American Folk Art Museum

The museum began to build a collection almost immediately after it was established. Bert Hemphill presented the now famous Flag Gate as a gift in 1962. The museum’s initial accession, this piece remains among the most celebrated works of art in the permanent collection. Adele Earnest contributed the Archangel Gabriel Weathervane the following year. Featured as the cover image on the catalog of the institution’s first exhibition, which was on view in the gallery of the Time and Life Building in October and November of 1962, the weathervane served as a well-loved symbol of the museum for many years.

During its first decade, other gifts also came to the museum, along with one major purchase: the monumental, 9-foot-tall St. Tammany Weathervane, perhaps the country’s largest. With a handful of exceptions, the institution’s earliest acquisitions were three-dimensional objects. The museum soon established a reputation for the visual strength and aesthetic importance of sculpture in its permanent collection, a reputation that was enhanced in 1969 by Alastair B. Martin’s gift of 140 outstanding wildfowl decoys. Its other holdings were, relatively speaking, minor.

The museum opened its galleries to the public for the first time on September 27, 1963, in the rented parlor floor of a town house at 49 West 53rd Street. George Montgomery, who had organized traveling exhibitions for the Museum of Modern Art, was appointed the museum’s first director in 1963, a post he held only until 1964. For the most part, the institution’s approach to the collection and exhibition of American folk art was grounded in the fine arts, followingbut extendingthe model of curator Holger Cahill, whose groundbreaking exhibitions at the Newark Museum and the Museum of Modern Art in the 1920s and 1930s helped establish the field. The exhibition program of the first decade was ambitious. Although the museum’s emphasis, as might be expected, was on the nineteenth century and the Northeast, the institution staked out a national and even international purview for itself almost from the beginning.

Place Categories: Art MuseumPlace Tags: illustration, paintings, Photography, printmaking and sculptures

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