Skip to main content

The Museum of Early American Folk Arts Exhibition Files (1962-1966)

 Record Group
Identifier: A0002-1

Scope and Contents

The records include material related to the exhibitions between 1962 and 1966, when the Museum of Early American Folk Art (MEAFA) received its permanent charter and changed names to the Museum of American Folk Art. 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. Each of the shows, except for the Initial Loan Exhibition (1962) and Early American Paintings and Sculpture (1966), were presented at MEAFA's rental location, at 49 West 53rd St. The Initial Loan Exhibition and Early American Paintings and Sculpture were both held at the Time and Life Exhibition Center in New York, and Cross-Section of Folk Art from New York State Historical Association at Cooperstown (1962) was jointly presented at the New York State Historical Association in Cooperstown.


  • 1962 - 1966

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 Early American Folk Arts Exhibition Files 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.

Historical Note

The museum’s first decade was a time of multiple beginnings, as its founders—Arthur M. Bullowa, Adele Earnest, Cordelia Hamilton, Herbert W. Hemphill Jr., Marian Willard Johnson, and Joseph B. Martinson—sought to give shape and structure to a shared vision. For them, folk art was a vital element in American cultural history, and it warranted the establishment of an institution in the city of New York devoted to its collection, exhibition, and interpretation.

When the Board of Regents of the New York State Education Department granted a provisional charter on June 23, 1961, the prospects for acquiring a home or a collection for the Museum of Early American Folk Arts, as the new organization was initially called, were uncertain at best. The choice of New York City, then acknowledged as the art capital of the world, was significant in itself. The very idea that folk art could be studied and appreciated as art, rather than as material culture or historical or ethnographic artifact, was a by-product of the growth of modernism as a movement in the history of American culture.

The museum began to build a collection almost immediately after it was established. Bert Hemphill presented the now famous Flag Gate (c. 1876) as a gift in 1962. The museum’s initial accession, this piece remains among the most celebrated works of art in the permanent collection. Adele Earnest contributed the Archangel Gabriel weathervane (c. 1840) the following year. Featured as the cover image on the catalog of the institution’s first exhibition, which was on view in the gallery of the Time and Life Building in October and November of 1962, the weathervane served as a well-loved symbol of the museum for many years.

During its first decade, other gifts also came to the museum, along with one major purchase: the monumental, 9-foot-tall St. Tammany Weathervane (c. 1880), perhaps the country’s largest. With a handful of exceptions, the institution's earliest acquisitions were three-dimensional objects. The museum soon established a reputation for the visual strength and aesthetic importance of sculpture in its permanent collection, a reputation that was enhanced in 1969 by Alastair B. Martin’s gift of 140 outstanding wildfowl decoys. Its other holdings were, relatively speaking, minor.

The museum opened its galleries to the public for the first time on September 27, 1963, in the rented parlor floor of a town house at 49 West 53rd Street. George Montgomery, who had organized traveling exhibitions for the Museum of Modern Art, was appointed the museum’s first director in 1963, a post he held only until 1964. For the most part, the institution's approach to the collection and exhibition of American folk art was grounded in the fine arts, following—but extending—the model of curator Holger Cahill, whose groundbreaking exhibitions at the Newark Museum and the Museum of Modern Art in the 1920s and 1930s helped establish the field. The exhibition program of the first decade was ambitious. Although the museum’s emphasis, as might be expected, was on the nineteenth century and the Northeast, the institution staked out a national and even international purview for itself almost from the beginning.

The new museum established a reputation for its innovative programming and fidelity to mission. Its success in fulfilling its objectives was recognized by the Board of Regents in 1966, when it awarded a permanent charter to the institution under the name Museum of American Folk Art.

Founding trustees:
Joseph B. Martinson (President); Marian Willard Johnson (Vice-President); Arthur M. Bullowa (Legal Counsel and Treasurer); Herbert Waide Hemphill Jr.; Cordelia Hamilton; Adele Earnest

George Montgomery (1963-1964)
Mary Black (1964-1970)


3.25 linear feet (6 standard document cases; 1 half-size document cases)

Language of Materials



The record group contains exhibition files related to the American Folk Art Museum's earliest exhibitions (1962-1966), when the museum was called the Museum of Early American Folk Arts (MEAFA). The files include a range of materials, such as correspondence, checklists, installation and object photography, publicity and press releases, and more.


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

A Guide to the Museum of Early American Folk Arts Exhibition Files
Mimi Lester
February 2018
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note

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