hamberg (ºAntwerp 1923.06.26)). My blog “The watercolored comic on an Idaho flour sack in Liège” describes details of the tablecloth and tells the impressive life story of Nelly Sasserath and her family.

3 Yellowstone, laundry bag; embroidered, rings for cord

4 Keystone, “sous-main”, desk pad with posters from the Sacs Américains sales exhibition in Liège from November 20 till December 26, 1915.

The reverse of the original flour sack is printed with the text “1000 sacks of Flour donated to Belgium Sufferers from Pawnee County, Kansas, USA”. This text is on the back of the desk pad.

5 Pride of Peabody, tablecloth; embroidered with various decorative stitches, edge with picots.

6 Silk Floss, hanging folder for newspapers; embroidered, sewn with blue fabric on sides and back.

7 White Lily, purse; embroidered, sewn, with closing cord and tassel at bottom.

8 White Lily, table runner; art deco motifs are stamped or worked with template on the cloth, embroidered, back is lined, fringe around edges.

9 Producer, table runner; art deco motifs are stamped or worked with template on the cloth, embroidered, back is lined, fringe around edges.

Lucy Jossa, 16 years old, Coll. MVW; photo: author

Signed with the name: Lucy Jossa (ºLiège, 1898.08.07 – +1993.10.17; she married George Bartholomé; her parents were Philomène and Jean Paul Jossa-Genicot; her father was a clerk).

10 Square Deal, hanging folder for newspapers; painted and trimmed with blue border and six tassels, sewn on sewing machine.
Signed with the name: Thérèse Foidart (ºLiège 1898.04.12; she lived at Boulevard des Anglais, Spa, in 1930; daughter of Anne Marie and Laurent Foidart-De Radoux; her father was a musician).

11 Portland, tablecloth; embroidered, decorative edges with fringe; reverse of original flour sack is printed with the text: “For Belgium Relief donated by Coeur d’Alène Mining District, Shoshone County, Idaho, USA”.


12 Balloon, tablecloth; painted on reverse with sunflowers, decorative edges with fringe.

Exhibitions in Liège

Poster of the Liège sales exhibition in late 1915, design D. Poissinger. Coll. MVW, photo: author

The decorated flour sack Keystone is a sous-main, a folder or desk pad, which holds two posters from the late December sales exhibition of Sacs Américains in Liège at the “Continental, Salle Mauresque”. Would the Welsh family have made the purchase there?
Or did (one of the members of) the Welsch family help prepare an exhibition at the Ecole Moyenne?

Perhaps the collection had already been created earlier. A newspaper reported the sale of decorated flour sacks through store windows.


Le Quotidien, October 11, 1915
Photobook of CRB delegate David Nelson, February 22, 1915. Coll. HHPLM

The class contribution from the Ecole Moyenne may have been destined to go directly to the U.S.A. via the American delegates for the province of Liège from the Commission for Relief in Belgium. The CRB delegates visited the school in February 1915. David Nelson’s photo album dated February 22, 1915 bears witness to this.

When studied closely, the collection of two times twelve flour sacks resembles what today would be called a “teaching kit”. Thanks to the Welsch donation, we have a practical “pattern and inspiration book” of decorated flour sacks.


Thanks to:
– Musée de la Vie wallonne’ staff for their welcome and the preparations for my visit. In particular, I would like to thank Nadine de Rassenfosse, Aurélie Lemaire and Anne Stiernet.
– Hubert Bovens from Wilsele for his search for biographical data on the Welsch family and the three students of the Ecole Moyenne, in particular his work on and exploration of the impressive life story of Nelly Sasserath and her family.
– Georgina Kuipers for her attentive corrections to the English translations of my blogs. 


[1] Welsch family: Marie Anne Dupont (ºSaint-Josse-ten-Noode 1857.05.08) married Ernest Eugène Welsch (ºTourcoing (F) 1852.09.26) on April 17, 1879. Ernest Welsch worked as an education inspector (“inspecteur des écoles primaires communales de la ville de Liège”). In 1926 he was appointed professor at l’Ecole industrielle de Grivegnée. He wrote a play about the war ten years after the war, the Walloon one-act play Li Dièrinne lète.

The collection of MVW contains some miniature paintings painted by E. Welsch: “une palette de peintre miniature décorée et signée par un certain “E. Welsch” et qui date du début du 20ème siècle. Elle fait partie d’un ensemble de plus de 300 palettes miniatures décorées par des artistes amateurs ou professionnels à l’initiative d’un marchand de tabac-cigares Félix Schroeder.”

The son Paul Welsch (ºLiege 1886.08.30 – +Liège 1941.09.20) married Elise Sauvage (ºLiège 1887.07.28 – +Liège 1965.03.23) on April 14, 1914. Paul Welsch worked as a teacher (instituteur communal), then as a hotelier.



From Aid to Embroidery in Ohio, USA

High demand for wheat. The Lima Morning Star and Republican Gazette, Lima, Ohio, October 24, 1914

American wheat sales rose to unprecedented levels in the fall of 1914 due to the European war. The wheat exchange in Chicago made record sales through purchases from agents of the German and English governments.

Northwestern Elevator and Mill Company, Mount Vernon, Ohio

An Ohion newspaper headlined “Flour Mills busy” in October 1914. Northwestern Elevator & Mill Co.’s two largest mills, in Mount Vernon and Toledo, and National Milling Co. in Toledo, coped well with the large orders. They exported their entire production to Liverpool, Glasgow and Paris[1]. 

