Congratulations to MFA alumnus Michael J. Bramwell, who was recently appointed as the inaugural Linde Curator of Folk and Self-Taught Art at The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston! The creation of the new position is part of an initiative designed to reanimate and reimagine the MFA’s storied folk-art collection for 21st-century audiences, supported by longtime trustee Joyce Linde. Collaborating with fellow curators in the Art of the Americas Department and colleagues across the Museum, Bramwell will develop innovative exhibitions, collection displays and public programs—envisioning new ways to make folk and self-taught art accessible, relevant, and important to the lives of visitors. He will begin his new role on June 1.
Bramwell’s scholarship and research has explored the visual and material culture of the African diaspora in the American South from the 19th through the 20th centuries. He currently serves as Visiting Guest Curator at the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts (MESDA) in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where he is organizing the exhibition House Party: R.S.V.P. B.Y.O.B. Bramwell has collaborated on exhibitions, workshops and visiting critic engagements with the North Carolina Museum of Art, MoMA PS1, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Whitney Museum of American Art, and Maryland Institute College of Art. He has been awarded two Andrew W. Mellon Humanities for the Public Good Fellowships for his work at MESDA and the Ackland Art Museum. Bramwell is currently a doctoral candidate at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where his dissertation is focused on resistance in the art of enslaved potter David Drake. As a visual artist, Bramwell has been featured in a wide range of solo and group exhibitions, including at the MoMA P.S.1, Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Jack Tilton Gallery. His work can be found in the collections of the Davis Museum at Wellesley College, the New School University, The Studio Museum in Harlem, and the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, among many others. He holds an M.F.A. from UNC Chapel Hill, an M.A. in special education from Columbia University and a bachelor’s degree from Oakwood University in Huntsville, Alabama. Bramwell’s work is supported by the Joan Mitchell, Andrew W. Mellon, and Pollock-Krasner foundations.
“As a practicing artist and academically-trained art historian, Michael Bramwell brings a distinct perspective to folk and self-taught art. His commitment to telling new stories and reaching beyond the canon promises to reenergize the display and interpretation of this material at the MFA. It is an honor to welcome Michael to Boston,” said Ethan Lasser, John Moors Cabot Chair, Art of the Americas.
The MFA has long collected folk art—broadly defined—in many genres, with notable strength in works made in the northeastern U.S. in the 18th and 19th centuries. Highlights include important paintings by Erastus Salisbury Field, William Matthew Prior and Rufus Porter, nearly 350 works on paper from the Karolik Collection, a significant collection of American quilts, and select examples of painted furniture and sculptural forms. The new Folk Art Initiative positions the MFA as a global leader in reinvigorating and rethinking a body of material that challenges narrow definitions of “what is art” and “who is an artist’—and creates space for the greater inclusion of voices, narratives and histories, offering a unique point of access and invitation to visitors. A cross-departmental team, which included curators, conservators and staff members from the Learning and Community Engagement division, developed a strategic framework for the Folk Art Initiative to evolve and unfold over the next several years. This collaborative process laid the groundwork for the MFA’s 2021 exhibition Collecting Stories: The Invention of Folk Art (generously supported by the Henry Luce Foundation), which explored the history and evolution of the term “folk art” by reconsidering works on paper and sculpture from the Karolik Collection.
With support for exhibitions, programs and interpretation, the Linde Curator will have the platform to galvanize colleagues across the Museum to think anew about folk art in the Americas and across the globe, and explore new ways to make the collection accessible, relevant and important to the lives of visitors today. Through the Folk Art Initiative, the MFA will place folk and self-taught art in dialogue with other art forms across disciplines—particularly contemporary art—integrate folk art into existing learning programs, and invite members of the Museum’s teen programs and community partners to offer fresh perspectives on interpretation and the stories told in the galleries.