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20 Apr 2021

A One-of-a-Kind Supporter: Joyce Cowin

The American Folk Art Museum’s Legacy Society honors friends of the Museum who have pledged to include AFAM in their estate plans. Throughout our 60th anniversary year, we’ll share Legacy Society stories about why devoted supporters of the Museum have made a commitment to its future. To learn more, please contact Karley Klopfenstein, Deputy Director and Chief Development Officer.

One of the Legacy Society’s original members is Museum Trustee Joyce Berger Cowin. Over five decades, Joyce’s unparalleled support of AFAM has ensured that folk art and the creativity of self-taught artists are accessible to guests of every age and background. The Museum’s location on Manhattan’s Upper West Side represents the fully realized vision Joyce brought to life many years ago. Thanks to Joyce’s generosity, this location has featured critically acclaimed exhibitions and welcomed hundreds of thousands of guests. Home to an award-winning shop, and as the venue for free educational programs –  including Jazz Wednesdays (a program championed and supported by Joyce) – it is a part of a vibrant cultural community that includes Lincoln Center and Central Park. 

Joyce’s passion for folk art was shared with her late husband, Daniel Cowin. As the famous story goes: in the late 1950s, the couple spotted a small wooden box with layers of whittled geometric shapes—tramp art— and bought it from Burton and Helaine Fendelman for $9. From this initial purchase, the Cowin’s interests widened. They began to visit the Museum frequently and became acquainted with Robert Bishop, a former Director of AFAM. Joyce commented: “Folk art has a special charm. Everyone can be inspired by it. It is accessible and appealing to a broad audience, which is why every interaction with it is a learning experience.” In 1972, Daniel was elected to the Museum’s board, where he served until he passed away in 1992. Joyce has continued her family’s commitment to the Museum and has been the most generous benefactor in AFAM’s six-decade history. 

When asked why she joined the Museum’s Legacy Society, Joyce commented: “For over fifty years my family and I have supported the American Folk Art Museum. Now, by including the Museum in my estate planning, I am helping to secure its continuing success in the decades to come.”