Northwestern Elevator and Mill Co, American School painting, oil on canvas, 46×61 cm; photo:

At the end of November, the mills made the newspapers again because of a humanitarian relief movement intended to help the population of occupied Belgium. The mills contributed to the relief effort of the Miller’s Belgian Relief Movement, organized by the Minneapolitan trade journal Northwestern Miller.

The Fulton County Tribune, Fulton, November 27, 1914

Northwestern Elevator & Mill Co. immediately pledged 50 barrels of flour and invited the citizens of Mt. Vernon to contribute to the relief campaign by purchasing at least one sack of flour at cost price:


The Democratic Banner, Mount Vernon, December 22, 1914

“The flour is to be shipped in heavy cotton bags containing forty-nine pounds. Anyone wishing to donate, can purchase flour from us at the cost price of $5.00 per barrel. No donations will be accepted for less than one forty-nine pound sack. … We will donate 50 barrels, and trust that enough more will be donated by our generous citizens to make the shipment from Mt. Vernon at least a car load of two hundred barrels.” (The Democratic Banner, 1 december 1914)

The call for aid made by Northwestern Elevator & Mill Co. was a success: a full train car with 820 sacks of flour (205 barrels) left for Philadelphia at the end of December to be delivered to SS South Point. The local organizing committee of Mt. Vernon thanked all donors through a newspaper article:

The Democratic Banner, Mt. Vernon, December 25, 1914
Flour sack “Belgian Relief Flour”, The National Milling Co., Toledo, Ohio, 1914/15. Coll. en photo: HHLP 62.4.120

The Miller’s Belgian Relief Movement’s relief effort was successful throughout Ohio. Dozens of mills contributed for a total of 4,861 barrels of flour (equivalent to over 20 carloads, 19,444 sacks of 49 Lbs, 430 tons of flour). The Relief Report[2] stated the following regarding Ohio’s mills:

Ohio millers and residents donated 4,861 barrels of flour. Report Miller’s Belgian Relief Movement, Minneapolis, Minn., 1915

Re-use of Ohio flour sacks in Belgium

Instructions from the Miller’s Belgian Relief Movement; Beatrice Daily Sun, Beatrice, Nebraska, January 2, 1915

Using cotton sacks was a necessary stimulus to the American cotton industry. The cotton sacks in which the flour was packed were intended for reuse in Belgium. The Belgian women and girls have gratefully made use of the cotton. After the sacks were emptied at the bakeries, they proceeded to make the sacks into clothes.

Flour sack “Belgian Relief Flour”, The Northwestern Elevator & Mill Co., Toledo, Ohio. Back of a jacket, 1915. Coll. HHPL; photo: Callens/Magniette
Decorated flour sack “Belgian Relief Flour”, The National Milling Co., Toledo, Ohio, 1914/15. col. and photo: HIA

An example of a jacket made from a Northwestern Elevator & Mill flour sack is part of the collection of the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library-Museum, West-Branch, Iowa (HHPL).

Most flour sacks are embroidered and embellished.

Belgian author Gilles wrote about a flour sack from Springfield, Ohio[3]:
Saturday 17 July 1915
The American sacks that contained the wheat flour for the Belgian National Relief and Nutrition Committee (CNSA) are particularly popular among collectors of war memories. The sacks are printed and the more characteristic the printing, the higher the sales price. A sack of 30 francs is printed with blue and red letters, the text reads in English:

                                               From the city of Springfield, Ohio
                                               As a testimony of affection
                                               Our friends the Belgians
                                               To this heroic nation
                                               God bless it!

Decorated flour sack The Moody & Thomas Milling Co, Peninsula, Ohio. Coll. and photo HHPL 62.4.391

Besides the jacket, I have located four more copies of the flour sacks delivered in Belgium by the Miller’s Belgian Relief Movement.
Two embroidered flour sacks have been preserved:

One flour sack of the Moody & Thomas Milling Co., Peninsula (collection HHPL); the second of The National Milling Co., Toledo (Hoover Institution Archives collection, Stanford University, HIA).


Flour sack “DEWEY’S”, The Dewey BROS. Co., Blanchester, Ohio. Coll. WHI; photo: author

Also, two original flour sacks have been preserved: one from Dewey Bros. Co., Blanchester (collection War Heritage Institute, Brussels (WHI)); the second of The National Milling Co., Toledo (collection HHPL 62.4.120).


OHIO Commission for Relief of European War Sufferers
Six weeks later, another appeal was made to Ohioans. The Ohio Commission for Relief of European War Sufferers was founded on January 4, 1915 in Columbus. During a luncheon those present decided to raise supplies and money to help victims of the European war, with the support of State Board of Commerce staff.

The Fulton County Tribune, Fulton, January 15, 1915
Mr. Edward Drummond Libbey (1854-1925) and Mrs. Florence Scott Libbey (1863-1938), ca. 1901; photo Wikipedia

President of the committee was E.D. Libbey from Toledo, treasurer E.R. Sharp from Columbus, Secretary O.K. Shimansky from Columbus.
The state of Ohio was home to European emigrants and their descendants from many countries; that is why the Commission made a broad effort to provide assistance to “European War Sufferers”. Priority was given to assistance to the Belgian population; the commission intended to secure a shipload of provisions for the Belgians to be moved early in February 1915.

