American Folk Art Museum Archives

The Museum of American Folk Arts Exhibition Files (1966-1977) Edit


A0002 2


  • 1966 – 1977 (Creation)


  • 16 linear feet (Whole)
    (32 standard document cases)

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  • Abstract

    The record group contains exhibition files related to the American Folk Art Museum's exhibitions between 1966 and 1977, when the museum was called the Museum of American Folk Arts (MAFA). The files include a range of materials, such as correspondence, checklists, installation and object photography, publicity and press releases, and more.

  • Conditions Governing Access

    The collection is open for research with the exception of the following material: Loan forms and receipts, any information about anonymous lenders or donors, prices and insurance values, and any other material deemed private concerning the interest of the museum or individuals. Access to sensitive materials may be restricted at the discretion of the American Folk Art Museum. Please Contact the archivist at for more information.

  • Conditions Governing Use

    The Museum of American Folk Arts Exhibition Files (1966-1977) are 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 of item if applicable], [Title of Exhibition], [dates of exhibition], Museum of American Folk Arts Exhibition Files (1966-1977), [box and folder number], American Folk Art Museum Archives, New York

  • Historical Note

    The Board of Regents recognized the museum in 1966, when it was awarded a permanent charter under the name Museum of American Folk Art. Despite steady growth in museum attendance and membership, the second half of the 1960s was fiscally challenging and marked by continued discussion of procuring a permanent exhibition space, as well as the idea to partner with a larger institution that would be interested in housing an increasingly impressive specialized collection. Though the board struggled with these decisions, over thirty exhibitions were displayed before 1970, including satellite and traveling exhibitions, and membership grew to over 500 people. However, Due to financial difficulties, the Board of Trustees considered closing the institution's doors forever in 1971.

    If there were few reasons to celebrate the beginning of the museum’s second decade, there were at least several reasons for encouragement. A grant from the National Endowment for the Arts funded a series of exhibitions that helped sustain the museum’s reputation as an innovator and drew more visitors than any of the exhibitions held during the institution’s first decade. The museum also received a grant from the New York State Council on the Arts; this funded the planning and organization of a series of Bicentennial exhibitions on the folk arts of New York State.

    Wallace E. Whipple, director from 1971 to 1972, explained that the many encouraging developments masked a more serious reality, and the financial strain on the institution was intense. Consideration was given to the sale of the museum’s collection at auction. This was a controversial proposal; ultimately, the museum retained ownership of the most important works of art in its collection, including the Alastair Martin decoy collection, St. Tammany, Angel Gabriel, Father Time, Flag Gate, Turtle and William Matthew Prior painting.

    Through these years were marked by controversy, they also established the museum as innovative and relevant. The National Endowment for the Humanities grant funded three exhibitions in a series called “Rediscovery of Grass Roots” which presented historical context for contemporary themes. In 1971, the museum publication the Clarion was created as a newsletter, but by 1975, was being published as a magazine. By 1974, membership had doubled to 1,000 individuals, an internship program was established with Bennington College, and education programming for children and adults is prioritized, including house tours, quilting and rug hooking classes.

    The brief but brilliant directorship of Bruce Johnson (1975–1976) helped bring a renewed sense of purpose to the organization. Shows presented during his tenure broke all attendance records. The museum also produced a series of illustrated catalogs and books during this period. The momentum that Johnson inspired continued beyond his tragic death in a motorcycle accident at the age of twenty-seven.

    Mary Black (1964-1970)
    M.J. Gladstone (1970-1971)
    Wallace E. Whipple (1971-1972)
    Joseph P. Doherty (1973-1974)
    Bruce Johnson (1975-1976)

  • Scope and Contents

    The records include material related to the exhibitions that were on display between 1966 and 1977. Material comes from both curatorial and registration departments, as well as from all departments that contribute to creating an exhibition. Material includes checklists in both final and draft form, object and installation photography, printed matter including catalogs and invitations, publicity and press releases, correspondence, and more. The majority of the exhibitions were presented at MAFA's rental location, at 49 West 53rd St, though some traveled after the initial installation, and others were satellite exhibitions. The Art of the Decoy, on display at MAFA in 1968, toured extensively between 1968 and 1972. Beginning in the 1970s, exhibition catalogs were published on a regular basis, and they can be found in the AFAM library.

  • Arrangement

    The records are arranged chronologically by exhibition date, and then alphabetically by folder name within each exhibition.