Perspectives on American Folk Art

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<ul><li><p>Perspectives on American Folk Art by Ian M. G. Quimby; Scott T. SwankAmerican Art Journal, Vol. 12, No. 3 (Summer, 1980), pp. 81-82Published by: Kennedy Galleries, Inc.Stable URL: .Accessed: 28/06/2014 19:13</p><p>Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms &amp; Conditions of Use, available at .</p><p> .JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range ofcontent in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new formsof scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact</p><p> .</p><p>Kennedy Galleries, Inc. is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to American ArtJournal.</p><p> </p><p>This content downloaded from on Sat, 28 Jun 2014 19:13:06 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions</p><p></p></li><li><p>Many, sadly, have failed to escape the threats of fire, wanton demolition, unappreciative homeowners, and general abuse. Many, too, have been re-painted and papered over, some more than once; incredibly, one mural was discovered, as Mrs. Lipman's checklist notes, under twelve layers of wallpaper. Rufus Porter Rediscovered contains numerous documentary photo- graphs of the artist's wall decoration which were taken just before the houses were destroyed-many, despite a heightened awareness, within the last few decades. Careful notations have been made of the location and, for these remaining, the condition and current state of preservation. As John I. H. Baur remarks in his fore- word to the 1980 edition, "The loss of so, many of Porter's lyrical and superbly decorative frescoes is beyond repair. We can only be thankful that Mrs. Lipman's book stemmed the tide and that those paint- ings which survived are sufficient to establish Porter as one of our finest naive painters of the last century." </p><p>Little, Nina Fletcher. Neat and Tidy: Boxes and Their Contents Used in Early American Households. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1980. 205 pp. 214 illus. incl. 24 in color. Bibliography. Index. Cloth, $18.95; paper, $10.95. </p><p>"Boxes," Mrs. Little states in her fascinating new book, Neat and Tidy, "were among the earliest fur- nishings used in the American Colonies." A key word here is "furnishings," because boxes were among the principal pieces of furniture, few though they were, in the house. Not considered accessories, as we tend to regard them today, they were essential containers for clothing, linens, foodstuffs, books, valuable papers, money, and general household goods. The author be- gins her study with the earliest references to the subject in wills and other old records-for example a descrip- tion found in a 1646 Massachusetts inventory of "A Joyne box and littel trunke." Some of the early forms are the ancestors of modem furniture pieces; the early "descke box," for instance, is the forerunner of the desk as we know it today. Some long-standing miscon- ceptions about origins and purposes of furniture forms are cleared away in Neat and Tidy. Mrs. Little matter- of-factly and thoroughly dispels the myth of the "Bible box," a favorite phrase of collectors for a concept that has scant basis in reality. As Mrs. Little explains, "Although both Bibles and boxes were frequently en- umerated among seventeenth- and eighteenth-century possessions, they were not necessarily listed in close proximity. In fact, on many occasions, they appeared in quite separate rooms of the house.... Bibles were to </p><p>be found in many different rooms, including parlors, halls, kitchens, and chambers, [but] they were seldom kept in their own specific boxes." Practical, domestic use was the guiding principle underlying the box form, whether it was embellished or not. Nearly every con- ceivable type of box is included here, from elaborate carved and painted chests to bandboxes and spectacle cases. Even seventeenth- and eighteenth-century American Indian boxes are illustrated and discussed; one especially interesting example was reportedly saved after being left behind in an Indian raid on Medfield, Massachusetts, in 1676. (Mrs. Little has also provided a section on artists' boxes which is related to an article by her on the same subject that appeared in the Spring, 1980, issue of this magazine.) Neat and Tidy is surely the most comprehensive book ever pub- lished on American boxes and their contents, and their use in American households and serves as an excellent companion to the author's recent book on a closely related subject, Country Arts in Early American Homes. More than physical artifacts, the objects de- scribed here offer the modem observer a view of daily life in America, writ small. Mrs. Little remarks: "Boxes, of all domestic objects that furnished the early American home, have always been the most useful and exhibited the most interesting variety of materials and forms. Because many of the purposes for which they were made have become obsolete, they help in the understanding and appreciation of life-styles that have now disappeared." This volume is distinguished by many unusual examples, some of which, the author comments, "are seldom seen today outside of museum collections." Fortunately, for all of us, many of these rare items were carefully preserved decades ago and exist in several particularly outstanding private collec- tions. Consequently, there is much in this book that, while "ancient," will be new to the readers. </p><p>Quimby, Ian M. G. and Scott T. Swank, eds. Perspec- tives on American Folk Art. Published for The Henry Francis du Pont Winterthur Museum. New York and London: W. W. Norton &amp;Company, 1980. 