The Ohio Woman’s Auxiliary: Mrs. Estelle Thompson, née Clark
Although men were appointed to the committee, women carried out the work. The existing and well-managed women’s organizations started working centrally and locally. Communication proceeded through letters, calls and advertisements in the newspapers; orally at regular meetings of clubs, churches and schools.

History of the Woman’s Section of the CRB, 1915

The Ohio Woman’s Auxiliary was headed by Mrs. Estelle Godfrey Thompson, née Clark (Massillon, Stark County 13.02.1862 – Columbus 29.06.1945), wife of President William Oxley Thompson of Ohio State University in Columbus. Mrs. Wm. O. Thompson was a member of The Woman’s Section of The Commission for Relief in Belgium, serving both on the “Executive Co-operating Committee” as chair of  the National Federation of College Women as the “State Chairmen” as chair of Ohio.

Estelle Clark Tompson in “Woman’s Who is Who in America, 1914/15”

Estelle Clark Thompson descended from a well-to-do Cleveland family; she worked as a teacher of dramatics at Western College for Women in Oxford, Ohio. At the age of 32 she married William Thompson; she was his third wife; he was twice widowed and had two daughters from his first and two sons from his second marriage. Estelle Clark Thompson took care of the four young children; she remained childless herself. She played an active role in Ohio women’s organizations and campaigned for women’s rights: “Favors women suffrage”.

Detail flour sack “Kentucky and Southern Indiana”/Brand Whitlock; 1915/16. Coll. and photo CCHSM no. 4003

Mr. Brand Whitlock and Mrs. Ella Whitlock, née Brainerd
During World War I, the diplomat Brand Whitlock (Urbana, Ohio, USA 04.03.1869 – Cannes, France 24.05.1934) was American minister plenipotentiary in Belgium seating in Brussels. He acted as patron of the international “Commission for Relief in Belgium” (CRB) and the Belgian National Relief Committee “Comité National de Secours et d’Alimentation” (CNSA), the organizations that coordinated and implemented food relief for the population in occupied Belgium.

Mrs. Ella Brainerd Whitlock; photo: Library of Congress

He lived in Brussels with his wife, Ella Whitlock, née Brainerd (Springfield, Ill. 25.09.1876 – Brewster, NY 11.07.1942). Ella Brainerd Whitlock worked energetically to help the Belgian population and closely collaborated with the Belgian women’s organizations.

Detail flour sack “Kentucky and Southern Indiana”/Brand Whitlock; portrait L. van Loo, 1915/16. Coll. and photo CCHSM, no. 4003

Brand Whitlock felt connected to the state of Ohio. Before becoming a diplomat in 1914, he had been elected mayor of Toledo four times (1906-1914); he had worked there as a lawyer from 1897. Due to his connection with Ohio, he became member of the honorary advisory commission of the Ohio Commission for Relief of European War Sufferers. He successfully appealed to the American people to aid the Belgians with food.

As a result of their work, the Whitlocks received many gifts for their efforts, including decorated flour sacks.

After her husband passed away, Ella Brainerd Whitlock returned to the US. She donated many objects, including their interesting collection of flour sacks to the Champaign County Historical Society in Urbana and Toledo. The Champaign County Historical Society Museum in Urbana (CCHSM) preserves this collection. See also the blog: Flour sack trip from Urbana to Overijse

Flour sacks with portrait of Brand Whitlock
Two flour sacks with Brand Whitlock’s portrait stand out.

Embroidered flour sack “American Commission”/ Brand Whitlock; 1915. Coll. and photo CCHSM, no. 4001

The origin of flour sack no. 4001 is “American Commission”; the Belgian embroiderer added as texts: “A.S.E.M. Brand Whitlock, M. P. des Etats-Unis à Bruxelles; E Pluribus Unum; La Belgique Reconnaissante 1914-1915”. The portrait looks like a lithography, surrounded by an embroidered green laurel wreath; to the left and right of the portrait are embroideries of the Belgian and American flags; on the lower part of the flour sack the “Great Shield of the United States” is embroidered, along with the eagle with spread wings and the stars representing the thirteen original colonies of the US plus the text: “E Pluribus Unum”.

Decorated flour sack “Kentucky and Southern Indiana”/Brand Whitlock; portrait L. van Loo, 1915/16. Coll. and photo CCHSM, no. 4003, recto
Decorated flour sack “Kentucky and Southern Indiana”/Brand Whitlock; 1915/16. col. and photo CCHSM, no. 4003, verso

The other flour sack, no. 4003, bears the original print “Contributed by the People of Kentucky and Southern Indiana” via The Louisville Herald, produced by Louisville Milling Co, Louisville, KY. In Belgium, the sack had been printed with red letters: “A Son Excellence Monsieur Brand Whitlock, Ministre des Etats-Unis à Bruxelles. La Belgique entière acclame les Etats-Unis.” The flags of Belgium and the US are embroidered, as are the letters of the original print. The photo portrait of Brand Whitlock is colorized, signed “L. van Loo”. The photographer may presumably have been Leo Petrus Julius (Leon) van Loo (Sint-Joris-ten Distel 19.08.1841 – Cincinnati 10.01.1907) He was an art photographer born in Belgium, who emigrated to Ohio at the age of 15, following his Ghent teacher Charles Waldack. Waldack was able to emigrate to Cincinnati, because Leon van Loo’s father paid him in exchange for his son’s training as a photographer. Van Loo lived in Cincinnati for the rest of his life. It seems likely that he made a photo portrait of (a younger) Brand Whitlock in the US and that a print of the portrait ended up in his old hometown Ghent, Belgium, where it has been used for the flour sack(s).

