December 5, 2016
Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum Selected as the Featured Load Exhibition at the 2017 Winter Antiques Show to Launcy the Museum's 60th Anniversary YearThe Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum (AARFAM), which will commemorate its diamond anniversary in 2017 and is one of the Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg, will launch its celebratory year in New York City as the special loan exhibition at the Winter Antiques Show to be held at the Park Avenue Armory, January 20-29. Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum: Revolution & Evolution will offer a selection of some of the finest pieces in the museum’s collection including ceramics, sculpture, drawings, paintings, fraktur, furniture, weathervanes, utilitarian objects, needlework, quilts, toys and more. The exhibition will honor Mrs. Rockefeller as one of the early female collectors of folk art and whose collection is the nucleus of the museum’s American folk art collection. It will also salute her vision, which continues today to guide the evolving AARFAM—the oldest, continuously operating institution in the United
States dedicated solely to the collection, exhibition and preservation of American folk art—and to inspire its continued collecting and acquisitions process.
The Winter Antiques Show celebrates its 63rd year as America’s leading art, antiques and design fair, featuring over 70 renowned experts in fine and decorative arts from around the world. All net proceeds from the Show benefit East Side House Settlement, a nationally recognized community-based organization in the South Bronx area of New York City. The Winter Antiques Show's 2017 loan exhibition is sponsored by Bessemer Trust.
It is also noteworthy that the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, which operates the AARFAM, is the only cultural institution to be invited to present the loan exhibition at the Winter Antique Show twice in the past twenty-five years.
“The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation is deeply honored to participate in the Winter Antiques Show for the second time since 2001,” said Ronald L. Hurst, the foundation’s Carlisle H. Humelsine chief curator and vice president for collections, conservation and museums. “It is fitting that the nation’s finest collection of American folk art will celebrate its 60th anniversary at the critically acclaimed Winter Antiques Show in the city where Mrs. Rockefeller’s remarkable philanthropy remains in evidence today.”
Abby Aldrich Rockefeller (1874-1948), wife of John D. Rockefeller Jr. (1874-1960), was an avid art collector. While European and Oriental art were among Mrs. Rockefeller’s early collecting interests, American works came to attract her attention. She enjoyed discovering and patronizing unrecognized contemporary artists and was a founder of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Stimulated by visual analogies between modern art and American folk art, she began building a collection of the latter in 1931. Mrs. Rockefeller was advised by a circle of influential folk art dealers, collectors and scholars, including Edith Gregor Halpert (1900-1970), Holger Cahill (1893-1960), Isabel Carleton Wilde (1877-1951) and the modernist sculptor Elie Nadelman (1882-1946). Opened in 1957, the AARFAM was built upon a core collection of over 420 objects that Mrs. Rockefeller gave to the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. Today it is home to more than 7,000 examples of American folk art, including works dating from the 1720s to the present that represent the diverse cultural traditions and geographical regions of the United States.
The objects to be seen in Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum: Revolution & Evolution are artifacts of 18th-, 19th- and 20th-century material culture; they were made and used by everyday people and they make strong aesthetic statements, a guiding principle in American folk art appreciation. The exhibition will reflect dynamic periods of collecting that occurred not only for this institution but also for American arts in general: the 1930s, when Mrs. Rockefeller’s collection was amassed; the 1950s, when there was a significant push in the study of American art across the country; the 1970s, when the Bicentennial heightened anew the country’s interest in the revolutionary period and Americana; and the 21st century, in which the geographical regions and time periods of the AARFAM’s collection expanded.
