FEATURES : TRAVEL

El Encanto de un Pueblo (The Magic of People)

A Travelogue and Visit to the Museum of International Folk Art
By Erik Marinovich

Published August 18, 2008

Multiple Visions A Common Bond exhibit

Photo: Dana Johnston

Multiple Visions A Common Bond exhibit

Multiple Visions A Common Bond exhibit

Photo: Dana Johnston

Multiple Visions A Common Bond exhibit

Multiple Visions A Common Bond exhibit

Photo: Erik Marinovich

Multiple Visions A Common Bond exhibit

Multiple Visions A Common Bond exhibit

Photo: Dana Johnston

Multiple Visions A Common Bond exhibit

Multiple Visions A Common Bond exhibit

Photo: Dana Johnston

Multiple Visions A Common Bond exhibit

Multiple Visions A Common Bond exhibit

Photo: Erik Marinovich

Multiple Visions A Common Bond exhibit

Multiple Visions A Common Bond exhibit

Photo: Dana Johnston

Multiple Visions A Common Bond exhibit

Multiple Visions A Common Bond exhibit

Photo: Dana Johnston

Multiple Visions A Common Bond exhibit

Multiple Visions A Common Bond exhibit

Photo: Erik Marinovich

Multiple Visions A Common Bond exhibit

Multiple Visions A Common Bond exhibit

Photo: Erik Marinovich

Multiple Visions A Common Bond exhibit

Multiple Visions A Common Bond exhibit

Photo: Erik Marinovich

Multiple Visions A Common Bond exhibit

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Brooklyn welcomed Dana and me on November 7th, 2004 to a sublet apartment with a sheet-less bed and the haunting noise of radiator piping. We arrived with 2 suitcases and 4 boxes that showcased a new compact lifestyle. With no jobs or friends we set upon an unexpected 4 year love affair with Brooklyn. During that time we moved through jobs, met best friends and collected a lot of “things.” Among them; printed ephemera, rare books and a wooden toy battleship. These and other sentimental items are chapters in a mental diary that account for the precious moments of our life in Brooklyn. In March of 2008 we said farewell to the brownstone-lined streets and headed west on a road trip across America. Leaving behind our compact lifestyle to one of 61 freshly packed boxes en route to Los Angeles.

Not once did we question where/how the contents of our boxes would be displayed or stored until we reached the Girard wing at the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe, New Mexico. As we entered the exhibit Multiple Visions: A Common Bond it was apparent the objects of your life should not be kept in a box.

Alexander Girard and his wife Susan, began their intimate folk art collection on a trip to Mexico during the 1930’s. That trip started 4 decades worth of devoted gathering, or as Girard said, “simply had to have” objects from 6 continents. Their collection eventually inspired Herman Miller, Inc-in 1961-to open T&O (Textiles and Objects) a flagship specialty store on East 53rd Street. With a handful of collaborators such as The Eameses, Marilyn Neuhart and George Nelson, the short-lived store helped introduce folk art to a wider audience. The Girards efforts would help strengthen folk art’s voice within America.

In 1978, after 25 years of living in Santa Fe, the Girards found a home for their collection at the Museum of International Folk Art. Their personal gift would quintuple the Museums permanent collection. It would take 4 years and a full time staff of 20 to catalog more than 100,000 objects and a 10,000 square foot extension wing to house it.

Girard, the only person qualified, took the responsibilities of designing the home in which their collection would rest. At the beginning of accumulating folk art, “Girard claims that he truly didn’t know what he was going to do with these objects, … he harbored the idea to ultimately create vignettes of Mexican life from the material he was gathering.”(1) This ember of an idea set the entire direction for the space: an emporium of masterfully crafted tableaus specific to the object’s origin. Girard understood the importance of color and created a palette to help harmonize the wide variety of work. He played with height and the relationship to how objects are framed and displayed. This curatorial technique enhances the sense of discovery, giving the impression of an open town square in Mexico, a tented flea market in France, or a sidewalk peddler in India. Girard unmistakably shows the value of each item through the care and attention of where they were placed. Each tableau has a narrative story showcasing Girard’s imagination and sentiment towards these pieces. It’s a glimpse into his world and mind, a place where he shares the inspiration for most of his work; the colors, shapes, and simplicity in form.

You can see the common bond and nourishing qualities it provided for his creative endeavors throughout his career. All of this makes it hard to leave the exhibit. You find yourself staring, mouth wide open in complete utter amazement. The Girards’ collection is truly the hidden gem of Santa Fe. As Dana and I leave we notice a statement on the entrance wall of an Italian proverb Girard would often use, Tutto il mondo è paese—The whole world is hometown. A reminder and testament to the Girards’ creation: preserving a form of human expression that they believe connects us all.

On a side note, we eventually settle in to our new life in Los Angeles and I begin to write this story recounting the exhibit in my mind. It was not until several weeks later when I take out my hard drive to find images for the article that I suddenly learn I lost the originals and was left with small thumbnails of the photos of our road trip, including the photos taken at Multiple Visions. The despairing situation left me sick for several days. Not wanting to continue this post, I came a across a quote from Girard, "We are not simply machines that sleep, eat, and drink. We see, touch and remember—activities that are of far greater importance and in far greater need of consideration than our purely functions in life.”(2) Today we all work with many abstracted objects – our letters are now emails, our photos are files instead of prints; Girard’s ideals and his collections are a nice reminder to value the objects in our life that still take up space and the experiences we have with them.

(1) Glassie, Henry. The Spirit of Folk Art, New York: Abrams, 1989.
(2) Alexander Girard. 11 Aug. 2008. Herman Miller, Inc.

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