SS Naneric; photo: Allen C. Green series (online)

State Ship SS Naneric
CRB’s New York office contracted the British steamship Naneric as State Ship of Ohio. SS Naneric had made an earlier trip to Calcutta, India, and had to voyage from there to New York to take the cargo on board. On that 65-day voyage from Calcutta to New York, SS Naneric passed through the Suez Canal and was caught up in war. The battle it found itself in was between the Allied army, supported by fire from French and British cruisers, and a Turkish land force, commanded by German officers.
Captain Tulloch of the Naneric reported that his steamer entered the Suez Canal on February 1, 1915 but had not been allowed to proceed because of the battle. After days delay, the vessel was permitted to proceed to Port Said, protected with sandbags. On March 8, SS Naneric docked in Philadelphia.[4]

The Ohio women’s fundraising campaigns were successful; trains brought carloads of flour to New York Harbor.

The Democratic Banner, Mt. Vernon, February 19, 1915
The Democratic Banner, March 9, 1915

On March 27, SS Naneric departed from New York as the Ohio State Ship with the relief supplies on board and arrived in Rotterdam around April 20. The relief supplies were transferred to barges for transit to the Belgian villages and towns. By the end of April, the Belgian bakers were able to bake bread from the flour and the local population could taste the good gifts that the people of the state of Ohio had given for a second time.

Original flour sack Bakoto Flour, Canton Feed & M’L’G Co., Canton, Ohio, 1915. Photo: US Embassy in Belgium

With the emptied flour sacks, the Belgian women and girls could continue with their charitable work, transforming them into souvenirs.

Nine embroidered sacks, presumably from the State Ship Ohio, have been preserved.

  • A sack of “Bakoto Flour” from Bako Mills, Canton Feed and M’L’G Co., Canton, is in the Embassy of the United States of America in Belgium in Brussels[5];
  • Three preserved “Square Deal” sacks from The Gwinn Milling Co., Columbus are in the Musée de la Vie wallonne in Liège (one embroidered, one original), respectively in Mons Memorial Museum in Mons (one embroidered);
  • Decorated flour sack “Square Deal”, The Gwinn Milling Co., Columbus, Ohio, 1915/16. Coll. Musée de la Vie wallonne
  • Detail original flour sack “The Famous White Loaf”, Sunbury Mills. Coll. RAHM Tx 2648 ; photo: author

    Five flour sacks “The Famous White Loaf Roller Flour” by Sunbury Mills, G.J. Burrer & Sons, Sunbury, are preserved in both a private collection in Belgium (98 Lbs) and in the United Kingdom (49 Lbs) (both embroidered): at the In Flanders Fields Museum (IFFM), Ypres (98 Lbs, embroidered, panel in folding screen); at the Royal Art & History Museum (RAHM), Brussels (49 Lbs, original sack, Tx 2648); at Hoover Institution Archives, Palo Alto, Ca. (24 1/2 Lbs embroidered).

Burrer Mills, Sunbury, 1929; photo:

Sunbury Mills, G. J. Burrer & Sons, Sunbury, Ohio
The history of the Sunbury Mills mill is detailed on the website of the Big Walnut Historical Society located at the Myers Inn Museum in Sunbury.
Gottleib Jacob (Jakie) Burrer (Germany, 03.01.1848 – Sunbury 18.02.1926) owned Sunbury Mills since 1875. It was a family business. He was married to Amy Ann Gammill; their sons Karl (age in 1914: 35), Paul (28), Rudolph (26) and Gordon (20) worked in the expanding business (including electricity generation and supply), which meant a lot to Sunbury. Sunbury Mills has been the longest operating mill in Sunbury. In 1945 the mill, which had meanwhile merged with the Condit Elevators, was sold to the Farm Bureau.

Charlotte Burrer, née Pagels: American Flour Sack Embroiderer in Ohio
The youngest Burrer son, Gordon Jacob (Sunbury 02.02.1894 – Pleasant Ridge, Ohio, 04.07.1960) is a war veteran. He served in World War I, in 1917/18, as a captain in the US Army Infantry.
At the age of 35 he married Charlotte Grace Pagels (1895 – Hamilton, Ohio, July 2, 1991); they married on October 3,1929 at Pleasant Ridge, near Cincinnati. They had three children: Charlotte Amy, Gordon Jacob and Frederick Pagels. Charlotte Pagels Burrer’s grandparents had been German emigrants.

Hoover Tower, 1941; photo: HIA

Charlotte deserves eternal glory for embroidering a Sunbury Mills flour sack! Yes, a flour sack “The Famous White Loaf Roller Flour” by Sunbury Mills, G.J. Burrer & Sons, Sunbury.
In which year she embroidered the flour sack I do not know, but it seems she produced the embroidery after a visit to the Hoover Tower at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California[6]. She became acquainted with the collection of decorated flour sacks in the archives of the Commission for Relief in Belgium, kept in the Hoover Institution Archives and was surprised to see an embroidered flour sack “White Loaf” from Sunbury Mills.

Decorated flour sack “White Loaf”, Sunbury Mills, G.J. Burrer & Sons, Sunbury, Ohio. Embroidered in Belgium in 1915/16. Was a model for a replica of Ch. Pagel’s Burrer. Coll. Hoover Institution Archives

It inspired Charlotte to embroider exactly such a flour sack.

