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"A Shared Legacy: Folk Art in America" at the American Folk Art Museum

- In the Galleries: Arts and Education

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A Shared Legacy: Folk Art in America
American Folk Art Museum
(American Folk Art Museum Website)
Anne-Imelda Radice, PhD, Executive Director

2 Lincoln Square, Columbus Ave. at 66th St.
NYC, NY 10023

Exhibit Drawn from Barbara L. Gordon Collection
Organized/Circulated by Art Services International
Press: Barbara Livenstein

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
March 2, 2015

(Review Assisted by American Folk Art Museum Press Notes.)

On one of the recent, icy-snowy afternoons, I discovered the intimate and very low-key, American Folk Art Museum, in the heart of Lincoln Center, directly across from the Plaza. The one-floor, free of charge, dual-level galleries also include a delightful gift shop, with frequent sales of unique holiday gifts, home décor, international jewelry, greeting cards, and children’s toys and crafts. The museum, smaller than some Chelsea galleries, is open daily, except Mondays. They have educational programs for elementary schools and teens, teacher guides, camp workshops, and a library with archives. The American Folk Art Museum, I learned, also has free jazz on varied afternoons and evenings, day trips to out of town folk art collections, book talks, and woodcarving lessons. Although there’s no cafeteria in the museum, there are casual restaurants on the block. I was happy for the coat rack, on this late winter day.

The exhibit that I explored was “A Shared Legacy: Folk Art in America”. There are more than 60 works of art created between 1800 and 1920. They include furniture, varied paintings in portrait, landscape, and still-life. The wooden chests with drawers were fascinating, with one from 1803, Pennsylvania, pictured below, with elaborate, painted décor, and painted text in German. In fact, many items in the adjoining galleries are drawn from the 18th century German colony in Pennsylvania. Other furniture includes antique American corner cabinets, a snowflake table, and wood-carved home décor.

Portraits commissioned by distinguished families, depicting both boys and girls in dresses, with pets and fresh strawberries, include the painting below of James Mairs Salisbury, by Ammi Phillips, in Catskill, NY, late 18th century. The child portraits, in solo or family, depict children mainly in formal poses, with surprisingly mature expressions, like tiny adults. The Phillips portrait below shows the boy on a red, floor cushion. Of note, several children, in the commissioned paintings, wore coral jewelry, which was believed to protect them from diseases. At the time, medical miracles were few, when young children fell ill.

Many of the paintings depict farms and panorama landscapes, such as “The Farm of Henry Windle”, seen below, by Henry Dousa, completed about 1903 in Ohio. Many seem painted from a window, on high looking down, as massive acres of painted property include tiny animals, landowners, staff, shifting skies, and seasonal details. On one such painting I even noticed tiny blue jays and wild geese, flying in groupings across the canvas. In the Dousa farm painting, the cow, on the right, dwarfs the horse-drawn worker, on the left. One riveting landscape painting, a series of views of a Catholic church in Maine, illustrated a bucolic scene, then marauders, setting it on fire, then the tumult and flames that followed.

Up a few stairs in the museum are giant, carved rabbit and elephant sculptures, from a carousel, and carved wooden sculptures from outside tobacco and clothing shops. The painted pine “Dude”, seen below, from the late 19th century workshop of Samuel Robb, would be stationed outside a men’s clothing shop, to show the prospective buyer how he may look in an affordable (the sculpture shows wrinkles) vested suit and coat. Another wooden sculpture depicts a man in a top hat, to lure shoppers for higher priced haberdashery. Similarly sized wooden sculptures show an American Indian offering a handful of fine cigars, or a finely-dressed woman, smoking a cigar, to beckon men into the tobacco shops. The next exhibition, “When the Curtain Never Comes Down”, March 26 – July 5, 2015, is about performance art and daily rituals. I look forward to exploring this exhibit in the highly anticipated spring.

Chest over Drawers
Artist unidentified
Dauphin County, Pennsylvania,1803
Paint on white pine/yellow pine, brass, iron, 27 x 50 1/4 x 22"
Photo courtesy of the Barbara L. Gordon Collection

"James Mairs Salisbury"
Attributed to Ammi Phillips (1788-1865)
Catskill, New York, c. 1835
Oil on canvas, 32" x 27"
Photo courtesy of the Barbara L. Gordon Collection

The Farm of Henry Windle
Henry Dousa (1837-after 1903)
Washington Court House, Ohio,1875
Oil on canvas, 31 1/4 x 48"
Photo courtesy of the Barbara L. Gordon Collection

Possibly workshop of Samuel Robb (1851-1928), c. 1885-1900
New York City, New York
Paint on white pine, 84 3/4 x 26 x 26"
Photo courtesy of the Barbara L. Gordon Collection

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at