by Ann Oppenhimer
In April 1987, group of 15 folk art enthusiasts met in Richmond, Va., for the purpose of forming a loosely knit club. The group went from a Richmond organization to a Virginia organization to a national organization all in the same evening. The name, Folk Art Society of America, was chosen during that initial meeting to eliminate the idea that the art would be limited to American art. A mission statement was drafted: “to advocate the discovery, study, documentation, preservation and exhibition of folk art, folk artists and folk art environments, with an emphasis on the contemporary.”
The founding officers were Ann Oppenhimer, president; John Morgan, vice president; Catherine Roseberry, secretary; Les Kreisler, treasurer; Charlotte Morgan, newsletter editor; with Judith Burch, Baron Gordon, Chris Gregson, Ray Kass, Bruce Koplin, Ellen Kreisler, Patricia Brincefield Lorenz, William Oppenhimer, Patricia Sharpe, Lester Van Winkle and Rob Womack as board members.
To solicit additional members, letters were sent to those who had assisted or otherwise participated in the 1984 Sermons in Paint: A Howard Finster Folk Art Festival at the University of Richmond. The first newsletter, Folk Art Messenger, a simple black-and-white, six-page fold-over, was published in November 1987 and was sent to 200 new members. The membership fee, which included the quarterly publication, was set at $20. The “Dancing Star” logo, still in use, was designed by Ronnie Sampson, then of Richmond, now a designer in San Francisco.
The first Messenger contained the following statement, which is interesting to read now, 15 years later, in the light of the endless debate over what to call this art we preserve, study, document:
We have no intention of entering into the great folk art debate among folklorists, art historians, material culture proponents, folk-life experts, collectors, artists, folk craftsmen, aestheticians or whatever. Rather, we would propose to bring various groups under one loosely structured umbrella, sharing and discussing ideas and information, not limiting the scope or the definition of folk art. These definitions will evolve with time; the parameters of our individual study and interests will define themselves. The main idea is to get people together, to form a network of people across the United States who are basically interested in the same thing, even if they call it by a different name.
Some people are still engaging in the same inane name discussions, but FASA continues to use the term folk art. The folk art designation continues to be used also by the American Folk Art Museum in New York City, even after the museum changed its name from the Museum of American Folk Art. (Perhaps this name change was done to de-emphasize American and be more inclusive of art from all over the world.)
The Folk Art Society has sponsored several exhibitions that were funded by other entities: The Bench and the Benchmaker: The Folk Art of Tom Gordon and Abe Criss, University of Richmond (1987); Folk Art Jubilation (1988), Richmond, produced with a grant from the Arts Council of Richmond; Unto the Hills: The Folk Art of Eastern Kentucky, University of Richmond (1989); Anderson Johnson: Folk Artist with a Mission, University of Richmond (1991).
In the start-up years, the society received several important grants from the Virginia Commission for the Arts, which partially funded publication of the Folk Art Messenger. The VCA has continued to recognize the society with small grants annually.
In 1988, the first national conference of the society was held in Richmond, in conjunction with the exhibition Folk Art Jubilation. Noted collector and author Herbert Waide Hemphill Jr., one of FASA’s charter members, was the featured speaker. More than 100 persons attended Hemphill’s lecture, and more than 400 attended the opening of the exhibition.
In May 1989, the second conference was held in Waverly, Va., at the home (by then, a museum) of the late folk artist Miles Carpenter. The exhibition 100 Miles: the 100th Anniversary of Miles Carpenter’s Birth inaugurated this event. Symposium speakers were Chris Gregson (conference chairman) of Meadow Farm Museum in Henrico County, Va.; Nanc