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Current Exhibits
at the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum


  • The Carolina Room, Post-conservation
    During treatment photograph to show untreated (left) and treated (right) panels
    Conservator Shelley Svoboda at work on one of the panels from the Carolina Room
    UV photograph showing a cross-section of paint

    The Carolina Room

    The Rex and Pat Lucke Gallery is home to a remarkable room from the Alexander Shaw House. A modest Scotland County, North Carolina, dwelling, its rooms were painted to simulate costly building materials such as cabinet-grade wood and polished stone. The pine doors and wainscoting were grained to look like bird’s eye maple and rosewood, while the baseboards and mantel were painted in imitation of colorful marble.  Paint decoration at the top of the walls resembled the exuberant wallpaper borders of that day.  Most unusual is the “Vue of New-York” above the mantel. It shows the city’s dockside in flames and was inspired by the fire that destroyed New York’s waterfront in 1835. The decoration was the work of I. M. Scott, who signed and dated the room August 17, 1836.

    The woodwork recently underwent complex conservation to preserve, clean, and reveal its original decoration. The work took seven years and was carried out in the Colonial Williamsburg conservation labs. The project consisted of several phases. In the first, conservators reattached loose paint flakes. Next they carefully removed 1950s overpaint to reveal the 1836 decoration below. Soot and grime imbedded in the original paint were removed concurrently. Finally, losses to the decorative scheme were sparingly in-painted. Visitors today will find evidence of this exacting work on exhibition labels and in one area of the room, where the paint was cleaned but not in-painted. Come and inspect the room and the conservation for yourself and see the 180-year-old decoration looking much as painter Scott intended.

    The conservation of the Carolina Room was made possible by Mr. and Mrs. Rex A. Lucke of Elkhorn, Nebraska, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Additional conservation support is provided by the Mildred and J.B. Hickman Conservation Endowment and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Endowed Conservation Fund.

    Ongoing exhibition


  • Prince
Irwin Weil
Coopersburg, Pennsylvania, 1930-1935
Painted wood
Museum Purchase, 1981.701.1

    Down on the Farm

    This popular exhibition follows the story of Prince, a carved wooden dog, as he sets out on a journey to find his cousin. Rhyming label text tells of his adventures as he travels through the countryside. Colorful folk art paintings by such artists as Mattie Lou O’Kelley and Edward Hicks set the stage for a look at country life as this city dog tries to find his way. On his search, Prince encounters a pond full of carved decoys, a hen yard of toy chickens and a barn complete with wooden owls and a cat. Weathervanes in the shape of farm animals populate the room. Within the gallery, guests can spend time drawing their favorite scene or color pages from Prince’s story.

    In the Penelope P. and Dr. Sergio V. Proserpi Gallery.

    Ongoing exhibition


  • Basket, Bird, and Fruit
America, ca. 1830
Paint on cotton velvet 
Museum Purchase, 1958.403.6
    Still Life with Watermelon
William Stearns
New England, ca. 1835
Paint on velvet
Museum Purchase, 1957.403.2
    The Full Basket
New England or Mid-Atlantic, ca. 1825
Paint on cotton velvet 
Gift of Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, 1931.403.11

    Color and Shape: The Art of the American Theorem

    In the early years of the 19th century, theorem painting was a popular activity in both the school and home. Young girls were taught to use stencils to create colorful still life pictures, usually painted on fabric. Ladies’ magazines of the period also gave instruction to those wanting to try the technique at home. This exhibition features 11 paintings, exploring how the theorems were made and how individual artists, using very similar stencils, created their own take on the subject.  Often consisting of some combination of fruit and a basket or vase, the pictures varied depending on the use of colors, the skill of the artist and the addition of other elements like birds or butterflies. Today many of the theorems survive without the name of the maker, but four pieces in the exhibition are signed, providing the opportunity to take a closer look at the diverse backgrounds of the artists.

    On view in the Mary B. and William Lehman Guyton Gallery. Through January 2018.

