American Folk Art Museum Archives

The Charles B. and Janice M. Rosenak Collection Edit


Finding Aid Author
Mimi Lester
Finding Aid Date
March 2015
Description Rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of Description


  • 1960 – 2010 (Creation)


  • 5.00 cubic feet (Part)
    (standard document cases; half-size document case; audiocassette cases)

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  • Abstract

    The Charles B. and Janice M. Rosenak Collection contains photography, oral history interviews, and a small amount of research material relating to folk artists. The Rosenaks, major collectors of folk art, added to their collections by traveling around the United States and meeting with artists in their home and work studio environments. The artists featured in this collection are primarily artists from the Southeast and Appalachia, as well as Navajo and Hispanic artists of the Southwest. The Rosenaks authored four books on American folk art and artists, and much of the material in this collection was used in these publications.

  • Immediate Source of Acquisition

    Gift of Charles B. and Janice M. Rosenak, 1988

  • Conditions Governing Access

    The collection is open for research. Access to sensitive materials may be restricted at the discretion of the American Folk Art Museum. Audiocassettes cannot be played at this time.

  • Conditions Governing Use

    The Charles B. and Janice M. Rosenak Collection is owned by the American Folk Art Museum. The collection is subject to all copyright laws, and is dedicated to public use for research, study, and scholarship.

  • Preferred Citation

    [item description], [date], The Charles B. and Janice M. Rosenak Collection, [box and folder number], American Folk Art Museum Archives, New York

  • Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

    Series II contains interviews on audiocassettes, which have not been digitized.

  • Related Materials

    The Archives of American Art collection, Chuck and Jan Rosenak research material, c. 1938-2003, contains much of the same photographic material and oral history interviews as this collection.

    The finding aid to this collection may be found at

  • Biographical Note

    Charles and Janice Rosenak were inspired to begin collecting folk art by an Edgar Tolson sculpture that they admired at the 1972 Whitney Biennial. At the time, not many dealers or collectors of folk art existed, and the Rosenaks, both attorneys by trade, decided to start touring the country to find the artists themselves. The Rosenaks began this pursuit in 1973, meeting with folk artists and collecting their works. They began with artists primarily in the Southeast and Appalachia, but in 1983, while searching for a house in Santa Fe, New Mexico, they began to meet with Navajo artists as well.

    In the late 1980s, Robert Bishop, director of the American Folk Art Museum, suggested that the Rosenaks work on an encyclopedia of American folk artists. The book deal with Abbeville press resulted in the 1990 publication Museum of American Folk Art Encyclopedia of Twentieth-Century American Folk Art and Artists. The Rosenaks then authored three more books on American folk art: The People Speak: Navajo Folk Art (Flagstaff, Arizona: Northland Publishing, 1994), Contemporary American Folk Art: A Collector's Guide (New York: Abbeville, 1996), and The Saint Makers: Contemporary Santeras y Santeros (Flagstaff, Arizona: Northland Publishing, 1998).

  • Scope and Contents

    The Charles B. and Janice M. Rosenak Collection is comprised of photography of folk artists and their artwork, as well as oral history interviews with some of these artists. The photographs were primarily taken by Charles Rosenak, and many of the photographs show Janice and Charles with the artists and looking at artwork. The material spans roughly from 1967 to 1988, but the bulk of it is from 1983 to 1988.

    Some of the artist files have a small amount of research material, such as news clippings and drafts of articles for the Rosenak’s books. This material is filed with the photographs because there is not enough of it for it to be filed separately.

    The material is primarily dated according to information on the negative pouch from the photo developing store, or stamps on the verso of the photograph or the slide, which makes it possible that these dates are not accurate as to when the photographs were taken. They should, however, be close approximations. Because not every photograph in the collection is dated, it should be assumed that there is undated material in every folder.

    A small amount of material was filed into the Rosenak collection by an American Folk Art Museum staff member after it was given to the museum. This material consists primarily of obituaries or other articles about a particular artist who is represented in the Rosenak material. When this finding aid was written, it was decided to keep this material in the collection; however, note that any material dated after 1988 is not original to the collection. These dates were not indicated on the folders.

    When the collection was donated, a card catalog was created for every artist, which contains an item level inventory for each artist. These records were not duplicated in this finding aid, but they may be accessed on site.

  • Arrangement

    The collection is divided into two series: Artist Photography Files and Oral History Interviews. They both are arranged alphabetically by the artist’s last name. In Series 1: Artist Photography Files, most of the folders are named artists, but some are subject files (these are mostly clustered around the “Navajo” section, of which there are several topical folders). In these cases, the artists who are included in the folder are also listed in the finding aid.