A Window into Collecting American Folk Art: The Edward Duff Balken Collection at Princeton || Another Generation's Folk Art: Edward Duff Balken and His Collection of American Provincial Paintings and Drawings

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  • Another Generation's Folk Art: Edward Duff Balken and His Collection of AmericanProvincial Paintings and DrawingsAuthor(s): Charlotte Emans MooreSource: Record of the Art Museum, Princeton University, Vol. 57, No. 1/2, A Window intoCollecting American Folk Art: The Edward Duff Balken Collection at Princeton (1998), pp. 10-28Published by: Princeton University Art MuseumStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3774772 .Accessed: 25/06/2014 01:12

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  • Another Generation 's Folk Art Edward Duff Balken and His Collection ofAmerican Provincial Paintings and Drawings

    O ver a period of twenty-six years, Edward Duff Balken (fig. i) amassed an important collection of sixty-five paintings and drawings that he termed

    at various times "primitive," "provincial," or "folk" art.1 Beginning in I920, with his acquisition of the portrait of Mr. Goodrich of Hancock, Massachusetts, attributed to Ammi Phillips (fig. 2, cat. no. ii), Balken sought these works of art to decorate his country home in the Berkshires. His appreciation and avid collecting of American provincials predated those of many of his more celebrated contempo- raries, such as Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, Edith Halpert, and Holger Cahill, who were not introduced to the subject as an art form worthy of attention until the mid-to-late 1920S. A reserved individual who valued his privacy, often lending anonymously to exhibitions, Balken actively, but discreetly, participated in the burgeoning field of American provincial art during a period encompassing its rediscovery by artists, collectors, and scholars and its insti- tutional acceptance as a valued contribution to the histo- ry ofAmerican art.

    Two years before his death, in i960, Balken presented this entire collection to The Art Museum at Princeton University, his alma mater.This gift provides art historians, researchers, and the general public with a rare opportuni- ty to study and evaluate a collection that has remained intact over time, unedited by curators, dealers, family members, or others. Whether experts label the works in Balken's collection high style, primitive, provincial, folk, or, simply, art, this group of paintings and drawings informs our understanding of how the field currently referred to as American folk art was defined and codified by previous generations. A window into the world of folk art collect- ing of the I920S through the 1940s, the Balken collection conveys one man's interpretation, or definition, of the sub- ject, in whose rediscovery, scholarly evaluation, as well as

    market and institutional validation he participated. This essay will examine Edward Duff Balken, his involvement in the art worlds of Pittsburgh and NewYork City, and his activities related to collecting American folk art while liv- ing in the Berkshires. A man of leisure with professional ties to the world of modern art, a connoisseur's eye, and a penchant for acquiring art, Balken was present at the moment when many Americans began to find meaning in the nation's previously overlooked artistic heritage. Through his collecting efforts and involvement with influential exhibitions, Balken helped to mold public per- ceptions of American visual culture that inform our dis- course to this day.

    Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on August 26, i874, Edward Duff Balken was the son of Henry, a Norwegian immigrant, andWilhelmina Duff Balken. Raised in a priv- ileged family, he attended the prestigious Shadyside

    Fiigure i. Edward Duff Balken, I938. Carnegie Magazine 12, no. i (April I938), IjS5.

    Opposite: Polly Maxon of Stephentown, New York (detail), cat. no. 36 (yi958-64). I I

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  • Figure 2. Mr. Goodrich of Hancock, Massachusetts, cat. no. II (yI958-65).

    Figure 3. Adriaen van Ostade, Dutch, i620-i685, Le Peintre (The Painter), etching, 2I.1 X i6.9 cm. Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, gift of Edward Duff Balken (47.I0-3)-



    Academy. Following the lead of many sons of profession- al men of standing in Pittsburgh, he enrolled at Princeton University and earned a Bachelor of Science degree in i897. After taking part in archaeology expeditions to Greece and the Near East, he returned home to work as secretary for Weyman and Brother, a local tobacco firm. On October 7, I902, he married Lois Livingston Bailey, daughter of James Bailey, a pioneer iron manufacturer, industrialist, railroad magnate, and banker. Soon after- wards, in i906, the same year his second child was born, Balken retired from business at the age of thirty-two to pursue his passion for art collecting.2

    During trips to Europe in i9oi and I902, Balken may have been exposed to the print revival that began in the i88os, since he developed a taste for prints and subsequent- ly secured many for his personal collection.3 In addition to acquiring The Painter (fig. 3) by Adriaen van Ostade (i6io- I684) and Antoine Vitre (fig. 4) by Jean Morin (i590- i650), in time Balken owned engravings by Albrecht Direr (I47I-I528), Fran~ois Millet (i814-i875), and Henri de

    Toulouse-Lautrec (i864-I901), as well as prints by American artists such as Arthur B. Davies (i862-I928), Stuart Davis (i892-i964), and Rockwell Kent (i882-1971), among others.4 Prints, however, were just one facet of the voluminous collection Balken maintained in his large yellow brick house located on Colonial Place in the fashionable Shadyside district of Pittsburgh. This home, where Balken, his wife, and two children lived, was decorated with handsome pieces ofAmerican furniture of the Greek Revival period, oriental rugs, and framed works of art.5 Like many of his contemporaries, Balken also kept abreast of what were heralded at the time as the work of twentieth-century self-taught artists, purchasing paintings by John Kane (i860-1934), a local Pittsburgh artist, and Pop Hart (I868-I933).6 In addition to the seventy-two prints he donated to the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh during the I940S and i950s, he gave this institution many decorative arts, paintings, and watercolors, including Swampscott Beach, by Maurice B. Prendergast (i859- 1924) (fig. 5).7 Manuscripts and rare books also excited his


