Noonmark Antiques

Art of the Everyman: American Folk Art from the Fenimore Art Museum at the Florence Griswold Museum

Charles HammellComment

I was flummoxed. I began too late to look for lodging in, near, or around Cooperstown, New York. My wish was to visit the Fenimore Art Museum, which I had heard has a fantastic folk art collection. I must see this museum for myself. But, this was not to be – not this year. However, an alternative plan which  seemed as a last resort turned out to be a triumph. On recommendation from a friend, I visited the Florence Griswold Museum. What a treat!  44 works on loan from the Fenimore Art Museum are on display at the Florence Griswold Museum now through September 21, 2014. Fresh interpretations and solid documentation make this exhibit a treasure. I spent two hours reading, absorbing, and marveling over the collection- from artists such as Ammi Phillips, Edward Hicks, Thomas Chambers, Joseph Davis, Sheldon Peck, William Matthew Prior, Sturtevant Hamblin, Grandma Moses to an anonymous carver who crafted an extraordinary knife box depicting a ship carrying slaves to America. This is a folk art fan’s dream come true.

So what is folk art? The definition, according to one of the curators, is that folk art was made by craftspeople and amateurs with no formal training. In a way, the style of folk art almost resembles Modern Art. Self taught artistry finds a wide appeal and acceptance in contemporary culture.

Everyman is the broad term used to define the collection of artists in this exhibit. There is a paring down and simplifying of line, movement, and expression that unites the work of these creators. Fortunately, early 20th century collectors, with an eye to the future, came to revere these humble works. The collectors appreciated Everyman’s values and attempts to document as accurately as possible their world.

Photography is not permitted in this exhibit. There is a companion book, “ Folk Art’s Many Faces” available in the gift shop. This is an excellent volume  which contains portraits in the New York State Historical Association. Many of the works  in the exhibit are included in this volume, most in color with excellent descriptions.

Classes for children led by a guide frequented the rooms while I was there. The children apparently enjoyed their tour, emitting squeals of delight at the various discoveries they made.


 Although not in this exhibit, the paintings by Edward Hicks (above) and Thomas Chambers (below) are a few examples of the style of artwork found in the gallery. ( These paintings are on display in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, American Wing)