Tuesday, January 26, 2016
January 26, 2016: Colonial Williamsburg: Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum
[As part of our annual Virginia trip last summer, the boys and I—and AmericanStudier madre—visited Colonial Williamsburg for the first time. So this week I’ll AmericanStudy some different histories and elements that are part of that complex and compelling historic site. Add your thoughts, on Williamsburg or other historic sites, in comments!]
Three telling exhibits and pieces from Williamsburg’s amazing folk art museum.
1) An exhibition of quilts: Through December 6th, the museum’s McCarl Gallery will feature “A Celebration of Quilts,” an exhibition featuring 12 noteworthy American quilts from the 18th through the 20th centuries. The exhibit includes pieces by African American, Hawaiian, and Amish quiltmakers (among other artisans), and likewise runs the gamut of techniques and styles. Serving as both utilitarian household item and artistic products, as both material and artistic culture, quilts are a perfect example of the complexity and value of folk art (compared to the more obvious “fine arts”).
2) Pueblo jewelry: Through September 5th, 2016, the museum’s Peebles Gallery will feature “Thunderbirds: Jewelry of the Santo Domingo Pueblo,” an exhibition that highlights a particular, Depression-era jewelry style from a New Mexico pueblo with a longstanding artistic tradition. Mass-produced (compared to the pueblo’s norms, at least) in response to the Depression’s economic exigencies, and using any and all available materials for the same reason, these jewelry pieces are thus both distinct from the pueblo’s traditions and yet represent a stage and evolution of those histories—and are vital American folk art in any case.
3) Baby in Red Chair: And then there’s that baby, one of the perennial representations of the museum’s collections and spirit. Currently exhibited as part of an American folk portraits collection in the Clark Foundation Gallery, the baby embodies the practice and appeal of folk art—simple yet eloquent, anonymous yet enduring, everyday yet reflecting our reality in the way that only the arts can. There’s a reason why the baby has been one of the museum’s most popular pieces, and it’s the same reason why the museum has been so successful—because folk art is a vibrant and vital part of our national community and identity.
Next Williamsburg post tomorrow,
PS. What do you think?