“New Hampshire Folk Art: By the People, for the People” presents an array of fascinating objects of artistic beauty and cultural significance from the eighteenth century to the present. These diverse works of art were created outside the formal academic tradition by artists, craftsmen, and other individuals from the Granite State. Many are cherished portraits, mourning pictures, or landscapes, integrally connected to families, place, and the community. Others are vernacular objects—furniture, trade signs, weather vanes, decoys and other wood carvings, scrimshaw, fire buckets, quilts, samplers, needlework—that have been embellished to add visual interest and a dash of pleasure to everyday life, or that are simple abstract forms. Still others reflect attempts to retain and cherish elements of a traditional visual culture by people from various lands who are simultaneously undergoing acculturation into American society. Many are individualistic works that reflect their maker’s personal aesthetic vision, or commercial products that reflect the desire of many individuals to create and to own art, broadly conceived. In all, as art “for the people” made “by the people,” these works reflect the taste and perspective of a wide swath of New Hampshire’s citizens over time, and occasionally challenge conventional definitions of the term “art.” Each has its own unique story to tell.
“Folk art” is an “umbrella” term more easily understood than precisely defined. It means various things to art historians, anthropologists, collectors, and dealers, and as a consequence it covers a myriad body of artistic production. In the words of the famous folk art collector, Maxim Karolik, folk artists of all stripes, who did not study in the academy or were trained in a craft tradition, nevertheless possessed a wonderful “ability to express.” The painters represented in “New Hampshire Folk Art” include Joseph H. Davis, Ruth and Samuel Shute, Joseph Stone, Zedekiah Belknap, and Maria Emes Joslin, as well as many individuals whose identity is not known today. Other craftsmen included are members of the Dunlap school of cabinetmakers, the carvers Edward Bellamy, George Boyd, and Edward Adams, and other artisans.
Several of the works of art in this exhibition are celebrated masterpieces of traditional types of American folk art. Others are more recent discoveries or are rarely seen examples drawn from many public and private collections. The exhibition will include about 75 examples of folk art in diverse media.
In the Balcony Gallery
A companion show in our balcony gallery will present contemporary art, available for purchase, created by members of the venerable League of NH Craftsmen.
Exhibition Lectures and Tours
A series of gallery tours and a lecture, as well as a small 32-page publication, will accompany this exhibition. The publication will include an essay by the curator, illustrations of a selected number of highlight objects, and a bibliography.
An opening preview and reception for members of the Historical Society will be held on Thursday, April 4 from 5:30 to 7:30pm. This event has been generously underwritten by Skinner, Inc., and includes appetizers by Atlantic Grill and The River House, beverages from Liar’s Bench Beer and South Street & Vine and music by Curt Bessette and Jenn Kurtz. Tickets cost $35 and will go on sale on Monday, March 11. Anyone interested in becoming a member and/or buying tickets should visit www.portsmouthhistory.org.
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