Dear members and friends,
Earlier this month, I visited Bentonville, Arkansas, where our exhibition American Made: Treasures from the American Folk Art Museum opened to considerable fanfare at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. This exhibition marks the first occasion of Crystal Bridges’ showing folk art. Curator Stacy C. Hollander put together an exhibition of more than one hundred pieces—including quilts, paintings, furniture, and sculptures—that examines the role that artworks have played in shaping the visual and national identity of America.
The summer exhibitions that opened on June 21 at the American Folk Art Museum have proved to be popular with visitors and critics alike. Fever Within: The Art of Ronald Lockett, a traveling exhibition of forty-nine works organized by the Ackland Art Museum at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, was curated by Bernard L. Herman, George B. Tindall Distinguished Professor of Southern Studies and Folklore at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. On opening night, Herman joined Paul Arnett of the Souls Grown Deep Foundation; Thomas J. Lax, Associate Curator in the Department of Media and Performance Art at the Museum of Modern Art; and curator Dr. Valérie Rousseau for a panel discussion titled “Ronald Lockett: Prescient Voice.” In her review in Time Out New York, critic Anne Doran wrote, “The message of Ronald Lockett’s art—that black lives matter—is as clear and as powerful . . . and it’s more timely than ever.”
Running concurrently is an exhibition curated by our own Dr. Rousseau titled Once Something Has Lived It Can Never Really Die. It spotlights ten works by Lockett as well as eighty small-scale works, including nineteenth-century American Indian effigies, Brazilian ex-votos or milagros (votive offerings used for their curative powers), works by contemporary artist Sandra Sheehy, and never-before-seen film interviews with Ronald Lockett. Once Something Has Lived also highlights works by Melvin Way, an African American artist, originally from the South, whose dense, complex drawings have been described as “explorations of the mysteries of life.” The American Folk Art Museum is one of the first museums in the country to champion works by self-taught artists of the American South like Ronald Lockett and Melvin Way.
A wonderful program at the museum that complements the Ronald Lockett exhibitions will take place in August. Theater director Camille A. Brown will perform an excerpt from her Bessie Award-winning production Mr. TOL E. RAncE. Following the performance, Brown will participate in a dialogue with Farah Jasmine Griffin, Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University, on the subjects of race relations, the Deep South, and civil rights—subjects explored by Ronald Lockett’s work. The performance and dialogue will take place on Tuesday, August 9, at 6:30 PM.
I am pleased to announce that the museum has received a grant of $600,000 from The Leir Charitable Foundations. The funds will be used to digitize the museum’s collection in its entirety (more than eight thousand pieces!) for placement on our website for everyone to study and enjoy. Museums such as the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler and Freer Galleries have digitized their collections with considerable success. We expect the project to be completed by June 30, 2019.
The museum has also received a grant from The Friends of Heritage Preservation for the conservation work done on Thornton Dial’s piece titled The Man Rode Past His Barn to Another New Day. Dial, who passed away earlier this year, is one of the best-known and most beloved self-taught artists in the world. His work has been exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Smithsonian. In 2001, Jane Fonda donated The Man Rode Past, a large mixed media work, to the American Folk Art Museum.
One traveling exhibition, Self-Taught Genius: Treasures from the American Folk Art Museum, is at the St. Louis Art Museum now through September 11, 2016. It then travels to the Tampa Museum of Art for the fall and winter seasons.
On July 23, the museum participated in a nationwide initiative called Blue Star Museums, a collaboration among the National Endowment for the Arts, Blue Star Families, the Department of Defense, and more than two thousand museums across the United States. The participating museums offer free admission to active duty military personnel and their families from Memorial Day through Labor Day 2016. The program provides families with an opportunity to enjoy the nation’s cultural heritage and learn more about their new communities after a military move. Because the American Folk Art Museum already offers free admission, we celebrated with an event called “Assemblage and Abstraction” on Saturday, July 23. Designed for adult military personnel and their children aged 4 to 15, participants explored the exhibition Fever Within: The Art of Ronald Lockett and created their own works of abstract art, using the techniques of assemblage and collage that Lockett used by incorporating a variety of materials.
I look forward to seeing you at the museum soon.
Dr. Anne-Imelda Radice
Executive Director, American Folk Art Museum