The Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum, in Williamsburg, Virginia, is the world’s oldest continually-operated museum for the exhibition of American folk art. The museum has been collecting and exhibiting folk art since it opened in 1957 and now holds over 7,000 pieces of folk art.
On our last visit to Williamsburg, we were lucky to be able to view their dollhouse collection. The dollhouses ranged from a dollhouse constructed from a wooden crate and filled with handmade furniture to an elaborate, and huge, dollhouse White House. The dollhouses were made to be played with. There’s a little farm, complete with animals and fences, and a wonderful cardboard castle.
While the White House was quite impressive, I was much more taken with the more “play friendly” pieces. They were designed to be played with, not as a display piece. If I were a child, I’d want something I could actually touch rather than just look at.
The museum is full of wonderful works of art. We’ve been there several times and there’s always things we haven’t seen before. If you visit Williamsburg, I highly recommend a visit to the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum. You won’t regret it.
This whimsical work of art one of the many pieces of folk art on exhibit at the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum in Williamsburg, Virginia.
Edgar A. McKillop (1879-1950) was a blacksmith from Balfour, North Carolina who began his art career when a neighbor offered him four black walnut trees in exchange for removing the trees from the neighbor’s property. McKillop used the wood to create hand carved sculptures as well as practical items such as furniture and kitchen utensils.
The hippocerous is one of his largest works. Created in the 1920s, the piece is actually a hand cranked phonograph. McKillop carved the cabinet from walnut and created a fantastical beast with characteristics of the rhinoceros and the hippopotamus. It looks like a creature that would have populated the pages of Where the Wild Things Are.
I find it interesting how many folk artists integrated technology into their otherwise rustic art. In this case, McKillop used the work as a cabinet for a hand cranked phonograph. The hippocerous doesn’t simply hold the phonograph. When a record is played, the sound comes from its mouth. But wait, that’s not all. As the record plays, the beast’s tongue wags back and forth with the music. It’s a wonderful and whimsical work of art.
North Carolina folk artist Vollis Simpson didn’t start creating his whimsical sculptures until he retired. Making use of his skills as a mechanic and using rigs he developed as a house mover, Simpson began creating huge kinetic sculptures out of scrap metal. The creations were based on weather vanes and handcrafted “whirligigs” that could be found on barns and in yards across the South.
Simpson’s art has been widely recognized. Four of his whirligigs were displayed in Atlanta during the 1996 Olympic Games. Museums from the North Carolina Art Museum to the Folk Art Museum in New York City have displayed his sculptures.
Simpson passed away in May 2013, at the age of 94. A month later the North Carolina House and Senate designated his whirligigs as the State Art of North Carolina.
The Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park was opened in December 2017. The park has about 60 of the colorful whirligigs, which were relocated from fields of Simpson’s farm. It can be almost hypnotic to watch the many moving parts slowly rotate in the wind. We visited on a sunny day, but the park has special lighting so that at night the many reflectors attached to the sculptures catch the light and recreate the effect of car lights reflecting off the whirligigs as they drove past in the dark.