Museum of Fine Arts – Boston

 

The museum acquired its first examples of American folk art in 1902, when American Civil War veteran Charles G.Loring gave the then 26-year-old museum two PennsylvaniaGerman sgraffito dishes. This acquisition is notable not only for its early date, but also because this gift was made by a member of a prominent Boston family whosecultural background could not have been more dissimilar from that of the Pennsylvania Germans. Nevertheless, the gift shows the importance that one early patron placed on ensuring that the museum’s collections would represent the broad range of American expression. As the MFA was enriched by subsequent gifts, itscollection of German American folk art grew to include more than seventy examples of fraktur as well as a dozen sculptures by the German American artist WilhelmSchimmel (1817–1890), the largest of such groupings in New England. Renowned for its holdings of worldwide art from all regions, cultures, and periods, the MFA’sAmerican collections show the same range and depth, with its collection of American folk art including approximately 25 oil paintings, 350 works on paper, and morethan 60 examples of folk sculpture, in addition to pottery and textiles.The M. and M.Karolik Collection of Eighteenth-Century American Arts, and the M. and M.Karolik Collection of American Paintings, 1815–1865, were given tothe MFA in 1941 and 1949, respectively, by Maxim Karolik, a Russian immigrant to the United States, who embraced the art of his adopted homeland as expressionsof its democratic ideals, and his wife, the Bostonian Martha Codman Karolik, who financed their collecting. These gifts included signif icant works by Erastus SalisburyField (1805–1900), John Brewster Jr. (1766–1854), and William Matthew Prior (1806–1873), as well as wildfowl decoys and other sculptures. The Karoliks’ giftssignificantly increased the scope of the MFA’s holdings, making it one of New England’s most inclusive public folk art collections.Between 1969 and 1980, the MFA’s folk art collections were enhanced with gifts and a bequest from the large, encyclopedic collection of folk paintings anddrawings assembled by Edgar and Bernice Chrysler Garbisch. In more recent years, folk art acquired by gift and purchase have continued to enhance the MFA’scommitment to assembling a comprehensive and representative collection. The MFA’s collection of American folk art encourages comparisons with the museum’smajor holdings of American academic art, thereby allowing the folk art and academic art collections to inform each other, and showing that no matter the social,economic, or cultural background of the artists, their aspirations and intentions were comparable.

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