And before you say "Ugh, but art museums are soooo boring..." A) I disagree, and B) this isn't your traditional stuffy, highbrow art museum! There's a world of difference between fine art and folk art.
Folk art is produced by common, everyday people, and is typically made for a utilitarian or decorative purpose. Folk artists make objects primarily for use in their own homes or communities. This can be toys, miniatures, keepsakes, religious items, decorative items for the home, or even ceremonial items for use in local holidays or traditions.
Folk art can also teach you a lot about other cultures. Every part of the world makes different sorts of objects and has their own unique artistic styles. So it's easy to see and appreciate all the differences (and similarities!) between various cultures simply by looking at their folk art.
The wonderful thing about folk art to me is that it is accessible to everyone. Anyone can look at folk art and understand what it is, why it was made, and what it was used for. Everyone can relate to it. And since this is, after all, the world's biggest museum of folk art, so there's plenty here to satisfy everyone's interests!
And here it is:
Your visit begins in the GARGANTUAN Girard Wing. Have I mentioned how big it is? It is HUGE! I mean, imagine the biggest warehouse you can think of --
The Museum was founded in 1953 by Florence Dibell Bartlett. As someone who had lived through both World Wars, it was her hope that a museum showcasing folk art from around the world would help to promote cultural understanding.
The collection in the Girard Wing was donated to the museum by Alexander and Susan Girard. Alexander had been fascinated by toys and miniatures since childhood, and the couple began collecting items of folk art on their travels starting with their 1939 honeymoon to Mexico. Almost 50 years later, in 1978, the Girards donated their collection of over 100,000 objects from more than 100 countries to the museum. This single massive donation quintupled the size of the museum's collections! The donation also necessitated the addition of a new wing to the museum to house the new items. (And even with the new wing, there's still only room for about 10% of the collection to be displayed!)
Since Alexander Girard was an interior designer and architect, he actually designed the new wing himself. And his displays are pretty creative! Items are displayed at many different elevations (including above your head), and the paths wind around so you can see the bigger displays from many different angles.
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First up is the Hispanic Heritage Wing, which always displays an exhibit that relates to Hispanic culture. For my visit, it was the history of chocolate. They had recreations of Spanish colonial kitchens, as well as vessels used to prepare and serve chocolate. Sadly, they did NOT have free samples.
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