A Usable Past brings together paintings, sculptures, and works on paper by self-trained artists working in the eastern part of what is now the United States during the long nineteenth century. Produced and originally circulated outside the elite sphere of fine art, these objects emerged from vernacular traditions that favored decorative aesthetics over mimesis. In the twentieth century, artists, scholars, and collectors came to believe that artworks like these expressed such supposedly quintessential American values as industriousness and ingenuity, and that they also served as native precursors to Modernism.
A Usable Past features highlights of the Museum’s extensive holdings of folk art of the United States supplemented by loans from distinguished New England collections. The exhibition includes many artworks from the American Heritage collection of Edith and Ellerton Jetté–one of the earliest collections to enter the Colby College Museum of Art.