Monday, April 25, 2016

Found in Collections - A Painted Box

A couple of weeks ago I was touring a group from the Historical Society of Early American Decoration through our collections storage and came across this painted box. It was tucked away on a lower shelf next to some clocks, but it looked interesting so I pulled it out and showed it to the group. You would have thought they had seen a rock star. All of a sudden, cameras came out of nowhere and the papparazzi began clicking away.

It is a terrific box, with a stylized landscape and architectural features ala Rufus Porter. Here's another detail:

That's quite a fanciful church steeple or tower! I didn't have any information about the box but one of the group members did. She is an expert of Rufus Porter and sent me this image of a similar box erroneously attributed to him and sold at Sothebys as part of the Thayer sale in 1987. Here it is:

This box descended in a Frederick County, Maryland, family but there is no evidence it originated there. It would be nice to find more examples and determine who this artist may have been. If you've seen anything similar, you know where to find me.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Farmer Friday

Twenty-one years ago I took a strange trip south with the legendary Aggie Jones on a mission to purchase a work by Queena Stovall, the folk artist of the Blue Ridge Piedmont in Virginia. The mission was successful, as recounted here on this blog a few years ago.

What I didn't mention on that post was that the auctioneer, Ken Farmer, was a great guy who helped us in a couple of very important ways. First, he let us plug into his electrical system to recharge the van we were driving; and second, it was Ken who implored me to buy the Queena Stovall andirons that went with the painting. I hadn't previously been aware of their existence, having been so focused on the painting.

Anyway, Ken stopped in the museum today and I had to get a picture with our mutual friend, the "Fireside in Virginia" painting I bought so many years ago.

They do say that farmers are the most helpful people. There is a literal truth to that.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Folk Art Refresh

We made some terrific changes to our folk art gallery here at the Fenimore Art Museum this spring. In this photo you can see our new acquisition hanging at the upper right, the Rising Sun Tavern sign (labeled for its owner, J. Wilder), and a few old friends that haven't been out in a while.

Like this killer trio:

That's Paul Seifert (Wisconsin painter) on the left, followed by Edward Hicks (Pennsylvania Quaker painter of Peaceable Kingdoms) at center, and New York's own Joseph Hidley on the right. The lady playing Vanna White on the far left is a carved pilot house figure of Columbia from a Great Lakes steamboat.

And we always have portraits, the staple product of 19th-century folk artists, well before digital technology made likenesses ubiquitous.

Looking from the opposite direction, we have the other side of the Wilder sign, along with portraits by Erastus Salisbury Field and James Brown.

Our feature exhibitions are always popular (we have Ansel Adams this spring!) but the permanent collection is who we are. I'll be posting some close-ups of the masterpieces in this gallery to convey the spirit of a collection that speaks to our ongoing commitment to the artistic heritage of the American people. All of the people, regardless of who they were or where they lived and worked. It's a fascinating journey that never gets old.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Great Find! A Study for Fasanella's "Dress Shop"

As I have recounted here in an earlier post on this blog, Ralph Fasanella's 1972 painting "Dress Shop" (above) holds a special place of importance to me. Earlier this year I had a startling find that has enhanced our understanding of this great work.

In 1972, Ralph Fasanella became famous when New York Magazine featured him on its cover. I always wondered about the painting at his feet, which looked like a study for "Dress Shop," which I purchased for the Fenimore Art Museum in 1983. Although I first saw this cover image in 1981, I was never able to locate the little painting that looked so much like our large one. 

Earlier this year I received an email from Tom Laemmel in Seattle informing me that he was the owner. He had inherited it from his parents, who had heard about Fasanella in 1972 and went to his first major exhibition that same year. Actually, Laemmel's mother sent his father to the exhibition with orders to buy one of the paintings. Laemmel picked the small study for "Dress Shop" because it would fit in their apartment. 

Laemmel wanted to sell the work, and so of course I bought it for the museum. It shows how Fasanella was thinking about the dress shop where his mother worked in the 1920s. The most interesting aspect about the work is that there is no trace of politics anywhere. Later, when he got into the larger work, Fasanella included quite a few social and political references in the windows of the shop to indicate the workers' awareness of the world around them.

It's always interesting and telling to see what an artist realizes over time, and how great works evolve. Now we have tangible evidence of the making of this masterpiece.

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