Columbus Museum of Art

Columbus, OH



A Bountiful Plenty from the Shelburne Museum: Folk Art Traditions in America


The national tour of A Bountiful Plenty from the Shelburne Museum: Folk Art Traditions in America opened at the Columbus Museum of Art on November 3, 2000. Including nearly 90 paintings, quilts, sculptures, and furniture, the exhibition addresses the multiple ways in which 18th- and 19th-century folk art can be understood, ranging from an exploration of the original context and function to its role in the development of modern American art. The exhibition remains on view through February 4, 2001. (left: Daniel Muller (for Gustav Dentzel Carousel Co.), Tiger Carousel Figure,before 1903. © Shelburne Museum; left: Anonymous, Circus Equestrienne Weathervane, c. 1885. Gilded sheet copper filled with lead, on wrought iron pivot. © Shelburne Museum)

The Shelburne Museum in Shelburne, Vermont houses one of America's premier collections of folk art. Brought together by Electra Havemeyer Webb (1888-1960), this rich collection is comprised of pieces she collected before World War I, before folk art was known to scholars or to the general public as anything more than ordinary, everyday objects. Webb's passion for these special objects - trade and tavern signs, cigar store figures, weathervanes, ships' carvings, carousel figures, decoys, primitive paintings, and sculpture continued throughout her life and led to the museum's founding in 1947. A central figure in the world of early collectors and dealers, Webb helped to establish American folk art as a serious and respected field.

left to right: Daniel Muller (for Gustav Dentzel Carousel Co.), Goat Carousel Figure, before 1903, carved polychromed wood, 58 1/2 x 63 1/2 x 25 1/2 inches, © Shelburne Museum; Quilt - Major Ringgold Album, c. 1846, cotton, padded appliqued quilt, 93 x 110 inches, © Shelburne Museum; Eagle on Uncle Sam's Hat Tradesign, c. 1870, carved polychromed wood, inscribed, Eagle House, U.S., 23 3/4 x 24 x 11 inches, © Shelburne Museum; Tiger Pull Toy, 19th century, polychromed wood, 9 1/4 x 8 1/2 x 3 1/2 inches, © Shelburne Museum; Fish with Flag Sign, c. 1850, sawn and polychromed wood with polychromed iron flag, Found in Central New York, 34 x 61 x 2 1/2 inches, © Shelburne Museum.

As one of the earliest collectors of American folk art, Electra Webb was clearly in the vanguard; her eye for the best work led her to acquire highly significant folk sculptures by both known artisans and by artisans who have only recently been identified. Mrs. Webb appreciated the originality and economy of line in folk art, and valued its expressive qualities, unhampered by academic conventions. She loved bold, unusual forms and rich surface detail and she was interested in distressed and painted finishes at a time when many dealers and collectors were still stripping pieces of their original finishes.

left to right: TOTE Indian Hunter Weathervane, c. 1860, polychromed sheet iron, 94 3/4 x 20 x 20 inches (includes base), © Shelburne Museum; Fighting Cock, c. 1820, carved polychromed wood, Shown on 1953 Antiques Magazine Cover of Shelburne Museum objects, 73 x 24 x 24 inches, © Shelburne Museum; Joseph Whiting Stock, Jane Henrietta Russell, c. 1844, oil on canvas, 52 3/4 x 40 3/4 x 2 3/4 inches, from the Maxim Karolik Collection, © Shelburne Museum; Fruit on Marble, c. 1865, oil on canvas, 27 1/2 x 33 1/2 x 2 1/4 inches, © Shelburne Museum.

In displaying her collection Mrs. Webb created a strong individual style; quilts, paintings, sculpture and furniture were arranged for the maximum impact of their richly decorated surfaces, effects which this exhibition recreates.

The exhibition includes works by makers and artists whose reputations and importance continue to grow, such as painters Edward Hicks, Erastus Salisbury Field, William Matthew Prior, and Anna Robertson (Grandma) Moses. Makers of cigar store and carousel figures include Wilhelm Schimmel and James Lombard, the noted weathervane maker.

A Bountiful Plenty from the Shelburne Museum looks beyond the ongoing argument between folklorists and anthropologists on the one side and art historians on the other. The interpretations address both aspects of the argument and explore the ways in which this material can be described and understood.

A Bountiful Plenty from the Shelburne Museum: Folk Art Traditions in America was organized by the Shelburne Museum in Shelburne, Vermont. The tour is organized by the Trust for Museum Exhibitions in Washington, D.C. The Longaberger Company is lead sponsor. The Women's Board Auxiliary of the Columbus Museum of Art is major sponsor and Loann W. Crane and National City Bank are sponsors.

After the closing of this exhibition at the Columbus (Ohio) Museum of Art on February 4, 2001, the exhibition will travel to Georgia Museum of Art (May 12 - July 1, 2001), Fresno Metropolitan Museum (July 19 - September 9, 2001), Kalamazoo Institute of Arts (September 29, 2001 - January 13, 2002), and Speed Art Museum (February 19 - April 14, 2002).

Rev. 12/1/00

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For further biographical information on selected artists cited above please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

This page was originally published in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information. rev. 4/27/11

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