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21 Jun 2024

The American Folk Art Museum Announces a Gift of Gameboards

The works will go on view as part of a new exhibition opening in September

(New York, New York) The American Folk Art Museum (2 Lincoln Sq., Columbus Ave. at W. 65th St.) is pleased to announce a gift of gameboards and photographs from the collection of Bruce and Doranna Wendel. Works from the gift will be presented in the exhibition Playing with Design: Gameboards, Art, and Culture, which will feature over 100 gameboards from the Wendels’ collection from September 13, 2024, through January 26, 2025. 

Included in the gift are early examples of classic games of Parcheesi, checkers, and chess, as well as hand-painted iterations of Monopoly and Chutes and Ladders, made in the United States between the mid-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. All gameboards and a selection of photographs showcasing game-playing from the gift will be on view in Playing with Design, an exhibition that celebrates the aesthetic beauty of these hand-made objects and the greater cultural meaning behind them.

The exhibition is curated by Emelie Gevalt, Curatorial Chair for Collections and Curator of Folk Art at the American Folk Art Museum (AFAM). It marks the second time the Wendels’ gameboard collection will be on view at AFAM, following the 1984-85 exhibition Winning Moves: Painted Gameboards of North America.

“We are absolutely thrilled to welcome selections from Doranna and Bruce’s stunning and impressive gameboard collection into the Museum’s collection and galleries,” said Jason T. Busch, the Museum’s Becky and Bob Alexander Director & CEO. “Exploring the historical significance and artistry behind homemade gameboards provides us with a deeper understanding of our shared experiences.”

Playing with Design is divided into thematic sections that explore ideas of history, culture, design, and craftsmanship within American game-playing. Some examples will evoke the familiarity of contemporary games, while others will give material shape to historical ideals, including morality, religion, patriotism, entrepreneurship and imagination. The gameboards on view will speak to underlying concepts of adventure and risk-taking as fundamental to American life, as seen through games organized around the themes of a train journey, a whaling expedition, or a trip around the world.

Playing with Design will also explore the shift toward modernism at the turn of the twentieth century, relating the bold, geometric colors of hand-painted boards to the work of celebrated painters such as Piet Mondrian, Ellsworth Kelly and Jasper Johns.

“Though people have been playing games since ancient times, gameboards have been slow to gain recognition for their major contributions to human development, socialization, and artistic expression,” said Gevalt. “Because of the Wendels’ special collection, we’re able to examine how gameboards can provide deep historical insights into the values and priorities of American culture and creativity.” 

About the American Folk Art Museum

Founded in 1961, the American Folk Art Museum engages people of all backgrounds through its collections, exhibitions, publications, and programs as the leading forum shaping the understanding and appreciation of folk and self-taught artists across time and place.