Nina Fletcher Little

 

Little was the most important figure in the history of early American folk art. Renowned as a collector, researcher, lecturer, and writer, she was a model for those who sharedher interests. She was born in Brookline, Massachusetts, on January 25, 1903, attended the Park School and Miss May’s School in Brookline, and married BertramK.Little in 1925. Shortly thereafter she started collecting English Staffordshire pottery. Over the years her interests expanded to include, among other things, early NewEngland furniture, decorative arts, and folk art. Although she lacked professional training and began her investigations before there were many helpful sources available,Little was a pioneer in the field of folk art research. Her writings and lectures stimulated interest in previously neglected areas, such as itinerant artists, overmantel panels, fireboards, wall and floor decorations, schoolgirl needlework, and theorem paintings.Little’s passion as a collector is evident from the huge collection that was divided between her two homes, the “Pumpkin” house in Brookline and her summer homeat Cogswell Grant in Essex, Massachusetts. Objects covered all available space, including the inside surfaces of closets and closet doors, while the attic was a storagearea for paintings and sculptures that museums and collectors would have been delighted to hang in places of honor. Her collection was not only large but of the highestquality. Little was a scholar, not just a collector. Each of the objects was the subject of extensive research, the result of which was the uncovering of previouslyunknown facts concerning them as well as the artists responsible for their production. Little wrote articles on important early American folk painters such as RufusHathaway, Sturtevant J.Hamblin, Asahel Lynde Powers, John Brewster Jr., and the Beardsley Limner. Her report on Winthrop Chandler was so significant that theentire April 1947 issue of Art in America was devoted to it.More than one hundred of her articles were published in The Magazine Antiques, Art in America, Old-Time New England, American Art Journal, and
Country Life. She also wrote numerous museum catalogs for exhibitions on early American folk artists. In addition to reports on specific folk painters, there were many otherson subjects such as blue Staffordshire pottery with nineteenth-century American scenes; European redware; early ceramic flower containers; the dating of NewEngland houses; New England provincial portraits; coach, sign, and fancy painting; painted floors; and bedhangings. Her books include
American Decorative Wall Painting, 1700–1850; Country Arts in Early American Homes; Neat and Tidy: Boxes and Their Contents Used in Early American Households;
and the autobiographical Little by Little: Six Decades of Collecting American Decorative Arts. In 1964 Nina Little and her husband, Bert, were honored with the Louis du Pont Crowninshield Award from the National Trust for Historical Preservation, and in1984 the Littles received the Henry Francis du Pont Award for their work in the study, preservation, and interpretation of American art.Little was a role model for those who followed her in the researching of early American folk artists. She served as an inspiration, and was always happy to giveadvice and guidance to those who endeavored to uncover the stories of the many little-known, early American folk painters.Little’s decision to have half of her collection sold at auction reflects her desire to share with other collectors the joy of living with her treasures. Her summer home,Cogswell Grant, was willed to the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities.Little was also a trustee and Honorary Fellow for Research in the American decorative arts department of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. She cataloged their 1976 exhibition of paintings by New England provincial artists, and was the principal consultant for the establishment and cataloging of the collection at the AbbyAldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Center. She was a trustee of the New York State Historical Association, Cooperstown, New York; Old Sturbridge Village, Sturbridge,Massachusetts; the Essex Institute, Salem, Massachusetts; and the Essex (Massachusetts) Historical Society.