The Folk Art Collection of Elie and Viola Nadelman


The New-York Historical Society is organizing an exciting landmark exhibition culled from its extraordinary trove of over 2,000 folk art objects acquired by the avant-garde sculptor Elie Nadelman (1882–1946) and his wife, Viola Spiess Flannery Nadelman (1878–1962). As the first major examination of Nadelman’s seminal role in folk art collecting, this exhibition will make a significant contribution to the field of folk art studies.

Elie Nadelman is widely recognized for his elegant, modernist sculpture. Less familiar is his pioneering folk art collection, an impressive but little-known material legacy that survives at the New-York Historical Society. Influenced by the folk arts of his native Poland and other European countries, Nadelman began collecting after immigrating to New York City in 1914, an activity that accelerated after his marriage in 1919.

The Nadelmans’ acquisitions spanned a wide geographic range and a great variety of media—furniture, sculpture, paintings, ceramics, glass, iron, pewter, drawings, watercolors and household tools. Beginning in 1926, they displayed the collection in their Museum of Folk and Peasant Arts, built on their estate in Riverdale, New York. The first museum in the United States devoted exclusively to folk art, it was also the first in the world to focus on the European origins of American folk art. In 1937, the New-York Historical Society purchased most of the collection, which the couple were forced to sell due to financial reversals suffered during the Depression.

Making it Modern will showcase approximately 100 objects displayed in groupings akin to those devised by the Nadelmans in their museum. The majority will be drawn from New-York Historical's holdings, supplemented by a few key loans. Several examples of Nadelman's "modern" sculpture will help to explore the influence of folk art on the artist’s own oeuvre.

Tour Schedule

Venue Dates
Albuquerque Museum of Art (Albuquerque, NM) September 6–November 29, 2015
Available. Please contact for details. January 6–April 16, 2016
Addison Gallery (Andover, MA) September 17–December 31, 2016


A fully illustrated catalogue with provocative essays and entries will accompany the exhibition.

For more information, please e-mail travelingexhibitions@nyhistory.org

Creative: Tronvig Group