A motorcycle built from bicycle chains and cans; a bank made of matchsticks and mirrors; a truck constructed from toothpicks, aluminum foil and cardboard; cloth dolls, papier-mache figures, furniture, fishing decoys, a birdhouse, a Balinese drum, an American flag, a crazy quilt. Individually, these items are interesting and good examples of skilled craftspeople. Together, however, these and several other works transcend their individual function or purpose and, in some cases, even their aesthetics, to form the "art" in Folk Art: The Drew and Katie Gibson Collection, an exhibition at Boise Art Museum on display now through Sunday, July 24.
Though maybe not as well-known as Herb and Dorothy Vogel or Kendra and Allan Daniel, the Gibsons—who spend time in both California and Idaho—are equally passionate about art, supporting both San Jose Museum of Art and BAM, gifting artworks collected on their travels to both museums.
"They have a wonderful collection and from time to time, we ask if we can draw works from [it]," said Nicole Herden, curator of art at BAM. "They are always very willing to let us borrow their work. They want to share their collection with Idaho. Oftentimes, sharing the work results in donations ... a lot of work in this exhibition has been donated to [BAM]."
It may seem antithetical to add a hamster cage or a toy Pakistani jingle truck to a museum's permanent art collection, but only if the museum's definition of art is constrictive—something BAM's is definitely not. Folk art has a place right next to "high" art, even though the works have completely different origins.
Folk art is "traditional" or art "learned at the knee," meaning techniques are handed down through generations. Works of folk art often serve both form and function and, usually, folk artists have little to no formal training. The Folk Art exhibition, spread out through three of BAM's galleries, shows the range of this style of art, which can be as elementary as a beautifully crafted large wooden bench, chair and lamp; or as complex as a breathtaking Wixarika (or Huichol) deer sculpture, covered in thousands of colored seed beads individually and exactingly applied. These and many of the others pieces in the exhibition are as evocative as works considered "high art."
"With folk art, the works in this exhibition remind us creativity flourishes independently of formal art training. That's really exciting," said Herden, who believes there's room for every kind of art. "As a curator, I'm always wondering, 'Why must 'high' art be better? Why does society place high art on a pedestal?"
Though historically, more value has been placed on work created by trained artists, folk art started to gain more respectability (in the U.S.) in the 1930s. Since then, folk art has become more valid and, most importantly, more accessible. Now, thanks to the Gibsons and BAM, the latter is even more so.