FOUNDED IN 1961, the American Folk Art Museum (AFAM) is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year. In honor of the occasion, the New York City museum announced a gift of 40 works of art from Laura Parsons, a longstanding trustee of the museum, and her husband Richard D. Parsons. The gift includes works by “self-taught” artists Horace Pippin (1888-1946), Clementine Hunter (1887–1988), Sister Gertrude Morgan (1900-1980), Bill Traylor (c.1853–1949), and Amos Ferguson (1920–2009), among others.

“This magnanimous gift is the most recent contribution that Laura and Richard have made to the American Folk Art Museum,” AFAM Director and CEO Jason T. Busch said when the gift was announced. “The paintings and sculpture included in the gift are transformational additions to the Museum’s collection and enhance our commitment to presenting an inclusive, nuanced, and meaningful story of folk and self-taught art across time and place.”


HORACE PIPPIN (1888–1946, West Chester, Pennsylvania), “The Wash,” West Chester, Pa., circa 1942 (oil on canvas, 13 1/2 x 17 1/2 inches). | Gift of Richard and Laura Parsons, 2021.6.1


Painted by Pippin, “The Wash” (circa 1942) features an outdoor scene, a log cabin nestled in the woods by a river. Working in front of the home, a single female figure washes clothes in a basin, as a pig looks on. Nearby, clothes are hung out to dry on a wash line.

Employing a modern style, Pippin depicted a broad array of subjects in his work: domestic moments, portraits, landscapes, history, Biblical themes, and World War I. A decorated and disabled combat veteran, he was based in West Chester, Pa. In his lifetime, Pippin’s paintings were exhibited nationwide, acquired by major collections, and published in major magazines. He was arguably the most successful Black American artist in the early 20th century, self-taught or otherwise.

Born into slavery, after emancipation, Traylor was a farm laborer on a former plantation in rural Alabama. Later in Montgomery, he was in his mid-80s when he began making art, drawing and painting on discarded paperboard over the last decade of his life.

Traylor was a storyteller whose simplified visual language of figures, animals, and structures articulated his complex memories of harsh labor, racial violence, and disenfranchisement, alongside his more recent observations of urban culture. His work has garnered significant attention posthumously.

At age 15, Hunter moved to the Melrose cotton plantation near Natchitoches, La., where she was a resident laborer for most of her life. After working as a field hand for more than two decades, her duties shifted to cooking and housekeeping.

After working all day, she started painting at night. It was the 1940s and she was well into her 50s. Hunter depicted the quotidian of life in her community—cotton fields, baptisms, cooking, cleaning, and floral still lifes. She made thousands of paintings, utilizing canvas, paper, and all manner of household items.

Lesser-known figures whose output is equally interesting are also included in the gift. Alabama-born, New York-based Mary Frances Whitfield is represented. Whitfield’s paintings reflect the lynchings and racial violence she heard about from her grandmother in Birmingham, where the artist spent summers when she was growing up.


AMOS FERGUSON (The Bahamas, 1920–2009), “Can you think of this long leg lizzie…,” The Bahamas, 1995 (paint on board, 37 3/8 x 32 x 1 1/2 inches, frame dimension). | Gift of Richard and Laura Parsons, 2021.6.8


There’s a painted and carved-wood tiger by Elijah Pierce, the Mississippi-born artist who was active in Columbus, Ohio. A barber and accomplished woodcarver, Pierce is known for his Biblical scenes, political references, and personal narratives.

Dating from the mid-19th century to the present, the experiences, observations, and imaginations of these artists are central to their creativity and shed a unique light on the American experience—the nation’s shameful racial history, the legacy of slavery, Southern culture, the opportunity costs faced by women with no formal education, of war heroes who fought for a country that denies them basic freedoms, and of ordinary life, the joys, wonder and challenges. Their authentic voices and singular artistic practices bring important perspectives to the public discourse on the promise of America.

WORKS BY FERGUSON of The Bahamas seeded the Parsons collection. A house painter, Ferguson is also an artist known for evoking Bible stories in his artworks. Mrs. Parsons told Artnet News they were on vacation in The Bahamas when she discovered his work in 1997.

