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American Folk Art Museum

The First Decade, 1961–1971
The museum’s first decade was a time of multiple beginnings, as its founders—Arthur M. Bullowa, Adele Earnest, Cordelia Hamilton, Herbert W. Hemphill Jr., Marian Willard Johnson, and Joseph B. Martinson—sought to give shape and structure to a shared vision. For them, folk art was a vital element in American cultural history, and it warranted the establishment of an institution in the city of New York devoted to its collection, exhibition, and interpretation.

When the Board of Regents of the New York State Education Department granted a provisional charter on June 23, 1961, the prospects for acquiring a home or a collection for the Museum of Early American Folk Arts, as the new organization was initially called, were uncertain at best. The choice of New York City, then acknowledged as the art capital of the world, was significant in itself. The very idea that folk art could be studied and appreciated as art, rather than as material culture or historical or ethnographic artifact, was a by-product of the growth of modernism as a movement in the history of American culture.

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