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    Figure 4. jean Morin, French, I59o-i65o, Antoine Vitre', engraving, 31.91 X 21.6 cm. Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, gift of Edward Duff Balken (46. 6.2).

    connoisseur's nature and he acquired an impressive assem- blage of documents and imprints, which he subsequently donated to Princeton University.8

    In December of I9I5, John W Beatty, director of the Department of Fine Arts at the Carnegie Institute, ap- proached Balken to found a department of prints and to serve as its first curator.9 Balken's many years of engage- ment with Pittsburgh's artistic community and the local reputation surrounding his collection of fine prints prob- ably influenced Beatty in his decision to offer this position to a man with little formal training in the arts.10 Thus, in i9i6, at the age of forty-two, Balken embarked on a new professional career that allowed him to draw upon his expertise in print collecting and provided him with official authority to arbitrate taste in Pittsburgh and the art world in general." During this period, Balken befriended the teenage John Walker, who later became chief curator and then director at the National Gallery ofArt inWashington, D.C. In his memoirs, Walker recalled that Balken had "a knowledge, a sensitivity to works of art, and an intuitive feeling for beauty" he envied and aspired to attain in his own work.12

    Since Balken and his family spent only six months of each year in Pittsburgh, however, his leisure-class life-style shaped his professional activities at the museum. In about 19II, Balken had purchased property in the Berkshires region of Massachusetts, south of Stockbridge and west of

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    Figure 5. Maurice Prendergast, American, born in Canada,

    t e ; _ _1\= t t Act T i859-I924, Swampscott Beach, ca. 1917, graphite, watercolor, pastel, and gouache, 39.7 x 57.5 cm. Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, gift of Edward Duff Balken (49.5. IO) -


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  • Figure 6. Edward Duff Balken's home in the Berkshires.

    Figure 7. Office.

    Figure 8. Living room.

    Figure IO. Living room Figure 9. Dining room.

    Photographs of EDB's home are by Art Evans.


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  • Great Barrington. He commissioned architect J. McA. Vance of nearby Pittsfield in 19I2 to build a large and spa- cious country home in the colonial revival style, drawing upon an eighteenth-century architectural vocabulary for its exterior appearance (fig. 6) 13 Here, Balken and his fam- ily lived during the spring and summer months. With its modern conveniences, the house was already wired for power when the electric line was brought to the area in 1912 from nearby Great Barrington.'4 Portions of this house may have been modified in about I921, since Balken wrote back to the Carnegie Institute asking to bor- row for study several photographs depicting "early Colonial Architecture, exteriors, interiors, also pho- tographs of details-doorways, etc." from the museum's collection.15 A gentleman farmer, Balken employed local men to maintain his property, which included a vegetable garden supplying the family with fresh produce such as rhubarb and asparagus. These men also supervised Balken's small holdings of livestock.16 From his country house, Balken kept abreast of his department's activities in Pittsburgh through correspondence, thus participating in the museum's programs from his desk overlooking the farm (fig. 7). Writing to Charles F. Ramsey of the Department of Fine Arts at the Carnegie Institute in 19i5, Balken acknowledged the value of his farmhouse retreat and its powers of rejuvenation. "The country was never so beautiful," he wrote, the farm never so interesting, and never have I been more resolved to live this life at least six months in every year. Art and pictures? Well, to paraphrase a page or two in a recent book, art simply represents man's passionate desire to drag the truth out of life in half a dozen different ways. God does it for you in the country!"17

    Balken and his family were not alone in seeking soli- tude among the woods and hills of the Berkshires.With its pastoral setting of lakes, small farms, and country villages, this idyllic portion of New England had already drawn generations to experience its natural beauty and pic- turesque atmosphere. Made accessible by railroad in the nineteenth century, the Berkshires offered sanctuary to twentieth-century city dwellers concerned about industrial problems and overcrowding.'8 In increasing numbers, fam- ilies who had lived on the land for generations gave up their homesteads to move to the cities for employment and opportunities unavailable to them in rural settings. Farm land thus became plentiful and affordable to those in the early twentieth century who sought asylum.'9 When Balken

    and his family moved to this region, imbued with histor- ical associations, the Berkshires were blossoming as a cul- tural center and summer resort. Institutions like the Berkshire Museum, the Stockbridge Art Association, and the Boston Symphony Orchestra at Tanglewood provided an artistic milieu for summer residents.

    Balken's choices to purchase a farm in a rural area, to construct a house based on eighteenth-century proto- types, and to live in the country for half the year reflect a broader trend in American society during this period. Although the vision of colonial America, as historian Kenneth Ames has acknowledged, is a "persistent and per- vasive component" of the nation's culture, during the early twentieth century the colonial revival impulse gained momentum. Americans eagerly appropriated images of the country's mythic Founding Fathers, acclaimed the vir- tues of an eighteenth-century premodern, preindustrial society, and collected its historical relics and artifacts, including furnishings, buildings, and fine arts.20 During the colonial revival of the early twentieth century, the past was symbolized for some by hand-made objects permeat- ed with the ideas and ideals of the nation's forefathers. These items were contrasted with the impersonal mass- produced industrial commodities of the machine age in which they lived. For others, the narratives and attributes of the country's early history were a means to acculturate and socialize the rising immigrant populations as well as to claim their own ancestral legacy. This colonial revival period also provided a source of national identity for patri- otic purposes, particularly during times of conflict and war.21

    Built as an informal retreat from the more formal sur...


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