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American Folk Art at Edward Thorp Gallery

Clayton Pennington | February 16th, 2014


A view of the spacious Edward Thorp Gallery on the sixth floor in the Baron building at 210 Eleventh Avenue in New York City.


This circa 1920 carved wood shelf with paint was from Maine and featured deer and birds. Measuring 18" x 28" x 7", it was priced at $19,500. “I picked this up a year or two ago…it’s a real tour de force of regional folk art. There’s a certain rustic sensibility to it, but there’s also sophistication.” 


This 1870 copper and lead steeplechase weathervane by A.L. Jewell of Waltham, Massachusetts, was $110,000. It measures 36" x 30" x 2" and has no restoration. “This form is probably singularly the rarest of all American weathervanes. There have only been two steeplechase weathervanes that I’ve seen where I know the fence always went with the weathervane, and this is one of them. It’s highly stylized and a favorite of contemporary art collectors.”


The best kind of dog. This 1920 carved wood dog with original paint, 28" x 40" x 12", was $85,000. “This is a famous piece. It’s been published several times—it’s in Bishop’s book [The All-American Dog, 1977, page 52, #45].” It’s from the Giampietros’ own collection; they bought it from Dr. and Mrs. William Greenspon. The artist is unknown, but several other dogs by the same hand are known; Giampietro thinks they came out of the Ohio area.

New York City

Fred Giampietro, a New Haven, Connecticut, dealer, curated an exhibition of American folk art at the Edward Thorp Gallery in New York City that’s on view until March 8. It’s a stark exhibition—there are no wall labels, and the description of the objects is minimal. The objects must stand on their own.

Last year Giampietro had a booth at the Metro Show, and for many years he exhibited at the tony Winter Antiques Show. “One of the reasons I’m not doing shows in New York, per se, I don’t want to interweave my business with the antiques business,” he said. “I try to buy and sell artwork—and I’ve always been interested in the placement of folk art within a contemporary context.”

For the folk art exhibition, he chose 38 objects. “I wanted to do a broad sweep. I took the time period where most of American folk art occurred, 1830-1930, and I tried to encompass the full range—paintings, metal, carvings, and cast iron; it’s sort of a big overview.

“For me, it takes someone who is used to looking at artwork—and is used to looking at how it holds up to other disciplines, not necessarily other folk art. If you have an Ammi Phillips folk portrait, if you have a weathervane that’s $50,000 or $60,000, how do they hold up to some of the contemporary work people are buying and how do they fit?”

Giampietro said the exhibition has helped collectors cross lines. “I’m getting interest from outside of the loop of the normal buyers and sellers. That’s what I hoped for. It’s been interesting because I’ve had to talk a lot of people through it.

I’ve talked for several days to a person who’s never heard of Ammi Phillips—but loves it. They are attracted to it for the same reason we’re all attracted to it.

“Contemporary buyers love folk art—love it—and many of them have never been exposed to it. Some of them will walk into my gallery in New Haven and say, ‘What is that?’ I say, ‘It’s a weathervane.’ ‘That goes on a building?’ they ask. They just never thought of it in the context of art—they think of it more in the context of craft.”

“On the flip side, the folk art people hate contemporary art, but I think it’s exciting and good for the industry to get someone to integrate folk art with something else they are buying…It’s refreshing for me to tap into a new market.

“I recently did an exhibit down at Art Basel Miami of contemporary art. Many people stopped by and said, ‘Where’s the folk art?’ This is a big deal because a few years ago, ‘folk art’ was a dirty word in the contemporary art world. People collected it on the side, and dealers who dealt in both weren’t considered serious. All of sudden much is being written about how folk art walks parallel lines with contemporary fine art.”

As for the market? “Selling has been good—we’ve had a few sales. But we have a lot of stuff in the pipeline.”

The Edward Thorp Gallery is located on the sixth floor of 210 Eleventh Avenue (between 24th and 25th) in New York City. For more information, contact Giampietro at (203) 777-7760, Web site (www.fredgiampietro.com) or the Edward Thorp Gallery at (212) 691-6565, Web site (www.edwardthorpgallery.com).

This 38" x 30" oil on canvas portrait by Ammi Phillips, in its original frame, 1835-40, was $65,000. “It’s a classic for Phillips. It’s a beautiful sitter; she’s in the best leaning forward position with a painted fancy chair. It’s in impeccable condition—never been lined. I’m still a purist—folk portraits don’t resonate with me if they been relined or overly restored. Folk paintings have to have an object quality to me. I would rather have this than a kid in a pink dress that’s been relined.”

This figure of Columbia with an eagle, cast iron with early paint and gilding, was dated as 1865, measured 38" x 48" x 5", and was $38,000. “It’s an amazing casting,” said Giampietro. “It had to be from an exhibition. At the top of the banner is something that’s written in Latin, but most of it’s gone. The banner on the bottom says ‘All Over The World.’”


Originally published in the March 2014 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2014 Maine Antique Digest

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