Edward Duff Balken


was a pio neer collector of American folk art, primarily portraits. His first acquisitions, from the early 1920s, were installed in his country home in the Berkshire regionof Massachusetts, where he resided for six months each year. His folk art collection grew to sixty-five paintings and drawings. Balken decorated his eighteenth-century prototype country home with “ladder-back and Windsor sidechairs, hooked rugs, pewter, stoneware pottery, early blown glass, needlework samplers, Shaker bandboxes and tilt-back chairs, and wrought-iron lighting devices.” In 1958 Balken gave his folk painting collection to the Art Museum of Princeton University. Hisseminal role as a forerunner and connoisseur of American folk art was not fully appreciated until the year 2000, when Princeton mounted an exhibition of the works hehad given to the university; it was accompanied by a comprehensive, scholarly catalog by Charlotte Emans Moore. Colleen Heslip did a great deal of research on thecollection.Balken, born in 1874 to an affluent family from Pittsburgh, graduated from Princeton University in 1897. He worked until 1906 in Pittsburgh, as a secretary to thetobacco firm of Weyman and Brother. In October 1902 he married Lois Livingston Bailey, daughter of a wealthy pioneer iron manufacturer, industrialist, railroadmagnate, and banker. They had two children, Bailey Balken and Wilhelmina Duff Balken. Following Lois Balken’s unexpected death from acute appendicitis in 1919,Balken raised the children as a single parent.Balken devoted his adult life to the study and collecting of art. His knowledge was such that he was hired in 1916 to found the department of prints, in thedepartment of fine arts of Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Institute. While there, he served as a mentor to John Walker, later director of the National Gallery of Art inWashington, D.C.Balken was named acting assistant director of the department of fine arts in 1922, and upon his retirement in 1935 he continued as the department’shonorary curator and trustee. His time and talent were devoted to both fine art and folk art. He also supported twentieth-century self-taught artists, purchasing works by John S.Kane (1860–1934) and Pop Hart (1868–1933).As a folk art advocate, he befriended American antique dealers as well as folk art collectors Stuart Holladay and Herrel George Thomas, whose collection of American provincial paintings Balken arranged to have exhibited at the Carnegie Institute in 1941. New York dealer Edith Gregor Halpert (1900–1970) consulted withBalken. He specialized in nineteenthcentury works of folk art depicting Berkshire residents and other subjects of artists, many unidentified, who painted and lived inwestern Massachusetts. Included in the collection Balken donated to Princeton were portraits by Zedekiah Belknap (1781–1858), Erastus Salisbury Field (1805– 1900), Sarah Perkins (1771–1823), Ammi Phillips (1788–1865), and Asahel Lynde Powers (1813–1843), and two landscapes by Sarah E.Harvey (1834–1924).
Moore, Charlotte Emans.
A Window into Collecting American Folk Art: The Edward Duff Balken Collection at Princeton.
Princeton, N.J., 1999