Embroidered Flour sack “White Loaf”, Sunbury Mills, Sunbury, Ohio. Replica of flour sack in Hoover Institution Archives. Embroiderer Charlotte Burrer, née Pagels, Cincinnati, Ohio. Coll. and photo: Community Library, Sunbury

Back home in Ohio, she looked for a flour sack printed with the “White Loaf” brand at Sunbury Mills and got to work. A so-called ‘Replica’ of the flour sacks decorated in Belgium during WW I was born; it is proudly preserved in Sunbury’s Community Library.
Former Sunbury librarian, Mrs. Polly Horn, is now curator of the Myers Inn Museum in Sunbury. She published a photo of Charlotte’s embroidered flour sack in her “Burrer Mills” blog. Thanks to her I came into possession of a photo of this embroidery by an American flour sack embroiderer: Charlotte Pagels Burrer.

Embroidery of flour sacks in WW I: getting started

American booklet about the “Embroidered Belgian Flour Sacks” with embroidery patterns and detailed descriptions. Photo: Giftshop HHPLM

The embroidery of flour sacks in times of war and occupation has been a remarkable undertaking by Belgian women and girls in 1915/16. The recognition for their special work is recorded in the American booklet “Out of War. A Legacy of Art”.[7]

The publication came about as a group project from the Red Cedar Questers, Iowa. Belle Walton Hinkhouse took the initiative and Joanne Evans Hemmingway led the project to bring about the release.

Central to the book is the collection of decorated flour sacks from the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum, West Branch, Iowa. Former curator Phyllis Foster Danks of the museum (circa 1977-1986) contributed with her expertise on the “Embroidered Belgian Flour Sacks”.

Embroidery pattern “Viking ship” with description in the American booklet about the “Embroidered Belgian Flour Sacks” (HHPL 62.4.401)

Two experienced embroidery teachers, Catherine Robinder and Angeline Hoover Shuh, analyzed the embroidery on the flour sacks.

Embroidery pattern “Bluebird” with description in the American booklet about the ‘Embroidered Belgian Flour Sacks’. (HHPL 62.4.432)

They concentrated on decorations added by the Belgian women themselves and chose six copies for a reconstruction. The result are six embroidery patterns with detailed descriptions of threads used and embroidery stitches. Embroiderers receive instructions on which cloth to use for the pattern: you could use a sack, but that’s not necessary.
The embroidery patterns are:

  • Woman and sheep
  • Flemish scene
  • Viking ship
  • Bluebirds
  • Violets
  • Poppies


Anyone who wants to, can get started! Just like Charlotte Grace Pagel’s Burrer did embroidering her Sunbury flour sack.

Decorated flour sacks can inspire even more creative crafts!

Embroidered flour sack “White Loaf”, Sunbury Mills, G.J. Burrer & Sons, Sunbury, Ohio, 1915. Private coll. United Kingdom
Embroidered flour sack “White Loaf”, Sunbury Mills, G.J. Burrer & Sons, Sunbury, Ohio, 1915/16. Private coll. Belgium










Embroidered flour sack ”White Loaf”, Sunbury Mills, G.J. Burrer & Sons, Sunbury, Ohio, 1915/16. Panel in folding screen. Coll. IFFM

Thanks to:
– Mrs. Polly Horn, curator of the Myers Inn Museum in Sunbury, Ohio, for the wealth of information she sent me about the Sunbury Mill and the Burrer family. She is the author of dozens of blogs on the Big Walnut Area Historical Society.
Watch my program at YouTube:  “Decorated Flour Sacks in WWI. From Aid to Embroidery in Ohio”.
Program of the Big Walnut Area Historical Society, Ohio. Mrs. Polly Horn, director of the Myers Inn Museum in Sunbury invited me to develop this presentation. Enjoy!
– Mrs. Cheryl Ogden, director, and Megan, intern, of the Champaign County Historical Society Museum;
– Hubert Bovens from Wilsele, Belgium, for his research into the biographical data of photographer Leon van Loo.

– Georgina Kuipers for her attentive corrections to the English translations of my blogs.

[1] The Tribune, Coshocton, Ohio, October 22, 1914

[2] Edgar, William C., ‘The Millers’ Belgian Relief Movement 1914-15 conducted by The Northwestern Miller. Final Report of its director William C. Edgar, Editor of the Northwestern Miller, MCMXV’. Minneapolis, Minn. USA, 1915

[3] Gille, Louis, Ooms, Alphonse, Delandsheere, Paul, Cinquante Mois d’Occupation Allemande. Volume I 1914-1915. Brussels: Librairie Albert Dewit, 1919

[4] Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles, 9 maart 1915

[5] The US Ambassador, Mr. Gidwitz, showed the flour sack during a recorded message at the online opening of the exhibition ‘When Minnesota Fed the European Children’ on October 12, 2020. Here the link to the YouTube recording of the opening, the American ambassador speaks 4 minutes: you can find it between 3.30 and 7.50 min.

[6] The two black and white photographs of Hoover Tower and the embroidered Sunbury Mills flour sack in HIA are from the book: Danielson, Elena S., Hoover Tower at Stanford University. Charleston, South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing, 2018

[7] Hemingway, Joanne, Hinkhouse, Belle, Out of War. A Legacy of Art. West Branch, Iowa: Iowa State Questors, 1995.

“Out of War. A Legacy of Art” is available for purchase for $9.95 in the Gift Shop of the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum, West Branch, Iowa, USA.




