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American Folk Sculpture

DATES November 01, 1949 through January 08, 1950
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  • November 2, 1949 The first comprehensive exhibition of American Folk Sculpture since its pioneer showing at the Newark Museum 18 years ago will open to the public at the Brooklyn Museum on Nov. 2, preceded by a private view for Museum members and guests on the evening of Nov. 1. The exhibition includes about 150 objects ranging from ship figure heads to miniature carved toys and covering a geographical range from South Carolina to Maine and west as far as Ohio. It was assembled by the Museum in collaboration with Mrs. Jean Lipman and will remain on view through Jan. 8, 1950.

    During the last two decades, so many exceptional pieces have been discovered in this once neglected field that it has seemed advisable again to review the accomplishments of our skilled craftsmen and our untutored carvers in their often instinctive search for sculptural form. While the works shown vary greatly in their degree of primitivism, all have been selected for their expressive quality rather than for any antiquarian interest.

    In addition to figure heads and toys, the exhibition includes a large group of weathervanes, a variety of trade signs (including the cigar-store Indian), carousel and circus wagon figures, decoys, portrait and garden sculpture, toys, firemarks and stove plates, pottery figures, ornamental sculpture for ships and houses and a number of pieces which apparently served no utilitarian purposes but were created solely for the love of carving. Gravestones and circus wagons are represented by a group of detail photographs and plates from the American Index of Design.

    While the authorship of most of the pieces is unknown, several have been ascribed to famous craftsmen. William Rush of Philadelphia is represented by a garden figure, the Skillins of Boston by several heads, Joseph Ames of Buffalo and vicinity by a portrait. John H. Bellamy of Kittery, Maine, is doubtless the carver of an immense gilded eagle, while Samuel A. Robb was probably responsible for the muses and monkeys which once decorated a Barnum and Bailey circus wagon. The quite different strain of Pennsylvania folk art will be found in the work of Wilhelm Schimmel, in a horse by the Cumberland River Toy Carvers and several other pieces. One of the most striking efforts by an anonymous hand is the fantastic figure of a man holding a bunch of grapes which is said to have once graced a barroom in Wells, Maine.

    Folk sculpture can generally be dated only approximately. The majority of pieces in the exhibition were doubtless done in the 19th century, but several pieces of the late 18th century are also included. A check-list of the exhibition has been prepared.

    Brooklyn Museum Archives. Records of the Department of Public Information. Press releases, 1947 - 1952. 10-12/1949, 101.
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