From Aid to Embroidery in Ohio
Program by Annelien van Kempen

Decorated Flour Sacks   from  World War One

          Beginning  by Polly Horn

Many years ago I was contacted by Annelien van Kempen of the Netherlands inquiring about the Burrer Mill in Sunbury. She was doing research on the flour sacks used in the WWI Belgium Relief Fund. I had seen some of the flour sacks owned by Carleton and Dilly Burrer.

Burrer Mill
         in Sunbury

Burrer Mill Flour Sack

Embroidery by Charlotte Burrer

The Burrer Mill, located along North Street east from Columbus Street, was known for its white loaf flour and Red-A-Mix pancake flour. This was shipped locally and overseas. During World War I Herbert Hoover’s Belgium War Relief needed flour so G. J. Burrer (known as Jakie) and Sons sent White Loaf Flour to Europe in sturdy white linen bags. The bags were stamped with the logo for the mill in bright colors.      Learn more about the Burrer Mill

In Belgium

In Charleroi, Belgium, Alice Gugenmeim’s family had a warehouse of embroidery thread which had been used by the embroidery workers prior to the war. Because of the war there was no material to embroider and the workers were out of business. She could find no bleach to remove the writing on the flour sacks but the fabric was good and strong. Women began enhancing the designs which were used to cover lampshades, waste baskets, tea cozies, pillow covers and even school smocks. The items were sold on a prominent street in Brussels and yielded tens of thousands of gold-standard francs to the Belgium Relief. In appreciation some of the school children embroidered 500 of the bags and sent them to Herbert Hoover. One of the enhanced Burrer Mill bags was put on display in the Hoover Peace Tower.

Charlotte Pagels Burrer who married Jakie Burrer’s youngest son, Gordon, and lived in Cincinnati, embroidered a bag to make a replica. A photo of it can be seen at the beginning of this article and is in the Community Library.

Annelien van Kempen

Annelien van Kempen has always been interested in learning new fields of expertise, while aiming to integrate them with her previously acquired skills.

Born a farmer’s daughter in the Netherlands, she obtained a Master of Laws degree then spent one year studying French in Switzerland. Her second job was as a corporate lawyer was in industrial textiles which she really liked but she switched to the glass packaging industry and became general manager of the artisan glass blowing facility Royal Leerdam Crystal, which included managing the Dutch National Glass Museum. At the museum she developed her passion for the preservation of cultural heritage.

Thus Annelien established herself as an artist and researcher. The ongoing theme in her own creative work has been the richness of the Earth, harvest of nature and the role of women.

Symbols for this theme are sculptures like sacks/bags, materialized in textiles, paper or glass, and the concept of recycling and creative use of previously used products.

From the Netherlands

Over the years I have received Annelien’s emails and her blogs about the bags. Then about 6 months ago, she said she was making a program about the Belgium Relief fund and the flour bags in her Netherlands language.

In November 2019, I got an email saying “Dear Polly, My first article about the WW I decorated flour sacks has been published in print!

“Embroidered flour sacks in WW I: Nice souvenirs, serve well as gifts; the profits are worth talking about. The relic of a heroic people.

“25 pages with text, photos and a bibliography can be found in the September 2019 issue of Patakon, the bakery heritage magazine of the Furnes Bakery Museum.” She included a link.

The article originally appeared in the Dutch language but she had translated it into English.

Roger Roberts, our B.W.A.H.S. program chair, agreed this would make an interesting program for the historical society so we began negotiating.

So October 1st a link will be on our website to present our first international program via YouTube. Imagine yourself giving a program in another language!



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