Forty paintings and sculptures by folk and self-taught artists, such as Horace Pippin, Sister Gertrude Morgan, Clementine Hunter, Bill Traylor, and Felipe Benito Archuleta, were gifted to the American Folk Art Museum (AFAM) on the occasion of the museum’s 60th anniversary. Donated by psychologist and longtime museum trustee (and former board chairwoman) Laura Parsons and her husband, philanthropist and business executive Richard Parsons, the newest additions to AFAM’s collection include work by Black and Latinx artists from the United States as well as artists from Jamaica, the Bahamas, Brazil, and Australia.
“The gift certainly deepens the museum’s collection of works by artists from the southern United States and beyond,” Dr. Valérie Rousseau, senior curator of self-taught art and art brut at AFAM, told Hyperallergic. “In addition, the gift sustains and continues a growing interest to strengthen the museum’s holdings from the Caribbean — which differentiates our museum from others in this collecting area. Great and new acquisitions like this gift provide the opportunity for new research and revived interest in the artists, as well as the creation of additional in-depth interpretations.”
For several artists, it is the first time that their work has been represented in AFAM’s holdings. Among them are Alabama-born painter Mary F. Whitfield, who was the museum’s artist-in-residence in 1996; relief sculptor and former Atlanta city councilman Archie Byron; and Tennessee transcendental painter Joe Light. Work by Bahamian artist and house painter Amos Ferguson, and Caribbean-born painter and historic US mariner Hugh Mulzac, will also be entering the collection for the first time.
Prior to the donation, the museum owned only one piece by Horace Pippin, a Pennsylvanian self-taught painter known for his historical and genre scenes, not to mention his bold sense of composition. That work, a gray-toned depiction of war trenches titled “Outpost Raid: Champagne Sector” (1931), was gifted to AFAM in 1999 and references Pippin’s experience in the Fifteenth Regiment of the New York National Guard, an all-Black infantry unit active in France. (Pippin enlisted in 1917, returning to the US with a paralyzed arm two years later.)
The second painting by the artist to enter the collection, “The Wash” (c. 1942), strikes a very different tone. The work portrays an outdoor domestic scene, in which a figure launders clothes outside of a log cabin as chickens wander the yard. Pippin, who only began oil painting in 1928, already had considerable success by the time he created “The Wash.” After four of his paintings were featured in MoMA’s traveling exhibition Masters of Popular Painting, the artist found representation with Robert Carlen Galleries in Philadelphia, sold multiple works to Dr. Albert C. Barnes, and exhibited widely in the US.
“Adding such a compelling Horace Pippin — whose art does not circulate a lot on the market — to AFAM’s collection, is a unique opportunity,” said Dr. Rousseau of the new addition. “We look forward to studying this work in relation to others from the artist’s repertoire,” she continued.
Another highlight of the gift is Felipe Benito Archuleta’s undated painted wood sculpture of a black-and-white boar baring its jagged teeth, its tongue lolling. The porcine statue will join a menagerie of other works by the artist in AFAM’s collection, including two tigers and a sculpture of a life-size ostrich from 1980 that was gifted to the museum last year. (AFAM also owns several sculptures by Archuleta’s son Leroy, who followed in his father’s footsteps.)
Archuleta worked as a carpenter in New Mexico for over three decades before he began to make the spirited animal carvings for which he became known. Using his carpentry tools, he shaped pieces of cottonwood into creatures: first, those he encountered in his everyday life, and then, those he didn’t, inspired by images in natural history magazines. In addition to using wood, typically adjoined by glue or nails, Archuleta often incorporated found materials — bottle caps, a comb, rope, a broom — into his sculptures for added bristle and bite. Dr. Rousseau notes that Archuleta’s popular sculptures are praised by a large spectrum of traditional and contemporary collectors.
In a statement, AFAM director and CEO Jason T. Busch called the paintings and sculptures comprising the gift “transformational additions to the Museum’s collection,” adding that the works “enhance our commitment to presenting an inclusive, nuanced, and meaningful story of folk and self-taught art across time and place.”
A selection of works from the donation will go on view at the museum as early as 2022 as part of a celebration of the museum’s 60th anniversary.
Editor’s note 8/16/2021: An earlier version of this article stated that the works would first go on view in an exhibition titled Multitudes. They will instead go on view in an exhibition tied to its upcoming 60th anniversary.