The Rapidian

Grand Rapids Art Museum Presents Exhibition of over 80 American Folk Art Objects

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Exhibition tells the unfolding story of America from its inception to present

/Jessie B. Telfair (1913–1986). Freedom Quilt, 1983. Parrott, Georgia, United States. Cotton, with pencil, 74 x 68 inches. Collection of American Folk Art Museum, New York, Gift of Judith Alexander in loving memory of her sister, Rebecca Alexander, 2004.9.1. Photo by Gavin Ashworth, New York.

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Current Museum Hours

  • Tuesday: 12 – 6 pm (Meijer Free Tuesday)
  • Thursday: 12 – 9 pm (Meijer Free Thursday Night from 5-9 pm)
  • Saturday: 12 – 6 pm (Member-only hours from 10 am – 12 pm)

/Clementine Hunter (1886/1887–1988). Playing Cards, 1970. Oil on canvas board, 18 x 24 inches. Collection American Folk Art Museum, New York, Gift of Mildred Hart Bailey/Clementine Hunter Art Trust, 1996.1.2. Photo by Gavin Ashworth.

An exhibition of over 80 American folk art objects, spanning from paintings and pottery, to quilts, needlework, and sculpture, will open at the Grand Rapids Art Museum (GRAM) on May 22 in American Perspectives: Stories from the American Folk Art Museum Collection. The fascinating artworks span the entirety of our nation’s history, offering firsthand testimony to the people, places, and events of our culture.  

Folk artists, sometimes referred to as self-taught artists, are individuals whose talents emerged from personal experience rather than formal training. Their creations are beautiful, diverse, truthful, often utilitarian, and rooted in their individual heritage or community.  

American Perspectives offers our visitors a chance to look at America through the eyes and experiences of folk artists,” commented GRAM Director and CEO Dana Friis-Hansen. “The diversity of experience and perspective is what strengthens our community, and we look forward to sharing a platform for stories that have often been untold throughout history.” 

Many of the works in the exhibition present the perspectives of groups that are largely unseen in art museums, such as enslaved people, immigrants, and people with disabilities. It reinforces how many of our society’s current issues—immigration, political turmoil, economic uncertainty, and loss of personal liberties—have been concerns in the past and remain topics of significance today. 

The works in American Perspectives are organized into four sections—Founders, Travelers, Philosophers, and Seekers—that respond to such themes as nationhood, freedom, community, imagination, opportunity, and  legacy. 

American Perspectives includes traditional artworks like portraiture and landscape painting to more unexpected pieces like carousel figures, wood carvings, and dolls. The craftsmanship and beauty of each work is remarkable, but what truly makes them come alive are the diverse stories behind them,” commented GRAM Assistant Curator Jennifer Wcisel. “From Felipe Archuleta who was unable to find work as a carpenter and began creating life-size animal sculptures to Jessie B. Telfair, a black cook in Georgia who created her Freedom Quilt after being fired from her job when she tried to register to vote—I hope visitors will find stories that relate to their own lives and the social and political issues of the present.” 

American Perspectives will be on view at GRAM through August 28, 2021. Museum visitors are encouraged to share their story as part of the exhibition through response stations and hands-on activities. GRAM members and the public are invited to take part in upcoming related programming with safety precautions, including the Member Preview Night, Virtual Talk: Behind the Scenes of American Perspectives, Gallery Chats, artmaking workshops in GRAM Studio, and Family Day. The Museum will continue to share free digital resources including artist interviews and talks, virtual tours, artmaking activities, and more at  artmuseumgr.org/MuseumFromHome.

The exhibition is organized by the American Folk Art Museum, New York, with support provided by Art Bridges. Originally curated for installation at the American Folk Art Museum, February 11, 2020 — January 3, 2021, by Stacy C. Hollander, Independent Curator. Tour coordinated by Emelie Gevalt, Curator of Folk Art, the American Folk Art Museum. 

About the Grand Rapids Art Museum
Connecting people through art, creativity, and design. Established in the heart of downtown Grand Rapids, the Art Museum is internationally known for its distinguished design and LEED® Gold certified status. Established in 1910 as the Grand Rapids Art Association, GRAM has grown to include more than 6,000 works of art, including American and European 19th and 20th-century painting and sculpture and more than 3,000 works on paper. Embracing the city’s legacy as a leading center of design and manufacturing, GRAM has a growing collection in the area of design and modern craft.

For GRAM's hours and admission fees, call 616.831.1000 or visit artmuseumgr.org.

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