“Rooster on an oak branch at dawn”: Piet Van Engelen in the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum

A decorated WWI flour sack designed by Belgian artist Piet Van Engelen is part of the collection of the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum in West Branch, Iowa, United States.
The work by Van Engelen – a powerful symbol of a rooster on an oak branch, claiming its territory, guarding the crowned shield of Belgium, while behind him the sun rises accompanied by a bald eagle – served as a pattern for embroidery.
This resulted in a decorated flour sack of a special nature: the flagship of the decorated flour sacks.

Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum

Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum, West Branch, Iowa, USA. Photo: online

The Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum (HHPL) opened in 1962 and is dedicated to Herbert Hoover’s presidency (West Branch, Iowa, 08/10/1874 – New York, NY, 10/20/1964). He was the 31st President of the United States, his term of office ran from March 4, 1929 to March 4, 1933.

Herbert Hoover’s Birthplace in Herbert Hoover National Historic Site, West Branch, Iowa, USA. Photo: online

The library is the building where archival material of the former president is stored. The museum tells the story of the president’s life and the time in which he governed. The library is located on the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site in his hometown of West Branch, Iowa, which houses his birthplace and burials of both Herbert Hoover and his wife Lou Henry Hoover. The HHPL was established under the Presidential Libraries Act of 1955 and is administered by the National Archives and Records Administration.
Herbert Hoover and the Commission for Relief in Belgium (CRB) archives and memorabilia (souvenir gifts, including the decorated flour sacks) were originally kept at the Hoover Institution Library & Archives (HILA) at Stanford University, Palo Alto, California. With the opening of HHPL, Herbert Hoover had taken the opportunity to transfer some of his memorabilia to West Branch.

Iowa City Press Citizen, August 5, 1974: “Museum: a pleasant history lesson”

About 450 decorated WWI flour sacks were part of that move. This meant that the CRB archives’ flour sack collection was sent to Iowa around 1962. The complete collection came under the management of HHPL, a few dozen remained with HILA in California. However, the HILA staff soon realized the lack of the decorated flour sacks with which they liked to make exhibitions. After strong urging, they managed to get a hundred decorated flour sacks back to California in 1964.

The largest collection of decorated flour sacks in the world is located in West Branch: 350+ flour sacks. Thanks to HHPL’s presidential status and museum function, the decorated flour sacks have regularly attracted attention since 1962.

The Gazette, August 16, 2008
The Spokesman Review, November 15, 2008

Decorated flour sacks can always be viewed in the museum, with the exhibited collection changing every six months.
Researchers and enthusiasts of decorated flour sacks enjoy visiting the library and museum. The current curator, Marcus Eckhardt, has welcomed many researchers and, where possible, providing them an individual showing of decorated flour sacks.

I am proud that I’ve been there myself.  My visit, made possible in part by a Travel Grant awarded by the Hoover Presidential Foundation, was scheduled for April 2020, but had to be postponed due to travel restrictions and library and museum closures since March 14, 2020 due to the coronavirus. The museum reopened at the end of March 2022. this allowed me to do my sack research from June 13 to 24, 2022!

Piet Van Engelen

Belgian artist Piet Van Engelen. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Piet Van Engelen (Lier 12.05.1863 – Antwerp 17.10.1924) is educated in Wallonia and in Flanders; he studied at the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts in Liège with P. Drion and the Academy of Fine Arts of Antwerp with Charles Verlat. During the Great War he lived in Antwerp. From 1897 he became a teacher at the Academy in Antwerp.
Piet Van Engelen mainly focused on animal painting.

Piet Van Engelen, Rooster and hen “Lune de miel” (“moon of honey“), painting. Photo: online

Initially the images were purely decorative and conceived as still life. His works gradually became more lively by depicting folk proverbs, symbols, etc.” (Piron 2016)


Decorated flour sack “Rooster on an oak branch at dawn”, design Piet Van Engelen, 1916; embroidery Ouvroir d’Anvers, Antwerp. Courtesy Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum

Decorated flour sack HHPL inv. no. 62.4.447
The representation on the flour sack is a powerful symbol of the dawn. A rooster in colorful plumage towers high on the branch of an oak tree, a symbol of strength, and crows its morning greeting with its beak spread open. The crowned shield of Belgium is central between its legs. A ribbon flows between the oak leaves bearing the words “To Brave Belgium”.

The original print on the sack, the three letters [A.B.C.] in a rectangular frame, are interlaced with ripe stalks of grain.

Detail of the decorated flour sack: the sun and American eagle with spread wings and shield rise behind the rooster and lion. Coll. HHPL; photo: Callens/Magniette

The sun rises in golden yellow behind the composition. On close inspection, the viewer sees the bald eagle, a stalk of grain in its beak, with spread wings and American shield, rising up in the rising sun.

Detail of the decorated flour sack: tribute to Herbert C. Hoover, executed in the Ouvroir d’Anvers, Antwerp, 1916. Coll. HHPL; photo: Callens/Magniette

At the top right of the canvas a “scroll” with text can be seen. The text is a tribute to Herbert C. Hoover, director of the CRB, from the Ouvroir d’Anvers, Antwerp:
‘Hommage de reconnaissance
Monsieur Herbert C. Hoover
Chairman of the Commission for Relief in Belgium
Ouvroir d’Anvers 1916’
This part could have been added later, because it gives the impression that it is not an essential part of the composition of Van Engelen’s design.

