32" x 50" (approx.)
Oil on canvas
|Detailed painting titled "The Treaty" and signed Lewis, to date an unidentified artist, is from the collection of the late Herbert Hemphill, a pioneer in the vernacular art movement. His obituary from the New York Times is set out below.
Herbert Waide Hemphill Jr., Folk Art Collector, Dies at 69
By ROBERTA SMITH
Published: May 13, 1998
Herbert Waide Hemphill Jr., a collector and curator whose passion for American folk art helped redefine the field, died on Friday at Cabrini Medical Center in Manhattan. He was 69 and lived in Manhattan.
The cause was heart failure, said his nephew, J. Marshall Hemphill, of Lancaster, Pa.
Gerard C. Wertkin, director of the Museum of American Folk Art in New York City, where Mr. Hemphill was among six founding trustees, said, ''It is impossible to consider folk art in America without recognizing Hemphill's major contributions.''
Mr. Hemphill was famous for the depth and scope of his collection, which more than filled his brown stone on East 30th Street, and for the generosity with which he shared both his holdings and his knowledge. Sometimes credited with having a ''360-degree eye,'' he was known to be unable to pass a flea market, antiques store or even a front yard displaying unusual, clearly hand-built objects without stopping to browse, perchance to buy. ''Warhol had nothing on him,'' the SoHo art dealer Phyllis Kind said.
The 3,000 objects Mr. Hemphill owned ranged from 18th- and 19th-century paintings, shop signs, carved canes and face jugs to fish decoys, whirligigs, tramp art, tattoo designs, fraternal objects and bottle-cap animals to works by 20th-century artists, now well-known, like Martin Ramirez, Howard K. Finster, Jon Serl, Bessie Harvey, Sister Gertrude Morgan and Joseph Yoakum.
Mr. Hemphill was considered a visionary in his own right. In the early 1970's his insistence on folk art as something that was still being made by living artists was considered daring, if not revolutionary, in a field that was most frequently defined as dealing with objects made in New England before 1900.
Between 1974 and 1988, portions of the Hemphill collection were shown in 24 museums nationwide; in 1976, the American Bicentennial Commission selected works from the collection for a goodwill tour of Japan.
In 1986, Mr. Hemphill made a partial gift of 427 folk artworks to the National Museum of American Art in Washington, effectively reorienting its approach to American art. Half those objects were shown in 1990 in an exuberantly crowded exhibition titled ''Made with Passion: The Hemphill Folk Art Collection of the National Museum of American Art.''
Mr. Hemphill, who was known as Bert, was born in Atlantic City in 1929, with the means and, it became apparent, the will for incessant accumulation. His mother, Emma Bryant Bradley Hemphill, had been raised by her uncle, William Clark Bradley, an entrepreneur whose most famous business was the Coca-Cola Company. His father, Herbert W. Hemphill Sr., was a New Jersey businessman whose fleet of 2,000 elaborate wicker rolling chairs dominated the Atlantic City boardwalk.
Mr. Hemphill discovered collecting during shopping trips in New Jersey and Philadelphia with his mother, who collected Dresden china. During his childhood and adolescence he amassed collections of marbles, stamps, duck decoys, puzzle jugs and South Jersey glass bottles. At the Lawrenceville School in New Jersey and the Solebury School in New Hope, Pa., his principal interests were art and theater. In 1948, he spent a year studying fine arts at Bard College under Stefan Hirsch, a painter and folk art collector.
In 1949, Mr. Hemphill moved to Manhattan and began to focus on modern European and American art as well as African sculpture, but after 1956 he concentrated exclusively on 19th- and early 20th-century American folk art. He often discovered artists through his extensive travels, especially in the South. After meeting the Kentucky folk sculptor Edgar Tolson in 1970, he became convinced of the continuity between the folk art of the past and the folk, or outsider, art of the present.
After the Museum of American Folk Art in New York opened in 1964, Mr. Hemphill resigned from its board and served for 10 years as its first curator, organizing such exhibitions as ''20th-Century Folk Art and Artists'' (1970), ''Tattoo'' (1971) and ''Occult'' (1973). These shows reflected his expanded definition of folk art, as did a book, ''20th-Century Folk Art and Artists,'' which he wrote with Julia Weissman in 1974.
In a statement, the American Folk Art Museum noted that Mr. Hemphill was an active member of its collection committee, where his response to any object being presented tended to be: ''I have one of those at home. I'll bring it in.''