Wonder, Whimsy, Wild: Folk Art in America

November 7, 2015 – February 28, 2016

Exhibition Overview

Still Life with Basket of Fruit, Unidentified Artist,
Courtesy of the Barbara L. Gordon Collection

This extraordinary exhibition highlights American folk art from New England and the Midwest made between 1800 and 1925. Among the paintings are portraits, still lifes, landscapes, and allegorical paintings, while the objects include sculptures, commercial signs, furniture, and household objects. These works were made by minimally trained or self-taught artists in rural areas and did not reflect the academic models of artistic taste in the urban centers of the East Coast. Yet, because of the large number of professional and amateur artists who created folk art in the years following the Nation's founding—and the sheer quantity of art they produced—folk art was the prevalent art form in the United States for more than a century. 

While these objects were long excluded from fine art galleries, they have been taking their place in museums across the country, helping to produce a fuller picture of America’s artistic creative diversity. The artworks range from The Peaceable Kingdom with the Leopard of Serenity attributed to Edward Hicks and witty carved dentures created as a trade sign for a dentist to a beautifully decorated painted chest by an unknown German artist.

Laing Family Record Book
attributed to the "Record Book Artist,"
Courtesy of the Barbara L. Gordon Collection

A form of recording family history also prevalent during this time was the use of frakturs. These illuminated manuscripts documented milestones in the lives of family members and were most common in German-speaking communities from New York to the South. One of the featured frakturs in this exhibition is the Laing Family Record Book. This book records the history of fifteen members of the Frederick County, Virginia family.

You can make your own fraktur of your family, using the Laing Family Record Book as inspiration. Click here to make your own fraktur. 

After you create your fraktur, share it on social media by using the hashtags #BrooksFraktur and #AmericanFolkArt!

This exhibition is drawn from the Barbara L. Gordon Collection and is organized and circulated by Art Services International, Alexandria, Virginia.
Still Life with Basket of Fruit
Unidentified artist
Oil on canvas
Courtesy of the Barbara L. Gordon Collection

Laing Family Record Book
attributed to the "Record Book Artist"
c. 1804
ink and watercolor on wove paper
Courtesy of the Barbara L. Gordon Collection


Collectors Corner: American folk art collector Barbara Gordon