American Folk Art

 In Past Exhibitions



September 16 – December 31, 2017

The Fenimore’s remarkable collection of American folk art was originated by Stephen Carlton Clark over seventy years ago and is now regarded as one of the most comprehensive and significant assemblages in the United States. The exhibition includes select items from the collection such as weathervanes, portraits, pottery, and more.

In 1930, Holger Cahill, a curator at the Newark Museum, assembled a ground-breaking exhibition of 18th- and 19th- century American objects entitled American Primitives. The visual power of the exhibition struck a chord with the American public and created a basis for what is now termed American Folk Art. Cahill called folk art:

. . . the expression of the common people, made by them and intended for their use and
enjoyment. It does not come out of an academic tradition passed on by schools, but
out of a craft tradition plus the personal quality of the rare craftsman who was an artist.

The artists and artisans who created, and continue to create, these works are a disparate group with little or no formal artistic training. Some folk artists acquired practical skills through an apprenticeship in a craft tradition. Others, particularly women, learned watercolor or needlework in school and created pictures for friends and relatives. Still, other folk artists acquired traditional skills through informal, intergenerational example. A folk artist, especially in this century, may create highly personal images drawn from popular culture, memory, and the artist’s cultural or ethnic heritage. Whatever the method, folk art is valued for its beauty and expressive power, for dynamic linear forms, intense colors, the combination of decorative and utilitarian concerns, and the sense of familiarity it evokes by reflecting everyday life as well as the hopes and dreams of ordinary people.

Stephen C. Clark’s major purchases from private collections such as those of modernist sculptor Elie Nadelman and the pioneering collector and author Jean Lipman form the core of the Fenimore’s folk art collection. In recent years, the collection has expanded to include the works of important 20th- century folk artists such as Grandma Moses and Ralph Fasanella, both on view in the museum’s Main Gallery. The works on display in American Folk Art: Seven Decades of Collecting are a representative sampling of 18th and 19th-century pieces that reflect Cahill’s vision of American folk art as a visually powerful and historically important expression of the American people.

American Folk Art: Seven Decades of Collecting is supported by anonymous donors in honor of Jane Forbes Clark and in memory of Stephen C. Clark.


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