A is for American Folk Art

American Folk Art Museum

The American Folk Art Museum is the nation’s top organization focused on folk art and New York City’s only museum dedicated to folk and self-taught artists.

Founded in 1961, over the years the American Folk Art Museum has worked to shape the understanding of art by the self-taught through its exhibitions, publications, and educational programs.

It is difficult to come by a precise definition of folk art. In general terms, any art created by people not professionally trained, and representing shared social values and beliefs is considered folk art. These could be decorative or utilitarian, traditional or contemporary, the artists mostly self taught. To quote from the museum brochure, “For the last twenty years, the term self-taught has more regularly come to address these artists, whose inspiration emerges from unsuspected paths and unconventional places, giving voice to individuals who may be situated outside the social mainstream. Those individuals have been active participants in the shaping of American visual culture, influencing generations of artists and establishing lively artistic traditions.”

The museum has a permanent collection of more than 8,000 items dating back to the 1700s, including early American portraits, painted furniture and quilts along with art of the American South. More than 130,000 guests visit the museum annually.

The museum conducts various programs aimed at making art and its study accessible to all. These include symposiums, discussions, performances, and interactive education programs for children.

You will find unique handcrafted products and gifts at the museum shop.

When I visited the museum in October 2022, the ongoing exhibition was Morris Hirshfield Rediscovered. 

Morris Hirshfield was a self-taught artist of the 1930s and 1940s, who took to painting later in his life.

This exhibition was the most comprehensive gathering of Hirshfield’s works ever assembled. Including loans from private and public collections, the exhibition featured over 40 of the self-taught artist’s paintings.

His paintings reminded me of highly detailed embroidery where every single inch of the surface is picked out in thread. The compositions are often symmetrical and featured repeating shapes. The originality of his handling of the subject and the ornamental nature of the designs give his paintings a striking quality.

In his professional career as a tailor maker, he holds patents for shoes and slippers, the technical drawings for which were included in the exhibition.

Current exhibitions at the museum, running from March 17, 2023 to October 29, 2023

What That Quilt Knows About Me

Features 35 quilts and related works of art, exploring the deeply personal and emotional power associated with the experience of making and living with quilts.

Material Witness: Folk and Self-Taught Artists at Work

Features nearly 150 works of art, chronicling how artists across four centuries have utilized various components of the material world. Material Witness is the first in a series of thematic shows drawn from the Museum’s collection.

The American Folk Art Museum also organizes traveling exhibitions at other museums around the country. Current ones are:

  • American Perspectives: Stories from the American Folk Art Museum Collection (On view at the Portland Museum of Art in Portland, Maine, February 3, 2023–May 7, 2023)
  • Handstitched Worlds: The Cartography of Quilts (On view at the Dane G. Hansen Memorial Museum in Logan, Kansas, February 17, 2023–May 14, 2023)
  • Mystery and Benevolence: Masonic and Odd Fellows Folk Art from the Kendra and Allan Daniel Gift to the American Folk Art Museum (Coming soon to the Hunstville Museum of Art in Hunstville, Alabama, April 2, 2023–June 25, 2023)


Outsider Art is another word used for art created by self-taught artists as they are perceived to be outside the conventional structures of art production. The 31st annual Outsider Art Fair was hosted from 2 March to 5 March 2023 at the Metropolitan Pavilion in Manhattan.

Those truly interested in folk art may want to visit the Museum of International Folk Art, located at 706 Camino Lejo on Museum Hill in Santa Fe, New Mexico. 

Location 2 Lincoln Square, Columbus Avenue at West 66th Street, New York, NY 10023

Comments (7)

  1. Pingback: Reflections on April Blogging from A to Z Challenge 2023 | The Big Jackfruit Tree

  2. Ria (Post author)

    There are so many great art museums in NYC. Still it was hard to pick a few that are free.


  3. Molly of Molly’s Canopy

    You started with one of my favorite NYC museums. I also attended the Hirshfield exhibition and was taken with his backgrounds, which looked like the fabrics from his day job in Manhattan’s garment district. This museum is always a pleasure to visit and, because it is small, can be viewed in about an hour or so.

    1. Ria

      It was not easy to come up with a list of 26 places meeting all the criteria. Yet, with helpful friends, managed to do that. Hope you will check back for others.


  4. Ronel Janse van Vuuren

    The museum seems to have quite a track record.

    Ronel visiting for A:
    My Languishing TBR: A
    Accomplished Athena

    1. Ria (Post author)

      It is one of my favorites in NYC. They do put up a wide variety of exhibitions.


  5. Jamie

    Wow, fun theme! Fun paintings!


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