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Museum News
15 May 2024

Remembering Audrey Heckler

It is with profound sadness that the American Folk Art Museum’s staff and Board of Trustees note the passing of Audrey B. Heckler, a steadfast and generous benefactor. 

A devoted AFAM Trustee since 2003, Ms. Heckler enriched the Museum through loans for exhibitions, gifts to the collection, and financial support of a variety of initiatives, notably the leadership of the Council for Self-Taught Art and Art Brut, and the Visionary Award, which honored an individual or an organization that has made a distinctive contribution toward the recognition of self-taught artists. 

Ms. Heckler went to Skidmore College for two years and then received a BA at Finch College. Her professional career was defined by experience in the management and maintenance of real estate properties, and she was president of the Gray Block Corporation, a commercial real estate business. Her interest in self-taught artists began in 1993, and over the course of three decades Ms. Heckler amassed an unparalleled collection of over 500 works of art.  

Works from Ms. Heckler’s collection were presented to critical acclaim and near record attendance during Memory Palaces: Inside the Collection of Audrey B. Heckler. The exhibition, which was on view at the Museum from September 16, 2019 to January 26, 2020, included more than one hundred sixty works by over eighty artists and was drawn exclusively from Ms. Heckler’s collection. 

The international scope and diversity underlying her collection was the subject of a Museum publication titled The Hidden Art: Twentieth and Twenty-First Century Self Taught Artists from the Audrey B. Heckler Collection. This important resource celebrates the individual contributions and legacy of self-taught artists, with thoughtful essays by thirty-two renowned specialists on these artists. 

In 2020, the Museum was honored to announce the donation of Ms. Heckler’s collection, which includes key examples of European art brut, including works by Aloïse Corbaz, August Klett, Augustin Lesage, and Anna Zemánková; works by African American artists such as Thornton Dial, William Edmondson, Sister Gertrude Morgan, and Sam Doyle; American classics by Henry Darger, Emery Blagdon, Morris Hirshfield, and James Castle; and twenty-first century additions from around the world by artists such as Guo Fengyi and Christine Sefolosha. The donation launched the Museum’s 60th anniversary gifts of art initiative and has inspired dozens of individuals and organizations to donate to the AFAM collection.

Upon the announcement of the donation, ArtNet News called it “one of the country’s most important and comprehensive collections of self-taught art.” 

In recognition of her extraordinary support for the Museum, a gallery at AFAM’s flagship location at 2 Lincoln Square was named in her honor. 

Jason T. Busch, the Museum’s Becky and Bob Alexander Director & CEO, said, “Audrey’s incredible impact on the American Folk Art Museum cannot be overstated. Through her expertise and guidance, she contributed immeasurably to the Museum, and the Museum will be forever connected with her.”

Liz Warren, President of the Museum’s Board of Trustees noted, “Audrey was a key member of our Board, and over the years, her generosity and friendship was an inspiration to each of us. We will miss her dearly.”