Folk Art collection to open at The Hyde

Collection includes “The Peaceable Kingdom with the Leopard of Serenity"
"Still Life with Basket of Fruit" by an unidentified artist.
"Still Life with Basket of Fruit" by an unidentified artist.

GLENS FALLS — Some forms of art ask viewers to think. 

Folk art begs to be felt. At least that’s how collector Barbara L. Gordon sees it. 

Over the past few decades, she’s collected and carefully curated what is now “A Shared Legacy: Folk Art in America,” an exhibit that opens Oct. 8 at The Hyde. 

“It’s not like you have to understand the art. … I think it calls out to you,” Gordon said. 

Her collection includes “The Peaceable Kingdom with the Leopard of Serenity,” which is attributed to Edward Hicks, and “James Mairs Salisbury,” attributed to Ammi Phillips. They’re quintessential folk art pieces, as they blur the line between abstraction and realism. The other 58 objects in the collection, including trunks, sculptures and drawings, echo the same sentiment. 

With each piece comes a story, and it’s the stories, as much as the pieces themselves, that Gordon has worked to collect. 

Gordon’s love of the art form began years ago when she was trying to decorate her home. She amassed more than 400 folk art pieces, which crowded her apartment and didn’t feel much like a collection. An art dealer approached her and advised her to sell it all and start over. 

“Over the last 30 years, I’ve tried to find objects that are a 10 out of 10 … [that are] rare,” Gordon said.

Since its completion two years ago — the collection is capped at around 60 pieces — the exhibit has been touring the country, going from the American Folk Art Museum in New York City to the Cincinnati Art Museum and finally The Hyde. 

“It’s quite a demanding exhibition for us,” said Jonathan Canning, The Hyde’s director of curatorial affairs and programming.

When he spoke with The Gazette he was in the midst of installing the collection, which includes large furniture, five life-sized pieces, paintings, drawings and a plethora of other objects. 

In terms of mixed media, the exhibit is the most diverse the museum has had in years. The objects also provide a look into the past. 

“Folk art really is the art of the common people and it teaches you history,” Gordon said. 

In some of the pieces, what appears to be an elegant veneer is actually paint, made to look like the expensive veneer of the upper class, according to Canning. Many of the artists in the exhibit were self-taught, and a few painted houses for a living. In their work, they often echoed upper-class motifs, such as ostrich feathers and geometric patterns. It wasn’t a widely accepted style – many critics in the 1800s called it primitive or cheap.

However, there’s an undeniable immediacy to the art form, and to Gordon’s collection, that draws viewers of today. 

There’s also a sense of magical realism throughout the collection, especially in one carousel figure attributed to the Dentzel Company. The nearly 4-foot-tall rabbit figure, which looks as if it’s leaping, is equipped with a small saddle and reigns. It’s a figure that seems to have tumbled out of a child’s imagination and into the exhibit. 

“I’m hoping [people] will see the fun side of [the collection] … that they will appreciate the craftsmanship of it. I think it’s going to be relatable and endearing,” Canning said. 

‘A Shared Legacy: Folk Art in America’

WHEN: Oct. 8-Dec. 31
WHERE: The Hyde

Categories: Art, Entertainment

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