Parsons purchased two paintings from Ferguson and two years later joined the board of the American Folk Art Museum in 1999. A licensed psychologist, she’s been a member the board ever since, serving as chair from 2011 to 2019, and president from 2004 to 2010. A senior adviser of Providence Equity Partners, Mr. Parsons is a former chairman of Time Warner and Citicorp and former board chair of The Rockefeller Foundation and Apollo Theater.

Over the years the Parsons have continued to collect, adding pieces by Ulysses Davis, Hugh Mulzac, Jimmy Lee Sudduth, Joe Light, Felipe Benito Archuleta, and William Hemmerling, and others that are also included in the gift to the American Folk Art Museum.

“For us, it is the museum in this country that represents everyone in this country. It has the most diversity of artists of any museum, and to me, this is our cultural heritage, so that’s why we support it,” Mrs. Parsons told Artnet News.

In January, selections from the Parsons gift will be featured in “Multitudes,” a collection exhibition that will explore 400 years of self-taught and folk art on the occasion of the museum’s milestone anniversary. CT


READ MORE about artist Clementine Hunter in Smithsonian Magazine

FIND MORE Sadé Ayorinde was recently named inaugural fellow at the American Folk Art Museum


WILLIAM HEMMERLING (1943, Illinois–2009, Louisiana), “The Lord of the Dance, Ponchatoula, Louisiana,” n.d. (paint on wood, 33 7/8 x 16 7/8 x 4 1/4 inches, frame dimension). | Gift of Richard and Laura Parsons, 2021.6.5


MARY FRANCES WHITFIELD (b. 1947, Birmingham), “Lost Children, Birmingham, Alabama,” May 9, 2000 (watercolor on Arches paper, 4 3/4 x 20 inches). | Gift of Richard and Laura Parsons, 2021.6.12


MARY FRANCES WHITFIELD (b. 1947, Birmingham), Untitled, Alabama, Birmingham, n.d. (paint on paper, 23 5/8 x 27 1/2 inches). | Gift of Richard and Laura Parsons, 2021.6.13


ULYSSES DAVIS (1914–1990),” King of Egypt Rameses, Savannah, Georgia,” n.d. (wood, 8 1/2 x 2 5/8 x 2 7/8 inches). | Gift of Richard and Laura Parsons, 2021.6.10


HUGH MULZAC (March 26, 1886–unknown), “Native Washerwoman, Jamaica, British West Indies,” n.d. (paint on canvas board, 16 x 12 inches). | Gift of Richard and Laura Parsons, 2021.6.4


ELIJAH PIERCE (1892–1984), Untitled, Columbus, Ohio, 1978 (paint on wood, 4 3/8 x 10 1/4 x 1 5/8 in.ches). | Gift of Richard and Laura Parsons, 2021.6.11


FELIPE BENITO ARCHULETA (1910–1991), “Boar,” Tesuque, New Mexico, n.d. (paint on wood 21 x 36 x 14 inches). | Gift of Richard and Laura Parsons, 2021.6.19 and 2021.6.18


AMOS FERGUSON (The Bahamas, 1920–2009), Untitled, n.d. (paint on board, 37 1/4 x 32 x 1 5/8 inches, frame dimension). | Gift of Richard and Laura Parsons, 2021.6.9


The exhibition catalog “Between Worlds: The Art of Bill Traylor,” authored by curator Leslie Umberger, with an introduction by Kerry James Marshall, was published on the occasion of the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s “unparalleled look” at the artist. Fully illustrated, “Horace Pippin, American Modern” was published last year. The catalog “Elijah Pierce’s America” accompanied the recent exhibition at the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia. A number of publications explore the life and work of Clementine Hunter. The selections include “Clementine Hunter: Her Life and Art,” “Painting by Heart: The Life and Art of Clementine Hunter, Louisiana Folk Artist,” and “Clementine Hunter: American Folk Artist.” Also consider “Clementine Hunter: A Sketchbook” and for children, “Art From Her Heart: Folk Artist Clementine Hunter.” Also for children, Amos Ferguson illustrated “Under the Sunday Tree,” which was authored by Eloise Greenfield, who died earlier this month. “Amos Ferguson: The Master of Color” was published in 2013.


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