To preserve, conserve, and interpret a comprehensive collection of the highest quality traditional folk art and creative expressions of contemporary self-taught artists from the United States and abroad.
About the Organization:
Founded in 1961 by Arthur M. Bullowa, Adele Earnest, Cordelia Hamilton, Herbert W. Hemphill Jr., Marian Willard Johnson, and Joseph B. Martinson, the Museum of Early American Folk Arts, as it was known then, opened its first galleries to the public in the fall of 1963. Housed in the rented parlor floor of a townhouse at 49 West 53rd Street, the museum's earliest collection featured nineteenth-century pieces donated by its founders and other folk art collectors. During the 1970s the museum expanded its collection to include quilts, textiles, and twentieth-century paintings and sculptures. Unfortunately, the museum's finances began to deteriorate during that period, and its board of trustees considered closing its doors. Grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the New York State Council on the Arts enabled the museum to launch a series of exhibitions, including bicentennial exhibitions on the folk arts of New York State, which helped sustain its reputation as an innovator in the folk arts space and boosted attendance. During the '80s and '90s, while it continued to expand its permanent collection and embark on numerous educational programs and traveling exhibitions, including a partnership with New York University, the museum focused much of its attention on acquiring and developing a home of its own on West 53rd Street. While it was negotiating the future of its properties in midtown, the museum also undertook the creation of branch exhibition facilities at Two Lincoln Square, opposite Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, a space that opened in 1989 and continues to house the bulk of its collection. In 2001, the museum adopted a new name, the American Folk Art Museum.
The museum offers a number of exhibition and collection programs as well as special events, including a fall symposium, lecture series, and winter talk. Visitors to the museum can take a group tour or participate in regular events: Free Music Fridays, Guitar Afternoon, and Make It Thursday. The museum's Shirley K. Schlafer Library provides comprehensive coverage in areas related to American folk art, as well as information on a wide range of related fields, including early American fine and decorative arts, European folk art and non-Western art, the arts of the African diaspora, and the cultural and social history of groups such as the Pennsylvania Germans and early American utopian communities. In addition, the museum publishes folk art books and catalogs and rents space to visiting groups and institutions.
The American Folk Art Museum site features current, past, and traveling exhibitions; an image gallery; a calendar of upcoming events; and information about the history of folk art in America. Visitors to the site also can browse an index of the museum's now defunct Folk Art magazine, connect with the museum on various social networking sites, and add their names to the museum's mailing list.
Support for the American Folk Art Museum is provided by corporations, foundations, individuals, and government agencies.