The Fusfeld Folk Art Collection—gifted to the University of Michigan Museum of Art by Professor Emeritus of Economics Daniel Fusfeld and his wife, Harriet—consists of forty-eight works of American folk art. The objects that make up this collection are both geographically and historically wide-ranging, including work by early nineteenth-century itinerant folk portraitists as well as late twentieth-century sculpture and painting by “outsider” artists from the American South, Midwest, and Northeast.
The terms “folk art” and “outsider art” are malleable and often debated among scholars and collectors. What tends to define and unite this body of work is that its practitioners are generally self-taught and living and working outside conventional art circles. Much of the work in the Fusfeld collection has subject matter drawn from the artists’ own lives, and was often made for their personal use and enjoyment rather than for the art market. The stories, settings, figures, and ideas depicted have deeply personal meanings. A number of these artists worked in complete isolation, creating their art after days spent on the farm or at the factory for an audience that perhaps did not extend beyond a few family members or friends. Many of the works were made from simple, inexpensive materials and found objects. Religious motifs and narrative themes are quite common, also defying the governing trends of artistic production in the twentieth century.