Gregor Edith Halpert


the founding director of the Downtown Gallery and its extension, the American Folk Art Gallery, was the first dealer to remove folk art from the category of antiquesand historical artifacts. In the Downtown Gallery, the most ambitious commercial firm in New York City to sell folk art, not only did Halpert assign it a fine art context but also customarily cited folk artists as ancestors of the living painters and sculptors she promoted. By linking the folk tradition with leading American modernists, shefacilitated the acceptance of contemporary art. Halpert also shaped several major public and private collections of folk art.Born in Russia as Edith Gregoryevna Fivoosiovitch, Halpert and her family immigrated to the United States in 1906. She studied art until marrying the painter SamuelHalpert, in 1918. Through her husband, Edith Halpert met many artists who lacked gallery representation, and on November 6, 1926, she opened Our Gallery— renamed the Downtown Gallery in 1927. The gallery specialized in such progressive artists as Stuart Davis (1894–1964), Yasuo Kuniyoshi (1889–1953), CharlesSheeler (1883–1965), Max Weber (1864–1920), and William (1887–1966) and Marguerite Zorach (1887–1968).Edith Halpert did not discover folk art herself—she saw it first in the collection of Viola and Elie Nadelman (1882–1946) in Riverdale, New York, and in Ogunquit,Maine, in 1925 and 1926. Nor did she sell folk art until 1929, when it became a potential moneymaker because enough groundwork had been laid, though the marketfor the young talent in her stable remained a financial unknown. Halpert’s crucial insight was to devise a frame of reference that would encompass both Modernism andfolk art. She recognized that folk art shared certain formal qualities with Modernism; it could be advertised as the root of an authentically American spirit as well as akey to understanding contemporary work.Edith Halpert would not have been able to advance this agenda without Abby Aldrich Rockefeller (1874–1948), who became a client in February 1928.Rockefeller bought only contemporary art from the Downtown Gallery at first, but between 1929 and 1931 she purchased at least two hundred pieces of folk art, andHalpert was able to expand her business by adding the American Folk Gallery in October 1931. Of the 175 objects in “American Folk Art: The Art of the CommonMan in America, 1750–1900,” the Museum of Modern Art’s landmark folk art exhibition of 1932, 174 were purchased from Halpert by Rockefeller. Other importantcollectors whom Halpert influenced include Edgar (1899–1979) and Bernice Chrysler Garbisch (1907–1979), Maxim Karolik (1893–1963), and Electra Havemeyer Webb (1888–1960).
See also

Edgar and Bernice Garbisch; Maxim Karolik; Elie Nadelman; Abby Aldrich Rockefeller; Electra Havemeyer Webb
Gaines, Catherine Stover, and Lisa Lynch.
A Finding Aid to the Records of the Downtown Gallery.
Washington, D.C., 2000.