Elizabeth Kornhauser, Metropolitan Museum of Art
This ADAF Lecture will take place on Zoom, click here to register for the online event.
Rufus Hathaway, Molly Wales Fobes, 1790 A whimsical fantasy portrait The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Marsden Hartley, Sustained Comedy, 1939 A whimsical, tormented self portrait The Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh
The 1920s witnessed the collision of Americana and modernism. The 1924 landmark exhibition of “Early American Art,” curated by artist Henry Schnakenberg at the Whitney Studio Club, provided institutional acknowledgment of what was later called “folk art.” Holger Cahill curated folk art shows at the Newark Museum in 1930 and 1931, followed in 1932 by “American Folk: The Art of the Common Man in America, 1750-1900” at the Museum of Modern Art. The American Art Association’s landmark Girl Scout exhibition in 1929 showcased loans from pioneer collectors. Some of those collections would later be made available to the public for appreciation and education by such luminaries as Henry F. DuPont (Winterthur), Francis P. Garvan (Yale University Art Gallery) and Electra Havemeyer Webb (Shelburne Museum).
Dr. Kornhauser’s story of individual collecting to institutional acknowledgment to museum recognition begins with Hamilton Easter Field (1873-1922), member of a well-to-do Brooklyn family, who studied art and lived in Europe from 1894 to 1902 and 1905 to 1910. In Europe, Cubists inspired the painter, patron and collector to admire both abstraction and the “primitive.” He also met his protege and principal heir, Robert Laurent (1890-1970), in Europe. After the Field and the French youth arrived in America, they established a seasonal Summer School of Graphic Arts in Ogunquit, Maine, in 1911. Laurent and Field furnished the small fishing-shack studios in Maine with locally sourced American folk portraits, ladderback chairs, carved decoys, weather vanes, spatterware, schoolgirl samplers, quilts and hooked rugs, objects which were attractive, readily available and inexpensive.
Dr. Kornhauser will focus on Robert Laurent as the first practitioner of direct carving in modern American sculpture, and how folk art influenced him to balance naturalism with abstraction. She will discuss Laurent’s work including the carved chest at The Met, and his role as an important collector of folk art.
The vibrant and expressive qualities of Americana inspired other modernists who spent time at the school, including Samuel Halpert – husband of the noted folk art dealer, Edith Gregor Halpert, Marsden Hartley, Bernard Karfiol, Yasuo Kuniyoshi, Dorothy Varian, Marguerite and William Zorach and Elie Nadelman. The voracious collectors Elie and Viola Nadelman curated their own Museum of Folk Art. These artists advanced modernism by turning to art of the American past for inspiration. Dr. Kornhauser will explore the ways in which these modernists fell under the spell of folk art, and were influenced in their own artistic process by these works. These artists helped to define what we know consider American folk art, and they did it through the lens of modernism.
Immigrant Jewish entrepreneurs, with names such as Ginsburg, Levy, Liverant and Sack transformed the perception of second-hand goods into greatly valued antiques. During the same period, another Jewish immigrant, Edith Gregor Halpert, sold American folk art to clients such as Abby Aldrich Rockefeller (whose eponymous collection became part of Colonial Williamsburg).
Elizabeth Mankin Kornhauser graduated from Connecticut College with a bachelor’s degree in art history. Her master’s degree from the graduate program at the State University of New York at Cooperstown focused on folk art and culture. She earned her doctorate from Boston University.
Dr. Kornhauser started her career at the Smith College Art Museum in 1976, moving to the Long Island (now Brooklyn) Historical Society in 1980. She served at the Wadsworth Atheneum, in Hartford, Connecticut, from 1983 to 2000 in a series of progressively more responsible curatorial positions, culminating in the positions of Deputy Director and Acting Director. She is now the Alice Pratt Brown Curator of American Paintings and Sculpture at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Dr. Kornhauser’s prolific publications include: Ralph Earl: The Face of the Young Republic (1991); Thomas Cole: Landscape Into History ( 1994); Joseph Cornell: Box Constructions and Collages ( 1997); Alfred Stieglitz, Georgia O’Keefe and American Modernism (1999); Samuel Colt: Arms, Art, and Invention (2006); and American Moderns on Paper ( 2010) and a number of scholarly articles.