I grew up going to Santa Fe, New Mexico every other summer to visit my grandparents, and one thing we always did was going to the Museum of International Folk Art. We took an afternoon to visit the Girard Collection, which is still my favorite. You walk through the collection and see displays of villages of dolls, a band of musicians made up of wooden dolls, an entire marketplace, street scenes, and a river with colorful boats. It is a fantastical exhibit that delights all ages.
Recently I had the opportunity to speak with two curators at the museum. Below is my interview with: Laura Addison – Curator of European & American Folk Art Collections.
1.) What brought you to the Museum of International Folk Art? Have you always been interested in folk art?
Prior to coming to the folk art museum, I worked as the contemporary art curator at the NM Museum of Art. One of my abiding interests is to bridge the hi art/lo art divide and I was always interested in the conversation between contemporary art practitioners and craft, vernacular arts, etc. The folk art museum was my way to broaden my understanding of American art history by being inclusive of all manner of material objects. I have come to believe that folk art inserts itself into many facets of artistic practice and this dialogue, and the margins and gray areas of folk art, are what interest me the most.
2.) Does your expertise in American Folk Art include both North and South America? Are you involved in the upcoming exhibit: Crafting Memory?
Our curatorial areas are divided geographically, so I cover North America and Europe. My colleague Amy Groleau does Latin America, and the Crafting Memory exhibition is hers.
(See part two for the interview with Amy Groleau!).
3.) Do you get to travel for work, finding new items to add to the museum collection?
Yes, we do have the opportunity to travel for research for upcoming projects. We are fortunate to have the support of a foundation established by the museum’s founder, Florence Dibell Bartlett, for travel grants for field work and exhibition and collection research. A lot happens during these research trips, including making acquisitions for the collection. Much of our collecting happens in conjunction with preparations for exhibitions, so exhibition research and acquisitions dovetail nicely during these work trips.
a. What has been your favorite travel destination for museum collection pieces?
This past January I had the opportunity to make a quick, preliminary trip to the region of Switzerland, a mountainous region known for, among other things, cheese, skiing, and the traditional cut-paper art form known as scherenschnitt (in German) or decoupage (in French). We have a large collection of paper cuts from around the world–for example, papel picado from Mexico or wycinanki from Poland or jianzhi from China. But we have no paper-cuts from Switzerland, and yet it’s such a rich and active tradition there. When I went to Pays-d’Enhaut, I met with a half dozen artists and saw two tremendous collections. I have in mind to do an exhibition on this material in the future, so this was my first foray into planning this project and collecting in this area. I didn’t make any acquisitions this trip, but down the road I will.
b. How fast is the collection growing and is it mostly dolls, textiles, or a mix?
The collection is growing very quickly, currently at a pace of 500-1,000 objects per year. In the past number of years, we’ve seen that as collectors are downsizing, and their children may not share their love of the objects they’ve spent a lifetime collecting, we are being offered large collections of folk and traditional arts. When these are of particularly high quality, when there is great depth and documentation of their collections, and when it fills a gap in our collection, it’s a great benefit to the overall scope of the collection. Dolls and textiles are just part of the collection. We have a wide array of objects, from masks, paintings, and sculptures to furniture and functional objects in a variety of materials such as ceramic, wood, tin, glass, etc.
4.) The Girard Collection has over 100,000 items but only about 10% is on display! Are items rotated in the permanent collection?
Ten percent of the Girard Collection is on display in the permanent exhibition Multiple Visions, which was curated, designed and installed by Alexander Girard. The objects in The objects in Multiple Visions don’t get rotated out. Multiple Visions is really a great example of Girard’s design work, one of the few remaining as he envisioned it, so you have to think of it as a discrete environment or installation. Rather, other collections objects get exhibited in our changing exhibitions. The permanent collection is typically the launching pad for the exhibitions we develop here. The collection is so strong, there’s a lot to work with.
a. This may be a silly question but how often are the display dusted? That must be quite the undertaking especially with the clay figurines.
Yes, cleaning the Girard Wing is quite an undertaking. Our preparator does regularly check on the displays and clean as needed, change lights as needed, look for other issues that need attention. We did undertake a massive cleaning most recently in 2010.As we prepare for bringing the traveling Girard retrospective organized by the Vitra Design Museum in Germany, which will be here in 2019, we will be doing another cleaning on that same scale.
b. Are the displays based on the culture and country the dolls come from? Is there a story within the display? (See my photo above in regards to the answer below!).
Girard sometimes created displays that were country- or culture-specific, such as the Peruvian village or the Pueblo village, but other times he put objects from different cultures together that may share something else in common–for example, beadwork from various cultures are on display side by side in two parts of Multiple Visions. Alexander Girard was definitely telling stories with his displays, simply by the fact of creating scenes as if they were theaters on display. One of my favorites is the Mexican baptism scene that features ceramic figures by the Aguilar family of Ocotlan de Morelos in Oaxaca, Mexico. Girard created a display almost like a stage set, with a foreground, center stage and background, with the family of the baby being baptized standing at the front and a crowd of others receding toward the back. Where you see the narrative unfold most in Girard’s displays are his village scenes, where he placed buildings and landscape elements and grouped figures standing within this miniature environment and interacting with each other. Girard’s displays really lend themselves to the visitor crafting a narrative to describe what they see.
c. Do items from the collection travel to other museums?
Yes, we often lend objects from our collection to other museums. However what is on view in the Girard Wing is permanently displayed, so the works that travel are not those on display but others from the collection.
5.) Do you have any input into what is in the gift shop based on an exhibit?
We always provide the shop with suggestions of books we’ve found helpful in our preparations for shows, or put them in contact with the living artists we’ve worked with. But ultimately, they make those decisions based on what they know about buying trends.
6.) Who designs the new exhibitions and how much input do you get in that?
We work with exhibit designers who are either in the museum system or outside contractors whom we hire. (The museum system includes the 4 state museums in Santa Fe: us, Museum of Indian Arts & Culture, New Mexico History Museum, and the New Mexico Museum of Art. We share the exhibits department, which includes the exhibition and graphic designers, as well as preparators, fabricators, and conservators.) A curator works very closely with the exhibit designer and graphic designer to arrive at the look, feel, layout, and installation of the exhibition. We operate as a team. Curators provide the content, context, the guiding principles and groupings necessary to tell the story; the designers make the works shine and best tell this story.
a. Do you work with the design department on exhibition books and brochures?
Yes, for brochures, we work with our graphic designers. For our publications/books, we work with whatever publisher is publishing and distributing the book. Curators are closely involved with the entire book process, including text, images, and design.
8.) What is an exhibit you would love to organize and curate for the museum?
I am working on a long-term project called Mining Folk: Troubling Taxonomies of Art and Design, which will include the work of a dozen contemporary artists all of whom reference folk art in their work in such a way that they change the conversation and disrupt closed notions of “art,” “folk art,” “craft,” et cetera. By “changing the conversation,” I mean their use of folk art brings new awareness or understanding to the folk art source material as well as its use in a contemporary context. Maybe this is social commentary, or perhaps it is a different way of understanding a political situation.
*Thank you to Laura Addison for taking the time to answer questions and provide more information about the museum! Also thank you to Ruth LaNore, Registrar at the Museum for contacts and photo permissions!
So on your next visit to Santa Fe, make sure to visit the Museum of International Folk Art. There is so much to see, it’s kid friendly, and now you have an insider curatorial understanding!
Admissions and Hours: Open 10 to 5 (except Mondays and major holidays)
Tickets are $12 for adults/seniors, $11 for kids, free for kids under 16
- First Sundays of the month – free for New Mexico residents