376 pp. 134 illus. Index. $21.95. </p><p>Folk art is one of those disciplines within our field which has been undergoing considerable change in very recent years. No longer content to go along with what they see as rather romanticized attitudes toward the subject, scholars have been attempting to apply new yardsticks to old objects, and those not-so-old, as well. Their ideas have met with some disagreement among </p><p>The American Art Journal/Summer 1980 81 </p><p>This content downloaded from on Sat, 28 Jun 2014 19:13:06 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions</p><p></p></li><li><p>the "rank and file," but all this controversy is healthy and reflective of the widespread activity in the field. Ian Quimby explains how this new book fits in: "Perspec- tives on American Folk Art is, in part, a revisionist treatment of the subject. It takes to task the heretofore unexamined value judgments of collectors, dealers, and curators who have done much to popularize folk artifacts but too little in the way of analyzing their cultural context." Mr. Quimby goes on to describe the questions it asks as "searching" and the insights it provides as "startling." And that, many of them are. The eleven essays (derived from a group of lectures held at Winterthur in November, 1977) and their au- thors - Beatrix T. Rumford, Marsha MacDowell and C. Kurt Dewhurst, Marion J. Nelson, Frederick S. Weiser, Lonn W. Taylor, John Michael Vlach, Roger L. Welsch, George A. Kubler, Johannes Fabian and Ilona Szombati-Fabian, Kenneth L. Ames, and Michael Owen Jones - break new ground and offer many, very interesting ideas. Kenneth Ames's Winter- thur book, Beyond Necessity: Art in the Folk Art Tradi- tion, appeared also in 1977 as the catalogue for a show of Winterthur objects at the Brandywine River Mu- seum. As the scholarly community can well remember, Mr. Ames's essay created a fair amount of excitement and the ensuing controversy is examined by Scott Swank in the introduction to this new volume. At the center of the storm is the "object/idea dichotomy," a shorthand description of a very complex difference of opinion. Basically, time-honored aesthetic principles are being challenged by other methods of observation - notably, "ethnic" and "theoretical" approaches to the larger issue of "material culture." This last phrase is one which we will be hearing with increasing fre- quency as our century winds to a close. There are, and will be, many different levels and kinds of appreciation. Mr. Swank comments: "Historically, as [Beatrix] Rumford illustrates, aesthetic considerations have pre- dominated over cultural analysis, although in the 1970s these two approaches do occasionally live comfortably with one another." Upon taking a broad view, we realize that there are styles and trends within the disci- pline just as there are within the collecting habits of museums, and that, as long as the field is possessed of energy, there will never be an end to all the examina- tion and re-examination. Roger L. Welsch has written a highly intelligent and very clever essay entitled "Beating a Live Horse: Yet Another Note on Defini- tions and Defining" that is especially appropriate for the current climate of analysis. "The vagueness at the edges," remarks Mr. Welsch in his summation, "or conceptualizations or definitions, like folk art itself, can be cause for hand-wringing or rejoicing- rejoicing </p><p>because it is here that the questions lie, and the ques- tions are more exciting than the answers." </p><p>Rawls, Walton. The Great Book of Currier &amp; Ives' America. New York: Abbeville Press, Inc., 1979. 488 pp. 439 illus. incl. approx. 330 in color. Index. Bibliography. $85.00. </p><p>A special difficulty of research into Currier &amp; Ives is that it is necessary to see many, different prints to get a good idea of their extensive and varied production. But even more of a problem is where to find a large selection of their work. The late Harry T. Peters formed an extraordinary collection, now at The Mu- seum of the City of New York, and it is that resource which Mr. Rawls used to study his subject. And he obviously studied well. His writing reveals not only an excellent sense of the period, but an admirable knowl- edge of the intricacies of the firm's production prac- tices and the personalities associated with it. John Veach Noble, Director of The Museum of the City of New York, is quoted in the press release as saying that this is "the finest book ever published on Currier &amp; Ives." Aside from the pioneering work of Mr. Peters, I would venture to say Mr. Noble is probably right. In addition to being the "finest," it is unquestionably the most lavish. It is truly an enormous volume - far too heavy to lift with one hand and too heavy to tote around with any frequency. (Although some might perceive it as a "coffee table book," it is so grand that it might even collapse a less-than-stalwart coffee table.) The luxuriousness of Mr. Rawls's book might give the im- pression that it is "just another pretty face." But it is not. It is full of cogent, informed writing, not only about Mr. Currier and Mr. Ives, but also about the historical and cultural events of the times - the scandals, the frivolities, the national movements and passions - imperative to an understanding of the prints, them- selves. Mr. Rawls does well at setting up the backdrop for his story, just as he establishes the parameters of the old New York surrounding Currier's shop. The author's initially relaxed style is evident in his begin- ning sentence: "Many an afternoon in the 1850s, tall, slim Nathaniel Currier might look up from the high desk at the rear of his bustling print emporium and nod to Congregationalist minister Henry Ward Beecher as he thumbed through the latest religious and temper- ance pictures." Although the author quickly begins referring to Currier </p><p>_- "Nat" (a familiarity that is rather </p><p>surprising and surely will seem a bit out-of-line to some readers), he settles down into a simple, intelligent nar- rative on the lithographic process and a history of the </p><p>82 Turano/Book Reviews </p><p>This content downloaded from on Sat, 28 Jun 2014 19:13:06 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions</p><p></p><p>Article Contentsp. 81p. 82</p><p>Issue Table of ContentsAmerican Art Journal, Vol. 12, No. 3 (Summer, 1980), pp. 1-88Front Matter [pp. 1-3]Red Jacket: The Man and His Portraits [pp. 4-20]Identifying Arthur Dove's "The Ten Commandments" [pp. 21-32]Thomas Cole's Ideas for Mr. Reed's Doors [pp. 33-45]Daniel Chester French and Henry Bacon: Public Sculpture in Collaboration, 1897-1908 [pp. 46-64]A New Look at John Quidor's Leatherstocking Paintings [pp. 65-74]New Discoveries in American ArtBingham Portrait Rediscovered in Midwest [pp. 75-76]A Biographical Sketch of Galland, Bingham Sitter [pp. 76-78]</p><p>Book Reviews: American Painting, Sculpture, Architecture, Prints, Photography, Decorative Arts and Cultural HistoryReview: untitled [p. 79]Review: untitled [pp. 79-80]Review: untitled [pp. 80-81]Review: untitled [p. 81]Review: untitled [pp. 81-82]Review: untitled [pp. 82-83]Review: untitled [pp. 83-84]</p><p>Back Matter [pp. 85-88]</p></li></ul>