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11 Jan 2022

Gerard Wertkin (1940-2022)

The Museum notes with profound sadness the passing of Gerard C. Wertkin, a scholar, curator, and attorney who was Director of the American Folk Art Museum for nearly 15 years.

Initially hired in 1981 as Assistant Director of the Museum, Wertkin ascended to the role of Director in 1991 where he remained until his retirement in 2004. Under his leadership, the Museum increased the depth of its collection and organized countless groundbreaking exhibitions. During Wertkin’s tenure, the Museum built its location at 45 East 53 Street, which opened in 2001 shortly after the September 11th attacks and provided inspiration and hope for a city in mourning.

Remembered as a thoughtful scholar and an enthusiastic teacher, Wertkin was recognized as an authority on the art and culture of the Shakers. As a curator, he organized numerous important exhibitions, including The Jewish Heritage in American Folk Art, The Shakers: Photographs by Ann Chwatsky/Objects from Sabbathday Lake, City Folk: Ethnic Traditions in the Metropolitan Area, ‘Given by Inspiration’: Shaker Drawings and Manuscripts from the American Society for Psychical Research. Wertkin was the author, editor, or co-author of numerous books, including The Four Seasons of Shaker Life, Millennial Dreams: Vision and Prophecy in American Folk Art, and The Encyclopedia of American Folk Art.

Wertkin was an adjunct associate professor of art and art education at New York University where he taught courses in the history of American folk art and the material culture of communal groups. In 1996, he received the Annual Award of Distinction from the Folk Art Society of America.

The Board of Trustees, President Elizabeth V. Warren, Director and CEO Jason T. Busch, and the Museum’s Staff extend their condolences to the Wertkin family.

Image: Nek Chand (1924–2015), Bangle Man, Chandigarh, India, 1984. Concrete over metal armature with mixed media, 42 × 18 × 16. Gift of the National Children’s Museum, Washington, D.C., from the Capital Children’s Museum Nek Chand Fantasy Garden, in honor of Gerard C. Wertkin, director of the American Folk Art Museum, 1991 to 2004, 2004.25.16. Photo Credit: Gavin Ashworth.