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Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art debuts its first-ever folk art show
James Bard (1815–1897), Horse Jack of Woodbridge, NJ, 1871. Oil and ink on paperboard, 8 7/16 × 11 13/16 in. Collection American Folk Art Museum, New York. Gift of Ralph Esmerian, 2005.8.17 Photo: Sotheby's.

BENTONVILLE, ARK.- Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art announces the opening of American Made: Treasures from the American Folk Art Museum, on view July 2 through September 19, 2016. The exhibition features 115+ works of art including quilts, carvings, signs, samplers, weathervanes, whirligigs, and more—handmade by Americans when the nation was young. Tickets are $10 for adults; free for ages 18 and under and museum members.

“We’re excited for visitors to experience Crystal Bridges’ first-ever folk art exhibition which provides a glimpse into early American life with these extraordinary objects,” says Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art Executive Director Rod Bigelow. “As we approach the fourth-of-July holiday, American Made tells the story of a nation of makers.”

Created especially for Crystal Bridges in partnership with the American Folk Art Museum in New York, the selection of artworks and exhibition concept for American Made were provided by Stacy C. Hollander, Deputy Director, Chief Curator and Director of Exhibitions, American Folk Art Museum, NY. Written interpretation, exhibition design and educational programs were developed by Crystal Bridges. Sponsored at Crystal Bridges by George’s and Becky and Bob Alexander.

“We are honored that the American Folk Art Museum was invited to collaborate on the first folk art exhibition at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art,” says Hollander. “We are dedicated to reaching new audiences and having them discover the beauty and power of folk art to testify, inspire, move, and inform from a perspective that is unique in American art.”

American Made shares the story of early American culture and identity. Societal values, national symbols, and personal narratives are stitched together to showcase American creativity and resourcefulness. The artworks in the exhibition demonstrate a high level of skill and help chronicle everyday life of early Americans, as well as themes of patriotism and politics.

The exceptional variety in materials, subject matter, and scale can be seen throughout American Made. A few examples include a set of 4-inch tall, delicately crafted paper figurines of horses and soldiers used as children’s toys post-Revolutionary War; a sprawling 6 x 7-foot embroidered silk map quilt of the United States that creates a snapshot of the nation’s geography in the late 1800s; and a weathervane featuring an 8-foot tall copper figure of the Delaware Indian leader, Tammany (1890)—possibly the largest surviving American weathervane.

“American Made invites the viewer to look closely and discover the stories behind these works of art,” says Crystal Bridges Curator Mindy Besaw. “Many of the artists’ names in American Made will never be known. They did not receive formal art education, but they had tremendous expertise and skill, and this exhibition is a way to honor their important contributions to our own artistic heritage.”

This exhibition reveals the self-taught nature of American artists from the mid-1700s to the early-1900s, and tells the story of how these objects found their way into museums. After the Revolutionary War ended in 1783, the development of American identity and American art progressed along similar paths. The United States began as a grand experiment in self-governance, in which each citizen became a self-reliant participant. The idea of being “self-taught” became especially important to early American artists, who adopted the term as a point of pride. The self-taught artist expressed independence, self-realization, and self-direction as the nation cultivated a new, cohesive American identity.

The artworks in this exhibition were not shown and appreciated in art museums until the 1920s and 1930s. This gradual shift of folk art from everyday life to the walls of museums began with a growing desire to connect with an authentic American past. In the early twentieth century, a small but influential group of artists, curators, dealers, collectors, and critics started collecting and exhibiting American folk art. Their renewed interest drew attention to art forms that had previously existed primarily as household goods. For the first time, the work of self-taught American artists was integrated into the larger context of the fine arts, and the ordinary objects that once filled lives and homes were recognized as extraordinary.

“Folk art embodies a uniquely American character that resonates with many of us,” says Besaw. “The artwork in American Made highlights the role folk art has played in the creation of a national identity. The exhibition also complements Crystal Bridges’ own collection of paintings and sculpture and broadens our definitions of American art.”

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