by Ann Oppenhimer
After 16 years, it’s time to take stock of the Folk Art Society of America’s major events and accomplishments. We have received many requests for this information, making us realize that perhaps members who have not been a part of the organization from its inception may not be aware of what other members often take for granted. Therefore, we are including in the Web site a new article, “16 Years: A History of the Folk Art Society,” illustrated with old photographs from FASA’s files. It’s part of our ongoing historical documentation — making lists for the record books, if you will. The striking cover of the Spring Folk Art Messenger recapitulates the color covers from the past five years.
An event that has caused a personal stock-taking has been the exhibition of our own collection, Point of View: American Folk Art from the William and Ann Oppenhimer Collection, which originated at the University of Richmond’s March Art Gallery on October 12, 2001. The exhibition had been scheduled to finish its scheduled tour of six venues on April 13, after traveling to Longwood University in Farmville, Va., Orlando’s City Hall Terrace Gallery in Florida; The Art Museum of Western Virginia in Roanoke, Va.; Sweet Briar College in Amherst, Va.; and the Contemporary Art Center in Virginia Beach. My husband and I attended each opening reception, and I gave a slide lecture or gallery talk at least once in each museum. At every stop, the directors, curators, registrars, educational directors and security personnel were most professional, cordial and enthusiastic. We enjoyed the receptions, the lectures, the newspaper and magazine articles — and we appreciated this once-in-a-lifetime experience. Now, there has been a new development: We have received word that several additional showings of the exhibition have been requested, and the art works will continue their journey through at least 2004.
Richard Waller, director of the University of Richmond Museums, selected the artworks for the exhibition, first by looking at photographs and then by looking at the objects scattered throughout our home. He asked us to make a list and take pictures of the pieces we felt should be in the show, saying he would study these and make a tentative list. When we met to make the final decision, he told us that he had about 60 pieces on his list. We had 140 pieces on our list, and we knew we had a problem. I said, “Richard, we have more that 100 pieces in the living room.” Richard quickly replied, “But we don’t want the exhibit to look like your living room!”
Folk art collectors can understand the problem. We think more is more, and sometimes a collection can get out of hand. We did compromise on 86 works, approximately half sculpture and half two-dimensional paintings, drawings and serigraphs. Four works were deemed too fragile to travel and were seen only in Richmond.
It’s a revealing experience to see your collection through the eyes of others. Certain objects looked much better in the well-lit galleries than they did mixed with the furniture and trappings of daily life. Friends who came to the exhibition often remarked, “Where was that? — I never saw that piece before,” about an object that must have been visually lost in our living room.
After the exhibition completes its tour, it will be disassembled, put into the specially built crates and returned to us. We’ll be glad to see certain favorites that we really have missed. Other pieces we found we could easily live without. Even in the selection of 80-odd pieces, there is a hierarchy of quality that is obvious. This realization brings up another question: What will happen to our collection when we can no longer look after it? That’s a question that even minor collectors like us will have to face some day.
Several remarkable collections have been dispersed in the past several years. The Michael and Julie Hall Collection was purchased by the Milwaukee Art Museum; the Herbert Hemphill Collection went to the Smithsonian American Art Museum by gift and purchase; the Rosenak Collection went to the SAAM by gift/purchase; a part of the Marshall Hahn Collection was given to the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, and the rest was auctioned by the museum. The preservation of these collections in museums has enriched us all. Other collections have been dispersed by auction. Warren and Sylvia Lowe’s collection was auctioned at Slotin Auctions, as was Myron and Cecille Shure’s; a portion of Robert Greenberg’s collection was auctioned at Christie’s in January. The break-up of these collections is interesting to collectors for its effect on the folk art marketplace and for the recirculation of pieces into other private and public collections.
As for our collection — which is not remarkable and is not intended to be compared to the above-named ones — the experience of acquiring the art from the artists has brought us many happy times and memories. We hope that our work with the Folk Art Messenger and the Folk Art Society has helped to repay our debt in some small way to the remarkable people who made the art.
Ann F. Oppenhimer, President
Folk Art Society of America