The American Folk art Museum
On September 16th 2016 we visited the American Folk Art Museum in Lincoln Square. There we met Nicole Harovturian, one of the institution’s museum educators. Nicole began by asking us what we expected to see at museum dedicated to folk frt. She used that question to lead into a discussion on what folk art means. The term folk art does not have a concrete definition; the working definition at the American Folk Art Museum is art created by someone with out formal training. This is not to say the artists whose work is exhibited at the museum have not received training. Their education could have come from family, friends, peers, instructional videos etc. Operating with this definition gives the museum a broad array of artists to choose from when curating exhibitions and allows them to avoid more problematic terms like outsider art or naïve art.
The exhibition “Fever Within” featured the work of Ron Lockett from Bessemer Alabama. Lockett learned about art from his cousin Buck, his great aunt Sarah Lockett and Bob Ross. Nicole began with a piece titled “Trap”. She began by using visual teaching strategies, an enquiry based approach meant to illicit information from a group based on what they see. After everyone in our group took a turn making observations, we established that the piece was an assemblage of old, rusty, corrugated sheets of metal, netting, cut aluminum branches and paint. The piece depicts a buck trapped in the remnants of big industry. Lockett lived in a former industrial town. Discarded metal, broken down equipment and abandoned structures were part of his ever day life. In the top right corner a circle was cut out of the metal and inside the circle was a landscape painting. Nicole followed this discussion with a short lecture on Ronald Lockett. Receiving some key biographical information on Lockett gave us a more insight into his work and into the symbolism he used.
The second piece we discussed, “Sarah Lockett’s Roses”, was a quilt like patch work of roses made from cut metal. Nicole informed us that Sarah Lockett was a quilter and supportive of Ronald’s art making. She then handed out some samples of quilt squares bringing touch into the experience. Seeing and feeling the quilt helped us make connections between quilting and Ronald’s work.
Nicole took a different approach with the third piece we looked at, The Fever Within. She handed out paper and pencils and asked everyone to write one complete sentence about the piece. We then shared our sentence with the person sitting closest to us providing us an opportunity to share our descriptions in a in a more personal conversation. We then chose three words from our sentence that we believed to be the best words to summarize the work and shared it with the group. We repeated the process again but this time selecting one word.
We ended on a piece, which was not made by Lockett. Hanging wooden ex-votos made by unidentified Brazilian artists. The ex-votos were wooden body parts, which hung from the ceiling. Originally they were meant to be hung in a house of miracles, where people could come and pray. The reason she showed us this piece was to present us points of connection between Locket and other artists. Including works from other artists helps put Lockett’s work in a greater artistic context and consequently gives visitors a better understanding of Lockett.
The American Folk Art Museum is an excellent area specific Museum. The exhibitions are tastefully curated to give agency to artists and art forms that are often overlooked and under-appreciated. The labels on the pieces provided the essential information including title, materials and year created, as well as a paragraph or two of information on each work. Nicole was genuinely enthusiastic and interested in the work she was presenting making the educational experience that much more enjoyable.