Object Interest

The Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum celebrates a milestone.

One of the most looked-at works in the 7,000-object collection of Colonial Williamsburg’s Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum is a watermelon—a 110-pound, 3-foot long carving made from a single block of elm wood in 1960 by Miles Carpenter of Waverly. 

The owner of a roadside vegetable and fruit stand, Carpenter propped the carving up on a wooden Coca-Cola crate to create buzz for his business, enjoying the looks of passers-by mistaking it for real fruit. 

Visitors to the museum, which comprises paintings, toys and other objects by self-trained artists and craftsmen and celebrates its 60th anniversary this year, “walk along until something catches their eye,” explains Jan Gilliam, manager of exhibit planning and associate curator of toys for the Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg.

“The thing I like about the folk art collection is people seem to be able to relate to it immediately,” says Gilliam. “The work doesn’t have to have great meaning.”

The museum was established with the gift in 1939 of Abby Aldrich Rockefeller’s collection of folk art from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. In April, it broke ground on a $40 million expansion that will add 4-5 new gallery spaces in addition to a new café and new staff workspace. The new digs will allow the museum to exhibit things like toys, prints and maps that haven’t been shown regularly due to lack of space. Special exhibitions to mark the anniversary include We the People: American Folk Portraits and A Century of African-American Quilts, on view through May 2018. ColonialWilliamsburg.com

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