Detail of the decorated flour sack: signature “Piet van Engelen, A. 1916”. The light blue pattern drawing of the grain stalks is visible on the canvas. Coll. HHPL; photo: Callens/Magniette

At the bottom left is the signature “Piet van Engelen, A. 1916” in black ink.
I presume the capital letter “A” stands for Antwerp.

The surprise of the decorated flour sack
From a distance, such as in this photo, Van Engelen’s flour sack looks like a painting, having been brushed on canvas. The surprise is that the image was actually embroidered, threaded through the cloth with needle and thread, executed by one or a few experienced and professional embroiderers!

Usually, professional embroiderers worked on embroidery with religious subjects, on banners, on furniture and clothing for the highest classes.

Guy Delmarcel described the flour sack in 2013 as follows: “... a beautifully embroidered allegory, a “Belgian” rooster with the inscription “To brave Belgium“, which according to a French text at the top right was commissioned by the Antwerp department of the CSA. The work is signed in pen by Piet Van Engelen (1863-1924), a meritorious animal painter from Lier, who provided the design (inv. 62-4-447; fig. 21).” [1]

How did Van Engelen find embroiderers to execute his design? We can learn more from an American primary source.

Charlotte Kellogg in Antwerp

Ouvroir d’Anvers, Antwerp, iconic overview photo from the gallery, 1915. Photo: E.E. Hunt, “War Bread”

Charlotte Kellogg, née Hoffman (Grand Island, Nebraska, May 21, 1874 – Monterey, California, May 8, 1960), CRB delegate – unique as the only woman – stayed in Belgium between July and November 1916. She was an eyewitness to the creation of Piet van Engelen’s artwork. She described her visit to the Ouvroir d’Anvers in Antwerp in her book “Women of Belgium”. [2]
“In one whole section the girls do nothing but embroider our American flour sacks. Artists draw designs to represent the gratitude of Belgium to the United States. The one on the easel as we passed through, represented the lion and the cock of Belgium guarding the crown of the king, while the sun—-the great American eagle rises in the East.

Piet van Engelen did not have to look for embroiderers as performers of his work; on the contrary, he was commissioned to make designs for embroidery, to be executed by embroiderers from the Ouvroir d’Anvers. His design was on the easel during Kellogg’s visit in the summer of 1916.
The pattern of the design has been drawn on the flour sack, the drawing lines are still visible in some places. The yarns were selected, the colors of the yarns were chosen according to the colors of the design. The embroiderer went to work with precise instructions on which embroidery stitches to use. During the creation process there would have been regular consultation about the colors and the direction of the stitches.

Detail of the decorated flour sack: the rooster and the crowned shield of Belgium. Courtesy Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum

Since the first encounter with images of Piet van Engelen’s decorated flour sack, I have wondered which interpretation he wanted to provide with his use of the “Belgian rooster”. Was the rooster in its scene an allegory or a national symbol?

My impression is that Van Engelen painted an allegory of a “rooster on an oak branch at dawn”. He was an avid painter of the animals that surrounded people, present in the house and garden, chickens and roosters in particular.

Piet van Engelen, “Rooster and chickens”, photo: online

Roosters have a strong natural territorial drive. They puff up their chests and defend the chickens against much bigger enemies. The rooster claims its territory by crowing. The artist knew the great power of the symbol of the rooster better than anyone else. Moreover, in the image of the rooster, Van Engelen must have felt free in his expression, he knew the animal, it was his own, he could put a range of colors and shine in the plumage. He placed the rooster proudly on the thick branch of an oak, the oak leaves colorfully executed. The oak added meaning to the allegory as a symbol of protection, fortitude, courage and strength.
Van Engelen sealed his allegory with the dedication written on the ribbon: “To brave Belgium”.

It does not seem plausible that Van Engelen depicted the rooster as a national symbol for Belgium. He was a Flemish artist who made designs for the Ouvroir in Antwerp, which was under the protection of the Antwerp provincial relief committee, the Comité provincial de Secours et d’Alimentation.
Flanders has a flag with a black lion, on the shield of Belgium is a climbing lion in gold. Wallonia indeed has a flag with a rooster. As a skilled painter of animal figures, Van Engelen would have depicted a lion rather than a rooster, if it were national symbolism.

Milling company
Which mill has filled the sack with flour and had it shipped from the U.S. to Belgium?
Unfortunately, this is not (yet) known. There is no clearly printed name of the mill; in one photo I think I see a glimpse of large capital letters flashing on the underside of the canvas. Hopefully they can be used to clarify the origins of the sack in the future.

The original print A.B.C.

Detail of the decorated flour sack: original print “A.B.C.” Coll. HHPL; photo: Callens/Magniette

The original print, the letters [A.B.C.] in a rectangle of thick edges, was painted over on Van Engelen’s flour sack, but it was not embroidered. Originally the letters were blue, the print was painted over with violet.

“A.B.C.” on flour sack “Gold Medal”. Coll. IFFM 001646; photo: author

That abbreviation “A.B.C.” has a meaning that continues to puzzle me. Numerous flour sacks are printed with “A.B.C.”. Even more flour sacks have been stamped before leaving the U.S. with the letters “A.B.C.”.

“A.B.C.” stamp on flour sack “Perfect”/G. Devreese. Coll. KMKG-MRAH Tx 262; photo: author

I suspected the acronym “American Belgian Commission” or “American Belgian Consul”. I have not been able to find evidence for it.
The first option I did find was the abbreviation “A.B.C.” for “American Bakers Council”, an American quality certificate for flour supplied to bakeries by the mills.
However, this seems unlikely as boxes containing other types of U.S. relief supplies have also been stamped “A.B.C.”.

