Crystal Bridges readies American folk art exhibition for weekend debut

The new “American Made” temporary exhibit at Crystal Bridges debuts the Fourth of July weekend.

Photo: Kevin Kinder

America’s history as told through art already lines the walls of the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville.

And now, the simultaneous history told by less-classically trained artists gets an examination there, too.

“American Made: Treasures from the American Folk Art Museum” debuts today for museum members and July 2 for the general public at the Bentonville art institution. It culls some of the best works from the American Folk Art Museum in New York.

What: “American Made: Treasures from the American Folk Art Museum”
When: July 2 through Sept. 19
Where: Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville
Cost: $10 for adults; free for ages 18 and younger and museum members
Information: Call 479-418-5700 or visit

“This is, in a way, America’s alternative art history,” said Stacy C. Hollander, deputy director and chief curator for the Folk Art Museum. “This is artwork that is first-hand testimony from Americans.”

Hollander curated the collection specifically for Crystal Bridges. It is the local museum’s first exploration of folk art.

“It’s so complimentary with our permanent collection,” said Mindy Besaw, a curator at Crystal Bridges.

The folk art collection, which can be viewed through Sept. 19, contains works made by ordinary Americans. Among the items featured are quilts, an ornate metal weathervane believed to have been forged in Paul Revere’s foundry, furniture and carved duck decoys. Individually, they are somewhat random. Collectively, they show a story of a growing nation developing an identity.

“American Made” is short on known artists. In fact, many of the works are made by unknown artists, collected – and even considered art – long after the maker passed away. Instead, it highlights the ways Americans decorated their home, expressed their creativity and passed their time.

“When you look at folk art, you’re being invited into someone’s life in a very visceral way,” Hollander said.

Those personal moments are reflected in many works, from hand-painted dressers to family quilts to commissioned portraits that were made long before photography became commercially viable.

Hollander told a group of guests – including notable art historian and frequent “Antiques Roadshow” appraiser Leigh Keno – and media members at a preview event that folk art came into favor starting in the early 1930s. It maintained popularity as members of the American modernist movement searched for an authentic America. They found it forms already established by folk artists.

Folk art “was a term retroactively applied to what already existed,” Hollander said.

“American Made” features an audio tour, a space for patrons to make take-home magnetic quilt squares and a demonstration area for quilters, metalsmiths, woodworkers and the like. Tours are offered Mondays and Thursdays from 1-2 p.m.

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