Among the highlights of Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum: Revolution & Evolution will be: Baby in Red Chair, an oil on canvas painted in Pennsylvania (1810-1830), which Mrs. Rockefeller acquired in 1931, the year she began collecting folk art. The painting was featured in the landmark 1932 exhibition, American Folk Art: The Art of the Common Man, 1740-1900 that was organized at the Museum of Modern Art, of which all but one object were drawn anonymously from Mrs. Rockefeller's personal collection. In 1939, Mrs. Rockefeller presented a portion of her folk art collection to Colonial Williamsburg. At the same time, she gave fifty-four pieces of folk art to the Museum of Modern Art, which later shared the gift with The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Through the cooperation of these two museums and her son David, a number of these works, including the delightful portrait Baby in Red Chair, were reunited with the Williamsburg collection in 1956. Another featured object in the exhibition will be a yellow pine blanket chest painted by Johannes Spitler, a furniture decorator working in Shenandoah County, Virginia (1795-1807). His colorful designs on blanket chests, tall case clocks and a cupboard often included cultural as well as naturalistic motifs reflecting his Swiss-German heritage and that of most of his neighbors. This particular chest is decorated with a design that echoes the shape of a tall case clock pediment surrounded by geometric and cultural motifs. A salt-glazed stoneware water cooler, made by Henry Lowndes (Petersburg, Virginia, 1840-1842) is another highlight of the exhibition. This cooler decorated with a molded patriotic eagle and thirteen stars confirms Henry Lowndes as a potter who produced some of the most ambitious and lavishly ornamented stoneware vessels in Virginia before 1850. The molded and applied decorative technique on this cooler evokes Lowndes's heritage since his father emigrated from Staffordshire, England. Portrait of Amanda Clayanna Armstrong, a carved sculpture by Asa Ames (1847), is another object that will be featured in the loan exhibition. Carved in upstate New York when his subject was three-and-a-half years old, Ames (who was barely twenty-three years old at the time), showed her wearing what was, most likely, her own, fashionable, late 1840s frock. The familiar costume, Amanda's relaxed stance, and her outstretched hand provide a degree of spontaneity not seen in more academic likenesses. An exceptional achievement for the carver, the sculpture reminds us of the importance Americans attached to images of children at a time when infant mortality rates were high.
Washington and Lafayette at the Battle of Yorktown, by Ruben Law Reed (1860-1880), an oil and gold paint on canvas is another of Mrs. Rockefeller’s works that will take center stage in the exhibit. Ancestors of the artist fought at the battles of Lexington and Bunker Hill, and he was described by his grandson as having “an ardent and life-long interest in historical matters.” This painting shows the American and French generals surveying the land segment of the single most decisive engagement of the American Revolution. The picture is said to accord with a description of the battle given by an eyewitness who later congratulated Reed on the likeness. The Beardsley Limner’s Portrait of Oliver Wight (Massachusetts, 1786-1793) is one of a pair of oils on canvas that are considered to be the artist’s strongest and most effective pictures in which he used a series of triangles to structure the compositions. (The other portrait is of Harmony Childe Wight, Oliver’s wife.) This work, to be shown at the Winter Antiques Show, illustrates the artist’s emphasis on his sitter’s features: a carefully painted face, the hair and the modish beaver hat contrast with the sketchy painting of the coat buttons. The Pennsylvania-German tradition of fraktur will also be represented in the loan exhibition. One excellent example to be seen is Exselenc Georg General Waschingdon and Ledy Waschingdon [sic], attributed to The Sussel-Washington Artist (Pennsylvania, ca. 1780), a watercolor and ink work on laid paper. (In keeping with tradition and practice, the unidentified watercolorist was almost certainly a man and most likely a schoolteacher.) Identified by the artist as George and Martha Washington, the subjects’ stiff, frontal stances, colorful cheeks, costume detail and style of execution, however, resemble other examples of the maker's work, some of which are identified by other inscribed names and some of which remain untitled. A number of these figures grace birth and baptismal certificates, while others appear to have been executed out of sheer love of decorative color and pattern. Purely decorative pieces such as this may have been created as gifts or simply for personal enjoyment.
Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum: Revolution & Evolution will be curated by Laura Pass Barry, Juli Grainger curator of paintings, drawings, and sculpture; Tara Gleason Chicirda, curator of furniture; and Suzanne Findlen Hood, curator of ceramics and glass. Ms. Barry chairs this committee. The exhibition will be designed by Jeff Daly of Jeff Daly Design, New York.
In addition to the loan exhibition itself, the Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg will host a lecture series during the Winter Antiques Show. All lectures will be given at 2:00 p.m. in the Park Avenue Armory. On Saturday, January 21, Nancy Druckman, folk art expert and president of Nancy Druckman, LLC, will present Pioneer and Pre-Eminent: The Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum (and the World of American Folk Art). On Sunday, January 22, Ms. Barry will speak about Celebrating 60 Years of Collecting at the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum. On Monday, January 23, Kimberly Smith Ivey, Colonial Williamsburg’s curator of textiles and historic interiors, will expound on The Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum’s Collection of Quilts: From the Chesapeake to Apple Pie Ridge & Beyond. On Tuesday, January 24, Ms. Hood will present Collecting American Made: From a Tennessee Face Jug to a New York Coffeepot.
For American folk art aficionados, admirers of 18th-, 19th- and 20th-century material culture created for and by common people, and Americana enthusiasts, there will be no better place for seeing the best of its kind than at Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum: Revolution & Evolution at the Winter Antiques Show in January 2017.