Skip to main content


March 2023
1min read

We know American folk art mainly from the great East Coast collections- the ones at Colonial Williamsburg and at Shelburne, Vermont —and from several landmark exhibits at New York City’s Whitney Museum. And certain often-seen pieces have become old friends to those who are won by the offhand grace and spirited coloring of works embedded in the American grain.

That there is more to be found—much of it never publicly exhibited—was recently revealed in a show mounted by the Cincinnati Art Museum titled “The Fine Art of Folk Art.” According to the museum’s curator of decorative arts, Anita Ellis, the idea for an exhibit featuring the holdings of Ohio’s folk art collectors first occurred to her about five years ago. The plan was to present only North American works and, as much as practicable, to keep to those of Mid-western origin. Ellis joined with the museum’s curators of painting, costumes and textiles, and works on paper to canvass local collectors, most of them members of the Ohio Folk Art Association, a group founded in 1981. (Folk art collecting in Ohio goes back to the 1920s.) The curators visited about twenty-five owners, sifted through hundreds of pieces, and sent out word of their quest to Ohio antiques dealers. The curators’ approach, says Ellis, wasn’t anthropological or historic, but aesthetic. They didn’t go for just the big names—although many were among the pickings—but made their judgments purely on the basis of quality.

The exhibit itself, which runs until September 2, presents a choice selection of seventy-five items, including paintings, samplers, sculpture, and furniture. The oldest piece on display is an illustrated handwritten book specifying weights and measures, which dates back to 1766. Contemporary artists, such as Edward M. Hageman, an eighty-year-old carver enjoying his first show, were also represented. “ As soon as these works are published in the accompanying catalogue,” says Ellis, “we’re going to make some discoveries.”

The curators are especially eager to learn more about an early-twentieth-century painter who signed his work L. A. Roberts and who so far is known only for the two bold landscapes that appear in the exhibit. (One of them, Yosemite Valley , is seen here.) Roberts probably lived in Cincinnati, and it is known that an elderly couple there gave the two paintings to a physician in the 1930s in lieu of payment. Yet it’s not likely, says Anita Ellis, that these “were Roberts’s first and last shot.” Indeed, since research on the artist was launched during the mounting of the show, word Of a possible third painting has surfaced, just as the Ohio curators had hoped.

—Carla Davidson

We hope you enjoy our work.

Please support this 72-year tradition of trusted historical writing and the volunteers that sustain it with a donation to American Heritage.


Stories published from "July/august 1990"

Authored by: Jack El-hai

Nearly a hundred years ago two rival cities fought hard and dirty to win the battle of numbers

Authored by: John Steele Gordon

Two hundred years ago the United States was a weakling republic prostrate beneath a ruinous national debt. Then Alexander Hamilton worked the miracle of fiscal imagination that made America a healthy young economic giant. How did he do it?

Authored by: Anne Hollander

Fashion disposes, the camera exposes. Here’s what was new and exciting for half a century. It didn’t seem quaint then.

Authored by: Andrew S. Ward

When the author moved into a 1905 house on an island near Seattle, he found himself sharing it with the uncommon people who had lived there before him

Authored by: Samuel Sifton

In February 1970 the editors of American Heritage published “A Wrecker’s Dozen,” by David McCullough. It predicted the destruction of thirteen American buildings and lamented the lack of a widespread conservation ethic in the United States. A while ago G. W.Leaworthy of Titusville, Florida, wrote to us, asking what had happened to the doomed buildings. We decided to find out, and we’re happy to report the news is mostly good.

Authored by: D. R. Martin

Dan Patch never lost a race. But that’s not how he made his owner a multi-millionaire. America’s best-loved horse was also perhaps the most shrewdly marketed animal of all time.

Authored by: D. R. Martin

Dan Patch never lost a race. But that’s not how he made his owner a multi-millionaire. America’s best-loved horse was also perhaps the most shrewdly marketed animal of all time.

Featured Articles

Often thought to have been a weak president, Carter was strong-willed in doing what he thought was right, regardless of expediency or the political fallout.

Rarely has the full story been told how a famed botanist, a pioneering female journalist, and First Lady Helen Taft battled reluctant bureaucrats to bring Japanese cherry trees to Washington. 

Why have thousands of U.S. banks failed over the years? The answers are in our history and politics.

In his Second Inaugural Address, Abraham Lincoln embodied leading in a time of polarization, political disagreement, and differing understandings of reality.

Native American peoples and the lands they possessed loomed large for Washington, from his first trips westward as a surveyor to his years as President.

A hundred years ago, America was rocked by riots, repression, and racial violence.

During Pres. Washington’s first term, an epidemic killed one tenth of all the inhabitants of Philadelphia, then the capital of the young United States.

Now a popular state park, the unassuming geological feature along the Illinois River has served as the site of centuries of human habitation and discovery.  

The recent discovery of the hull of the battleship Nevada recalls her dramatic action at Pearl Harbor and ultimate revenge on D-Day as the first ship to fire on the Nazis.

Our research reveals that 19 artworks in the U.S. Capitol honor men who were Confederate officers or officials. What many of them said, and did, is truly despicable.

Here is probably the most wide-ranging look at Presidential misbehavior ever published in a magazine.

When Germany unleashed its blitzkreig in 1939, the U.S. Army was only the 17th largest in the world. FDR and Marshall had to build a fighting force able to take on the Nazis, against the wishes of many in Congress.