High Museum receives $2.5 million gift for folk art curatorial position, initiatives

The High Museum of Art has received a $2.5 million gift from Atlanta patrons Dan Boone and his late wife Merrie Boone to support and expand the museum’s folk and self-taught art initiatives, including the endowment of a permanent, full-time curatorial position to lead the department.

With the addition of the Merrie and Dan Boone Curator of Folk and Self-Taught Art, all seven of the High's collecting departments will have a full-time endowed curatorial position.

The museum is conducting a national search to fill the post, according to Thursday's announcement.

The new curator will oversee the study, exhibition and care of folk and self-taught art in the museum’s collection, as well as lead the development of special exhibitions and programming. The curator also will be responsible for further building a collection numbering nearly 800 pieces that is widely considered of the most significant among public institutions internationally.

The development is a jolt of good news for a museum department that seemed to be wavering since Susan Mitchell Crawley resigned as curator of folk art in March 2013 for undisclosed reasons. The position has remained unfilled since the departure of Crawley, who served for a decade and whose curatorial credits included “The Treasure of Ulysses Davis” (2008-2009), a retrospective of prized carvings by the late Savannah barber.

The High's reluctance to fill the role until it was endowed caused some patrons who had contributed to the collection to fret for its future, as detailed in a June story on the web site artsatl.com. They expressed concern that museums that were relative late-comers to the field would quickly surpass the Atlanta museum.

High Museum patrons Dan and the late Merrie Boone. COURTESY HIGH MUSEUM OF ART

"Merrie and I shared a passion for Southern self-taught art,” said Boone, formerly managing partner of Atlanta Capital Management Company LLC,, in the High announcement. “We also shared a vision: for the High to develop the world’s preeminent collection of self-taught and folk art. A talented curator will help the High build on its valuable collection, create ties to Southern artists and collectors, and attract visitors with creative exhibits and programming.”

The Boones supported a number of High folk art exhibitions over the past three decades. Dan Boone is a member of the High’s Board of Directors.

The High launched what was then called its Folk Art Department in 1994. It became the first North American general museum with a full-time curator devoted to folk and self-taught art when it appointed Joanne Cubbs that year. Cubbs helped organize one of the last folk exhibits the High hosted before her colleague Crawley's departure, the major traveling exhibit  “Hard Truths: The Art of Thornton Dial,”  which closed in early 2012.

Building blocks of the High's folk art collection were the T. Marshall Hahn Collection, donated in 1996, and a gift of 130 works by Vinings artist Nellie Mae Rowe by the late Atlanta art dealer-patron Judith Alexander.

Nellie Mae Rowe's "Two-Headed Rooster (Feeding the Rooster)" (1980) is part of the High Museum of Art's folk and self-taught art holdings.

The collection holds a particularly strong representation of works by self-taught artists from the South, a region fertile in vernacular expressions, including Dial, Davis, Bill Traylor, Sam Doyle, William Hawkins and Mattie Lou O’Kelley. It also boasts the largest collection of works by Howard Finster outside of Paradise Garden, the art environment the scripture-quoting retired minister built by hand outside the northwest Georgia town of Summerville.

Artists from beyond this region represented in the collection include Henry Darger, Martin Ramírez and Joseph Yoakum.

“This generous gift from the Boone family further establishes the High as a leader in the field, allowing the museum to build on its dedication to advancing new scholarship and fostering appreciation of this uniquely American genre," High director Michael Shapiro said.

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.

About the Author