(New York, NY, July 11, 2019) The exhibition A Piece of Yourself: Gift Giving in Self-Taught Art will be presented at the Self-Taught Genius Gallery (47-29 32nd Pl., Long Island City) from July 22, 2019 through December 30, 2019. The exhibition explores American self-taught art and gift-giving practices through works selected from the collection of the American Folk Art Museum (AFAM). It features more than forty drawings, paintings, quilts, and sculptures made between the eighteenth and twenty-first centuries. The curator of the exhibition is Steffi Ibis Duarte, assistant curator at the AFAM.
“By studying self-taught art through gift giving, this exhibition highlights the multifaceted place and persistent presence that these works hold in our society,” said museum director Jason T. Busch. “In addition to being gifts made by artists, the objects on display were themselves gifts to the museum’s collection from our generous donors and funders.”
Gifts are present at all of life’s great milestones: births, birthdays, weddings, and all occasions in between. The works on view speak of their self-taught origins through their immediate and personal nature. Gifts such as Barbara Zook Peachey’s Four-Patch and Triangles Quilt (1910–1920), made for her granddaughter, or a handmade valentine titled Love Token for Sarah Newlin (1799), are intimate keepsakes made directly by the artist for a loved one. They show that, at its best, giving a work of art is giving a piece of oneself.
“The study of gift-giving practices by self-taught artists is so compelling,” says Duarte, “because making art takes on a wider metaphysical meaning, as if the artists are ‘offering’ a piece of themselves. These works are created during milestones and other moments of emotional significance in the artist’s life. This deeply personal sentiment materializes in the final product.”
Among the gifts on display are heirlooms, art passed down through families from one generation to another. This includes Elsey A. Halstead’s Rising Star Variation Quilt (1848). Hoping to share this quilt with a wider public, Halstead’s descendants donated this piece to AFAM. The gift to the museum reads, “May an appreciation of the love, beauty, and hard work that went into this quilt continue to inspire future generations.”
Also included are gifts made by artists for friends as a way to show appreciation and strengthen bonds. Frames and Squares Quilt (2003), by Gee’s Bend quilt maker Arlonzia Pettway, is a heartfelt thank you to Donald and Hinda Sussman. For a period of one year the Sussmans sent Pettway quarter-yard pieces of fabric from their textile business. At the end of the year they received a surprise gift of this quilt that Pettway made from the materials they had sent her.
Also on display are Godly gifts, including Shaker gift drawings from the Era of Manifestations (1837–1860), a period of revival when heavenly visits (or “gifts”) to chosen congregants were recorded through drawings or songs. More recently, artists including William Edmondson and Minnie Evans stated spiritual messages spurred them to begin the act of making. This divine inspiration gave many artists freedom to fully immerse themselves in their creative practices, while gaining a compelling personal mythology and a celestial endorsement.
“Gifts are as heterogeneous as the makers and circumstances for which they are presented. Yet the personal nature of every gift of self-taught art seeps through, resulting in works that are an extension of their makers,” adds Duarte. “In the words of poet Ralph Waldo Emerson, “’The only gift is a portion of thyself. Thou must bleed for me.’”
Major support for the Self-Taught Genius Gallery is provided by the Henry Luce Foundation.
Significant support is also provided by the Booth Ferris Foundation, with additional support from the Ford Foundation, public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, and the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.
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About the Self-Taught Genius Gallery
The American Folk Art Museum, the premier institution devoted to the aesthetic appreciation of traditional folk art and creative expressions of contemporary self-taught artists from the United States and abroad, opened the Self-Taught Genius Gallery in September 2017. This space is exclusively devoted to exhibiting works from the museum’s more than 8,000-piece collection. Major support for the gallery is provided by the Henry Luce Foundation. Significant support is also provided by the Booth Ferris Foundation, with additional support from the Ford Foundation, public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, and the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature. Admission to the gallery is free. It is open Monday through Thursday from 11:00 am to 5:00 pm. The address is 47-29 32nd Place, Long Island City, Queens, two and a half blocks from the 33 St. stop on the 7 local subway.