    Related Programming - Abby’s Art at Bassett Hall

    Tour Bassett Hall and then drop in at the cottage to learn about theorems and make your own to take home. Theorems were a favorite form of folk art that Abby Aldrich Rockefeller chose for this special home.


  • We the People: American Folk Portraits

    In this anniversary year, the Folk Art Museum celebrates with a new exhibition featuring a wonderful collection of American folk portraits. One of the first folk art pieces Mrs. Rockefeller acquired was a charming painting of a child. From there, her collection grew. On view will be images of children with their favorite pet or toy, companion portraits of husband and wife, and paintings of individuals. These early American folk portraits are treasured for their historical significance as well as their aesthetic appeal. Without folk painters, the faces of many members of the middle and, sometimes, lower classes would not have been recorded. The portraits reveal much about ordinary people: how they lived, what they valued, and how they wished to be remembered. Folk portraits give us glimpses of the countless people who shaped America as vitally and lastingly as her better known movers and shakers. The artists too left something of themselves. They did not achieve their occupation through formal guidance or direction from others but, instead, through inborn talent and intuition. On view will be old favorites from the collections as well as new acquisitions never before exhibited.

    This exhibition is made possible through the generosity of Don and Elaine Bogus.

    In the Jan Curtis and Frank J. Spayth Gallery

    Related Programming

    Introduction to Folk Art -
    Discover whimsical and fascinating paintings, sculpture, and textiles from Mrs. Rockefeller's collection on this guided tour. These pieces are the basis of the museum's original collection. Offered daily.

    Folk Art Fridays - On a guided tour be inspired by innovative and imaginative folk art, then create your own work of art to take home.     


  • Noah’s Ark
Germany, 1830-1870
Wood, paint, and gesso
Gift of an Anonymous Donor, 1971-810
    Set of Soldiers
Germany, 1830-1890
Wood, composition, paint and paper
Museum Purchase, 1962.1200.7

    German Toys in America

    This exhibition features a colorful variety of 19th-century German wooden toys from dolls and soldiers to arks and animals. During the period, around two thirds of the toys in American shops came from Germany. Known as The Toy Workshop of the World and The Land of Toys, Germany dominated the toy market for most of the 19th-century. American toy sellers ordered their merchandise through illustrated catalogs or sent agents to Germany who personally selected the best stock with which they filled their shelves. Children played house with dolls, waged battles with soldiers, reenacted the great flood with an ark full of animals, created towns, and managed their own zoos. On view is a rare 1840s German toy catalog featuring over 2000 color illustrations. Next to this, visitors can digitally flip the pages of this catalog to see every toy.

    This exhibition is made possible through the generosity of Don and Elaine Bogus.

    Related Programming

    Toys! -
    Explore 19th- and early 20th-century toys, dolls, and dollhouses then drop in and make a toy inspired by the antique toys in our exhibits.


  • Dollhouse

    The World Made Small

    Dollhouses are some of the most popular miniature versions of the real world. On view is a museum favorite—the 15-foot long Long Island Dollhouse made around 1900 with 11 fully furnished rooms. The earliest dollhouse in the exhibit was made in 1820 for twin girls. The exterior resembles a typical 19th-century Philadelphia brick row house, while inside are four rooms complete with period furniture and dolls. This house descended in the family until given to the museum. Other houses include a house made in the Chesapeake around 1835 and a colonial revival house made around 1940. While young girls played house, what about the young boys? Wonderful German-made playsets from the 19th century are featured including a fort and a soldiers’ campsite.

    In the Rachel Elisabeth and Joshua Ryan Wilkinson Gallery.

    Related Programming

    The World Made Small – (yes the tour has the same name as the exhibition) Dollhouses come in many shapes and sizes. Some have elaborate furnishings; others are simple. Bring your family on a guided tour that explores the dollhouses on exhibit. After the tour, create a miniature of your own to take home.