Children’s shoes in New York, destined for Belgium. Mrs. Price Post *) adjusted the shoes on American children before shipment. The box bears the stamp “A.B.C.” on the side. Photo: Courtesy Herbert Hoover Presidential Library

Addition June 6, 2021: ‘Plain cotton sacks with the letters A B C’
The puzzle of the letters “ABC” has been partially solved. It has been an instruction from the CRB office in New York. This is apparent from the following newspaper report from Ohio, where the local Belgian relief committee in Greenville had to repack the flour in plain cotton sacks printed with the letters [A B C] on them:

Greenville Daily Tribune, Ohio, December 30,  1914

But, alas, the meaning of the three letters is unknown!?!

Greenville Daily Tribune, Ohio, December 30, 1914

Addition July 15, 2022: Shipping Instruction [A.B.C.]
The puzzle of the letters “A.B.C” has been solved. My research at the Hoover Institution in Palo Alto, Ca. on May 23, 2022 brought the solution.
The printing of the flour sacks with “A.B.C.” has been a shipping instruction of the American Commission for Relief in Belgium, 71 Broadway, New York.
On December 1, 1914, she issued an official, printed Circular No. 1 with “Organization and Shipping Instructions”: “Mark every box, bale, bbl., sack or car-tag [A B C]. Do not permit any marks or messages mentioning any official of any belligerent country as this may hold up distribution.”
Circular No. 1 was sent to all organizations in the US that were collecting relief goods for the Belgian population.

Shipping Instructions, Circular No.1, American Commission for Relief in Belgium, New York, December 1, 1914. Archives: CRB records, box 352, Woman’s Section, HILA

Family Van Engelen

Louis Van Engelen, “Sunday afternoon at Sint-Anneke”, 1887. Belgian private collection; photo: website Museum Vleeshuis, Antwerp

Besides Piet Van Engelen, other members of the Van Engelen family were also at the forefront of Antwerp cultural life. Elder brother Louis Van Engelen (Lier 17.01.1856 – Antwerp 14.10.1941) was a painter, he completed landscapes, animals, portraits and genre scenes and often worked in large format.
Museum Vleeshuis in Antwerp is currently showing his painting “Sunday Afternoon on Sint-Anneke“, 1887. He has depicted his brother Piet in the middle of the company in the painting.

Grandfather François Joseph Van Engelen (1785-1853) had founded a workshop for brass instruments in Lier in 1813. The studio grew into perhaps the largest Belgian producer of these musical instruments. Part of the contents of the old workshops are part of a permanent installation in the basement of Museum Vleeshuis.


Decorated flour sack “Rooster on an oak branch at dawn”, design Piet Van Engelen, 1916. Coll. HHPL; photo: E. McMillan

Piet Van Engelen’s decorated flour sack “Rooster on an oak branch at dawn” in the collection of the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum is a unique work of art in both design and execution, created in the Ouvroir of Antwerp, by experienced and professional embroiderers. It is a powerful allegory. It has been dedicated to Herbert C. Hoover, director of the Commission for Relief in Belgium.

We can speak of “the flagship of the decorated flour sacks”.



*) Addition courtesy of Evelyn McMillan:
Mrs. Emily Price Post (1872-1960) was a prominent New York society woman in the early 1900s. In 1922, at the age of 50, she published the book ‘Etiquette’ about manners and etiquette under het author’s name Emily Post, making it famous to this day! See the ‘Emily Post Institute‘. To my Dutch readers: she was the American Amy Groskamp-ten Have from ‘Hoe hoort het eigenlijk’, but her book did not appear until 1939.

Thanks to:
– Marcus Eckhardt, Curator of Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum;
– Evelyn McMillan; Mauro Callens and Audrey Magniette; they provided me with photos they took during a visit to HHPL;
– Hubert Bovens for the biographical research of the artists.

 [1] Delmarcel, Guy, Pride of Niagara. Best Winter Wheat. Amerikaanse Meelzakken als textiele getuigen van Wereldoorlog I (American Flour Sacks as textile witnesses of World War I). Brussels, Parc Cinquantenaire: Bulletin of the Museum Art and History, volume 84, 2013, p. 97-126

[2] Kellogg, Charlotte, ‘Women of Belgium. Turning Tragedy in Triumph’. New York and London: Funk & Wagnalls Company, 4thedition, 1917

Nieuwjaar 2021 New Year

Zakken vol herinneringen

Annelien van Kempen, 2020. Buidels: recycled windscherm, band; stukjes Waddenzeeglas verzameld door Anneke Lanting

spoelden aan
op ‘t strand,
in zand en golven.

De zilte zee
zong zacht
van het leven
nu en later,
wij allen verbonden
door haar water.

Dansende zakjes zeeglas
nemen ons thuis
mee op reis.

Gelukkig 2021!


Sacks full of memories

Annelien van Kempen, 2020. Sacks: recycled windshield, strap; pieces of Wadden Sea glass collected by Anneke Lanting

washed up
on the beach,
by sand and waves.

The salty sea
sang softly
of life
now and later,
all of us connected
through her water.

Dancing sacks
filled with sea glass

take us on their journey,
while we stay at home.

Happy 2021!


Annelien van Kempen, December 2020

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