Dear members and friends,
The American Folk Art Museum is the premier institution devoted to the aesthetic appreciation of traditional folk art and creative expressions of contemporary self-taught artists from the United States and abroad. The museum preserves, conserves, and interprets a comprehensive collection of the highest quality, with objects dating from the eighteenth century to the present.
The mission of the American Folk Art Museum—our task, and our passion—is to engage you in the process of looking at works of art. The American Folk Art Museum provides opportunities for you to discover not only the meaning of what you are looking at but also the power.
Many of the artists whose works are shown at the American Folk Art Museum are anonymous—unnamed, but prolific and skillful and nearly divinely inspired to make aesthetic objects: a metal box that’s more special than any other, which is why it has survived for centuries; or a coverlet for a cold night, meticulously stitched by hand to surround a loved one in the warmth of an entire family or community. The decorative tin box is meant to suggest a wonderful secret within—a prized recipe or exotic spice, a love letter or lock of hair. Its contents, at one time, were a treasure to be discovered or preserved. In so carefully trying to designate the essential role of an otherwise ordinary metal container, the hand-painted tin box became itself a work of art, a kind of masterpiece. As did the quilt, and the weathervane, the whirligig, and the hundreds of other works of art brought into being by necessity, transformed by an imaginative, or entrepreneurial, or sentimental, or especially skillful soul into an aesthetic object imbued with such fanciful or ferocious expression that it was treasured over time and preserved.
The Museum also champions—in every sense of that word—works of art made by those who found that they could not help but express themselves through visual means. The material world speaks to them, sometimes, they believe, literally; or they are compelled to bring into the world a manifestation of what they’re told, or what they see, dream, fear most, or desire. Call them “self-taught,” or “visionary,” or “outsider.” Or call it what avant-garde artist Jean Dubuffet (1901–1985) termed art brut, which encompasses many different kinds and types of objects (calligraphies, needlework, sculpture, paintings, drawings, even large-scale environments).
But I digress. What we seek most of all is to create engagement with you, and we hope that engagement is maximal.
I am thrilled about the opportunity to lead this Museum at this particular point in its history. Our superb collection—called by New York Times art critic Roberta Smith “one of New York City’s great treasures”—is intact, and even more: it’s on the road here and here. I am enormously grateful to the board of trustees and others who held fast to the promise of the Museum, supported the Museum, and protected its most essential assets: the outstanding works of art, the hard-working staff members, and the enthusiasm to present exhibitions, public programs, and other special events over the past many months. To the members who maintained their dedication to the Museum, and to our visitors: I look forward to meeting you.
We have a lot of work to do. No doubt about that. Today is Day Six for me. I’ll get back to you in about a month. I will have lots to report.
The Honorable Anne-Imelda Radice, PhD