FORCE, JULIANA RIESER
the first director of the Whitney Museum of American Art, was one of the earliest collectors of many varieties of American folk art, objects, and crafts. Her endorsement of the field led to the first public exhibition of folk art in the United States. Her advocacy of the folk idiom, in turn, was grounded in her wider professionalaim of gaining recognition for American art.Born in Doylestown, Pennsylvania to German immigrants, Juliana Rieser was always attached to Pennsylvania and its arts and crafts. About 1907 she met thesculptor and art patron, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, and became the manager of Whitney’s art enterprises in New York City. In 1912 Juliana Rieser married WillardBurdette Force, a dentist; two years later, the Forces bought a farm in Holicong, Pennsylvania, close to Doylestown. Juliana Force became a collector of folk art whenshe set up housekeeping in the country. Drawn to objects representing rural life in Bucks County, she began collecting Pennsylvania German cabinetry, and went on toacquire still-lifes, portraits, theorem paintings on velvet, vernacular sculpture, hand-carved toys, chalkware, quilts, and hooked rugs.Although Force entered the field as an off shoot of her decorating, folk art also appealed to her as a manifestation of a vital American culture that she and her employer were working so tirelessly to validate. Force equated folk art with other examples of once ignored or disenfranchised expressions of artists flourishing outsideofficial or academic channels. These independent artists, living and dead, were exactly the ones that Whitney and Force championed through exhibitions and purchases.The initial public manifestation of Force’s intent to elevate the aesthetic standing of folk art and establish a kinship with contemporary art was presented at theWhitney Studio Club, a precursor of the Whitney Museum, from February 9–24, 1924. “Early American Art,” the first public showing of folk art in America, wasorganized by Force’s friend, the painter Henry Schnakenberg (1892–1970). In February 1927, the club exhibited the collection of the New England dealer IsabelCarleton Wilde.In late 1929 Gertrude Whitney (1875–1942) and Juliana Force decided to establish a museum wholly devoted to American art, and the Whitney Museum of American Art opened on November 18, 1931. Force donated most of her nineteenth-century folk paintings and works on paper to the museum, which showed them inMarch 1932, in “Provincial Paintings of the Nineteenth Century.” Of the fifty-three paintings and eleven watercolors and pastels on view, at least fifty-five works wereForce’s gifts. These works, along with nearly all of the rest of the Whitney’s nineteenth-century holdings, were sold by the museum after Force’s death.
African American Folk Art (Vernacular Art); Chalkware; Juliana Force; Hooked Rugs;
Painting, Theorem; Pennsylvania German Folk Art;Quilts; Quilts, African American; Sculpture, Folk; Still-life Painting; Toys, Folk
Rebels on Eighth Street: Juliana Force and the Whitney Museum of American Art.
New York, 1990. ——. “Juliana Force and Folk Art.”
The Magazine Antiques,
vol. 136, no. 3 (September 1989): 542–553