  • From Forge and Furnace:
    A Celebration of Early American Iron

    Can iron and art be used in the same sentence? Absolutely! This hard, often black or gray, metal was used to make everything from stoves and hinges to andirons and weathervanes. As with most folk art, though, the makers of these utilitarian pieces chose to embellish their work to make them interesting and attractive although no more functional than if they left them unadorned. A stove could still heat a room whether it was a simple iron box or iron cast into a statue of George Washington. This exhibition highlights these decorative, yet useful, objects made in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Iron mining and iron production were established in the colonies almost as soon as settlers arrived. By the American Revolution, Virginia had several furnaces providing the iron that was made into firebacks, stoveplates and a myriad of household items like ladles, toasters, trivets and tammels.

    Opening Nov. 24, 2016 in the Peebles Gallery


  • America's Folk Art

    2017 marks the 60th anniversary of the oldest museum in the country devoted to American folk art. America's Folk Art celebrates not only six decades of the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum, but also pays tribute to Mrs. Rockefeller who began collecting folk art in the 1920s. Her keen eye and appreciation for the art of the common man created a collection of over 400 pieces that were eventually given to Colonial Williamsburg. Over the ensuing years, the collection has grown to over 4000 objects that date from the 18th century to the present day. An array of folk art will be on display showcasing highlights from the collection. This exhibition serves as an introduction to the other ten galleries filled with portraits, quilts, sculpture, musical instruments, toys, and weathervanes.

    Opening July 1, 2017 in the Spayth Gallery


  • A Century of African-American Quilts

    This exhibit showcases twelve colorful and stunning quilts, half of which have never before been seen by the public, spanning more than a century after 1875. The quilts of African Americans varied widely, depending on the date, location or community, the purpose for which the quilt was made, and the personal artistic vision of the quilt maker. The bold designs and brilliant colors of the quilts speak to a longstanding cultural and artistic tradition within which the women designed and created their quilts. Although none of the quilts were made during the era of slavery in America, several of the quilters represented were born into slavery and others descended from enslaved families. Each quilt maker used the humble materials of fabric and thread to create a bedcover that was warm and practical as well as brilliant in color and artistry. This exhibition was made possible thanks to gifts from Cindy and Sheldon Stone of Los Angeles, California, and the W. K. Kellogg Foundation c/o Cynthia and Robert Milligan of Lincoln, Nebraska.

    Through May, 2018, in the Foster and Muriel McCarl Gallery


  • American Ship Paintings

    This exhibition of 5 paintings from the Folk Art collection highlights the popularity of ship portraits. In the mid-19th century, ship captains and owners commissioned artists to depict their sea-going vessels in all their glory. Included in the exhibit are 3 large paintings by James Bard, one of which depicts the schooner yacht America, the first winner of the trophy now known as the America's cup. Steamboats plied the rivers of 19th-century America and are represented in the exhibit in two paintings, one of which is over 6 feet long, giving an impressive, detailed view of the side-wheeler. Each portrait depicts a specific ship with a story to tell.

    Ongoing


  • Sidewalks to Rooftops: Outdoor Folk Art

    Sidewalks to Rooftops

    Ever wonder what it was like to stroll down the streets in late 19th-century America? Looking up, one might see a carved and painted oversized pair of glasses or a weathervane atop a building in the shape of a fish. On the sidewalk, one might encounter a life size wood figure of an Indian maiden or a Cuban lady standing outside a shop advertising tobacco within.  Strolling down by the wharf, one could admire the carved figureheads and wooden eagles that decorated many of the wooden ships at dock. In the 20th century, some of these signs disappeared from the landscape while others took their place. Large whimsical carved animals awaited riders on carousels. Fanciful whirligigs and wooden ornaments adorned people’s yards. These 19th- and 20th-century works survived the elements and bear witness to the creative spirit that once enlivened the American landscape.

    This exhibition was made possible in part by a gift from Barry M. Boone in loving memory of his wife, Linda.

    In the Leslie Anne Miller and Richard B. Worley Gallery


  • Cross Rhythms: Folk Musical Instruments

    Cross Rhythms: Folk Musical Instruments

    This exhibition in the Elizabeth M. and Joseph M. Handley Gallery features banjos, fiddles, and dulcimers from the 19th and early 20th centuries. Highlights include a piano built into a chest of drawers and a record-playing hippocerous.

    Ongoing exhibition




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