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Robert Bishop Research Files

Identifier: A0039

Scope and Contents

This collection has two series.

Series I: Furniture Research Files contain research material related to different styles of furniture. The files are mostly secondary source material including photographs, new clippings, and articles. Bishop collected these files as a resource for his many published books about furniture, including How to Know American Antique Furniture (1973), and Centuries and Styles of the American Chair, 1640-1970 (1972). The styles of furniture included in this collection are: General subject files; Art deco; Art nouveau; Chippendale; Colonial; Colonial revival; Country; Cromwellian; Empire; Federal; Mission; Modern; Prairie school; Queen Anne; Scrollwork; Southwestern; Victorian; Wiener Werkstatte; and William and Mary.The files originally constituted a large subset of the subject files that Bishop created before and during his tenure at the American Folk Art Museum. Because of Bishop's particular subject expertise in furniture, these files were separated into a distinct group.

Series II: Slide Collection contain 35mm slides that Bishop used for teaching at the Folk Art Institute. The slides were originally stored in binders by subject and were accompanied by a separate catalog, which is also in this collection. Subjects include: paintings from the 19th and 20th centuries, furniture room interiors, textiles, and sculpture. Bishop also kept multiple binders of slides of "miscellaneous" subjects.


  • 1970s-1980s


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.

Conditions Governing Use

The Robert Bishop Research Files 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.

Biographical Note

Robert Bishop (1938-1991) was not only an influential and innovative director of the American Folk Art Museum, serving from 1977 through 1991, but was involved in creative and academic pursuits throughout his life. Born in Readfield, Maine, Bishop moved to New York City in the 1950s to become a ballet dancer. He danced in Broadway shows, and the Metropolitan Opera, and was awarded a scholarship at the School of American Ballet, where he studied from 1958 to 1960. Around the same time, he also began focusing on art and antiques, a passion that he inherited from his grandmother, who worked with antiques in Maine. Eventually, Bishop owned or co-owned three antique stores, and was spending more time dealing antiques than dancing.

Through his friendship with Cyril Nelson, an editor at E. P. Dutton and fellow folk art enthusiast, Bishop began working as a photo researcher, working with Marsha Davidson on American Heritage’s three-volume history of American decorative arts. From there, Bishop moved on to the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan, where he worked as the museum editor and assistant curator of American decorative arts. Bishop continued to work with E. P. Dutton, and in the next few years, published American Painted Furniture (1972), America’s Quilts and Coverlets (1972), designed by Bishop and written by Carleton L. Safford of the Ford Museum, Centuries and Styles of the American Chair, How to Know American Antique Furniture (both 1973), American Folk Sculpture (1974), New Discoveries in American Quilts (1975), A Gallery of Amish Quilts, and The American Clock (both 1976). Bishop received a PhD in American culture at the University of Michigan in 1975, where he also taught art history.

Bishop returned to New York to join the American Folk Art Museum as director in 1977, after the untimely death of Bruce Johnson. Still a small museum, leasing only a floor and half in a brownstone at 49 West 53rd Street, the American Folk Art Museum grew exponentially under Bishop’s leadership. The first exhibition under Bishop’s direction, Folk Art and Funk: Andy Warhol’s Folk Art World was a highly publicized success, and the first of many popular shows to come. Bishop pushed for the growth of the museum in many directions, including securing the purchase of multiple adjoining brownstones on West 53rd Street. Bishop also established the Folk Art Institute, a Graduate program at New York University in folk art studies, which was the first of its kind in the United States. Many other museum initiatives were established under Bishop’s direction, including the Great American Quilt Festival, growing the permanent collection significantly, publishing the Clarion as a 64-page quarterly rather than a short newsletter, traveling exhibitions internationally, and establishing a photo licensing and reproductions program. During this time, Bishop continued to publish books including Folk Painters of America (1979) and The Romance of Double Wedding Ring Quilts (1989). Bishop published twenty-three books in his lifetime.

Besides a passion for many different kinds of folk art, especially furniture, and quilts, Bishop also held a special interest in dogs. He owned and showed both Doberman pinschers and Manchester terriers, and incorporated his love for dogs into his work. His 1977 exhibition, The All-American Dog: Man’s Best Friend in Folk Art, was another incredibly popular show.

Bishop passed away from AIDS-related lymphoma in 1991. He was 53 years old.


11.5 linear feet (23 standard document cases)

Language of Materials



The Robert Bishop Research Files contain research material related to Bishop's research and teaching interests in folk art, particularly furniture. It contains primarily secondary source material including photographs, new clippings, and articles. Bishop collected these files as a resource for his many published books about furniture, as well as for teaching at the Folk Art Institute.


This collection is arranged into two series. Series I: Furniture Research Files is arranged alphabetically by furniture style, and further subdivided into chronological and alphabetical categories within those styles. There is also a small amount of general furniture files arranged alphabetically at the beginning of the collection arrangement. These files regard specific types of furniture (bed, chairs, etc.), or furniture made internationally. Series II: Slide Collection is arranged by subject according to the categories supplied in the slide catalog and on the slide binders that originally housed the collection.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Robert Bishop, 1986

A Guide to the Robert Bishop Furniture Research Files
Mimi Lester, with revision by Regina Carra
April 2016
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Revision Statements

  • August 2023: Robert Bishop's slide collection was processed and included with this collection in 2023 as a separate series--Series II. The original collection materials, which included just the furniture research files, were made into Series I. Findings aid notes and titles were updated to be inclusive of the slide collection materials.

Repository Details

Part of the American Folk Art Museum Archives Repository

47-29 32nd Place
Long Island City New York 11101 United States
(212) 595-9533