When were you last at the AFAM Office?
The last time I was in the office was on Monday, March 16, a few days after the American Folk Art museum closed to the public due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I remember the day feeling spooky and a little sad. The Collections and Education Center (CEC) – located in Long Island City, Queens – is typically bustling with administrative staff and visitors to the Self-Taught Genius Gallery. On March 16, it was empty and quiet. I was one of only a few staff members who went to the CEC that day to gather a few things in preparation to work from home. The subway ride back to my apartment in Forest Hills, Queens was also relatively empty. It would have been quiet too had it not been for a subway dancer blaring Michael Jackson and doing the moonwalk. Normally I find subway entertainment a little annoying, but on that day, it was the humor that I needed. Not even the City can shut down the subway dancers, I thought. At least some things never change.
How has your work changed since the Museum closed? How have you adapted your work working from home?
There are a lot of aspects of my work that are different now. The most satisfying parts of my job involve handling the collection and working researchers to study the collection. Currently, I am not with the Archives, nor can it be accessed by researchers or visitors. As a result, I have had to rethink the projects I want to work on and, unfortunately, cancel research visits indefinitely.
On the other hand, the pandemic has been an opportunity to get back to basics and work on projects that have always been there but never prioritized, such as updating emergency policies and revising preservation and processing manuals. These projects are not as fun as working with, say a collection of old photographs, but they are important and will make the Archives better when it reopens. This has also been a time to get creative and consider how to continue to develop and share the Archives from a social distance. So, even though my job may look a little bit different right now, my mission remains the same: to collect, preserve and share stories that link the past to the present.
Tell us more about the Archives!
The museum Archives contain over 700 linear feet of archival materials that provide a colorful glimpse into the history of the museum and the history of the field of folk art, self-taught art, and art brut. It is just as varied as the museum collection. The Archives contains the records of prominent artists and collectors, such as Ralph Fasanella and Gerald Kornblau. It also has interesting artifacts as well. We have cabinets full of daguerreotypes and ambrotypes, which are some of the earliest forms of photography from the mid-1800s. We also have heirloom bibles dating as far back as the American Revolution. In the Archives you can also find quilt patterns, audio-video recordings, scrapbooks, letters and much more. It is quite an array! The largest collection is our institutional records, which date to the founding of the museum in 1961. I am particularly excited to tap into these records for the museum’s 60th Anniversary next year. Fun fact: archivists love throwing big birthday parties because all of the best old photos are in the Archives.
Can you tell us about the AFAM from Home Archives? What is it and how can people contribute?
Sure! The AFAM Archives holds stories of creative individuals and visionary organizations, often in extraordinary circumstances. Today, we are all living in an extraordinary moment, which is why I want to document this period of the Museum’s history for the Archives. The question I want answered is “How are you AFAM-ing from home?” or put another way “How are you continuing to share and enjoy self-taught art while the museum is closed?
Submissions can be paintings, photos, poems, stories, music, activities (really almost anything!) inspired by the online resources and virtual programs available on our website. To contribute, you can fill out and upload your submission to our digital form.
If you have any questions please contact me, Regina Carra, at firstname.lastname@example.org. I am happy to answer any questions about this project or about the AFAM Archives in general. You can also find more information about the AFAM from Home Archives on our website.
Have you received submissions to the AFAM from Home Archives so far?
Yes! We have received some submissions from people that have participated in our Digital Drink + Draw programs, but we welcome more participation from our patrons, including via the Community Quilt Project, You can use our templates to create your own quilt square that signifies a meaningful person or place in your life. Take a photo or scan your square and upload it through our digital form. If we get enough submissions, we’ll compile a bunch of these squares into a digital community quilt.
AFAM’s staff has gotten involved as well. One of my favorite submissions is from our Librarian, Louise Masarof, who submitted a poem. She begins with the lines: “At first I thought I might be aggravated / To spend my time in the apartment isolated,” but she then follows with rhymes about some of the lighter moments of quarantine: drinking coffee all day, working with her intern, celebrating Passover with family, and just being grateful for making it through this pandemic. It was a delight to receive her work for the Archives.
For more information on the AFAM Library and Archive, please click here.