Published: December 23, 2016
NEW YORK CITY – The 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 (Va.), will launch its celebratory year in Manhattan as the featured loan exhibition at the Winter Antiques Show running January 20-29 at the Park Avenue Armory.
“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 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 more than 70 dealers 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 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 25 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 her 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. Rockefeller was advised by a circle of influential folk art dealers, collectors and scholars, including Edith Gregor Halpert, Holger Cahill, Isabel Carleton Wilde and the Modernist sculptor Elie Nadelman.
Opened in 1957, the AARFAM was built upon a core collection of more than 420 objects that Mrs Rockefeller gave to the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. Today it is home to more than 5,000 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.
Among the exhibition highlights are “Baby in Red Chair,” an oil on canvas painted in Pennsylvania 1810-30, which 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 Rockefeller’s personal collection.
Another featured object will be a yellow pine blanket chest painted by Johannes Spitler, a furniture decorator working in Shenandoah County, Va., 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 echoing 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, Va.), 1840-42, is another standout on view. This cooler decorated with a molded patriotic eagle and 13 stars confirms Lowndes as a potter who produced some of the most ambitious and lavishly ornamented stoneware vessels in Virginia before 1850.
Also featured is “Portrait of Amanda Clayanna Armstrong,” a carved sculpture by Asa Ames in 1847, when the artist was barely 23. The sitter was 3½ years old at the time and shown 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.
Reuben Law Reed’s “Washington and Lafayette at the Battle of Yorktown,” an oil and gold paint on cotton twill canvas, 1860-80, is another of Rockefeller’s works that will take center stage in the exhibit. 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, 1786-93, is one of a pair of oils on canvas 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.
“Revolution & Evolution” will be curated by Laura Pass Barry, the Juli Grainger curator of paintings, drawings and sculpture; Tara Gleason Chicirda, curator of furniture; and Suzanne Findlen Hood, curator of ceramics and glass. Barry chairs this committee. The exhibition will be designed by Jeff Daly of Jeff Daly Design, New York.
The Park Avenue Armory is at 67th Street and Park Avenue. For more information, www.winterantiquesshow.com or 718-292-7392.
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