Sheldon Museum of Art


Date of this Version



Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery, March 20-May 27, 1990


All images are copyright by the original artists. Publication copyright 1990 The Regents of the University of Nebraska


Among the prestigious holdings of 20thcentury American art at the Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, are outstanding examples of folk art that visitors frequently refer to as their favorites. Native Visions: Art by Folks includes Sheldon's sensitively rendered 19th-century shop sign Horse, the 18th-century limner portrait Girl with Rose and Book, and the 19thcentury watercolors Ship and Whale, both of the latter undated, by unknown artists, and found in whaling log books. In addition to these familiar pieces, the exhibition features 18th-, 19th- and 20th-century folk art objects selected primarily from private collections throughout Nebraska. Works in a number of media, including paintings and sculpture, weather vanes, toys, shop or trade signs, hooked rugs, quilts and furniture provide this special glimpse of our cultural heritage. By carefully looking at such objects, the observer can learn how Americans have spent their lives, both at work and play, throughout our history.

Webster defmes folk art as "of or existing among the common people." Folk art is generally understood as decorative and/or functional arts and crafts created by untrained, ordinary citizens, as well as experienced craftspeople. First acknowledged as an informal manifestation of history in the 1920s and 1930s, folk art assumes a dual role: it is art both by and for the people. The makers are often both producers and consumers, whose individuality is their outstanding characteristic.

In 1932, Holger Cahill, the "first scholar to interest himself in American folk art," gave credibility to the term "the common man" when he referred to folk art as being created by "ordinary average citizens." American folk art is "the unconventional side of the American tradition in the fme arts ... .It is a varied art, influenced from diverse sources, often frankly derivative, often fresh and original, and at its best an honest and straightforward expression of the spirit of a people. This work gives a living quality to the story of American beginnings in the arts, and is a chapter ... in the social history of this country."