Folk Art Show Opens at Crystal Bridges Museum

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Yield, a cantilevered form measuring more than 45 feet tall, greets visitors arriving at Crystal Bridges American Art Museum. It was created by Roxy as a commission for the museum.

“Yield,” a cantilevered stainless steel tree measuring more than 45 feet tall, greets visitors arriving at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. It was created by Roxy Paine in 2011 as a commission for the museum, which opened in November of that year.

BENTONVILLE – Crystal Bridges, the Bentonville museum founded by Ruth Walton in her home town, will feature a folk art collection that includes weathervanes, shop signs and spinning toys called whirligigs.

“American Made: Treasures from the American Folk Art Museum,” opened during the Independence Day weekend. It will continue through Sept. 19.

The exhibition draws from the collection of the American Folk Art Museum in New York, billed by a curator there as America’s “alternative art history.”

While an occasional folk art piece may have been included in previous special exhibits, the new show is the museum’s first dedicated entirely to the genre.

“These are truly their treasures which they entrusted us with,” said Mindy Besaw, Crystal Bridges’ curator. “What you will get to see is the best of their collection.”

Items range from four-inch paper figurines depicting horses and soldiers in the post-Revolutionary War era to an eight-foot, hollow copper weathervane featuring a Delaware Indian leader named Tammany.

“There are a few icons in the collection that I wanted to be on the checklist – pieces that haven’t traveled or haven’t traveled in a very long time: the Tammany weathervane, the man on a bicycle trade sign, pieces that are monumental in scale, or are so unique that you want them to be a part of the show,” said Stacy Hollander, chief curator and director of exhibitions at the American Folk Art Museum.

Though many of the objects are decorative or aesthetically appealing, their original purpose was mostly functional: decoys to attract ducks, amusements for children or advertising from a period when images were needed because literacy rates were lower.

“A weathervane is a practical form or sculpture, but it has to work. If it doesn’t work, it is not successful,” says Hollander. For its size, “it is surprisingly light.”

Decoys, on the other hand, are just as functional if they aren’t painted, she said. “They just need to appear fowl-like to other birds,” Hollander said. “The silhouette is significant. The painted embellishment, that is an individual’s creativity coming into play.”

Crystal Bridges opened in 2011, founded by Wal-Mart heiress Alice Walton as a showcase for American masters. The museum is located in Bentonville, the same town as Wal-Mart corporate headquarters. Regular admission to the museum is free, with the cost covered by Wal-Mart, but there is a $10 charge to see “American Made.”

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