The High Museum of Art has announced that Katherine Jentleson will become its curator of folk and self-taught art. The position, which has gone unfilled for nearly two years, was endowed last summer through a $2.5 million gift from Atlanta patrons Dan Boone and his late wife Merrie Boone.
Jentleson, a Ph.D. candidate in art history at Duke University and the 2014-15 Douglass Foundation Predoctoral Fellow in American Art at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, will start at the High in September, She has worked at New York’s American Folk Art Museum and curated or assisted in organizing exhibits at Duke’s Nasher Museum of Art in Durham, N.C.
“Katherine’s rich and varied experiences as a museum professional and scholar make her well-positioned to guide the growth of the department and exhibition program,” High director of collections and exhibitions David Brenneman said in the museum’s announcement, “while also utilizing emerging technologies to deeply engage our audiences with the folk and self-taught art collection.”
Among Jentleson’s professional credits, she managed content for the microsite of the American Folk Art Museum’s nationally traveling exhibition “Self-Taught Genius.” And, with funding from an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation grant, she co-designed and administered the browser-based art trading game “Fantasy Collecting,” which has been utilized in museums and classrooms.
The High launched what was then called the Folk Art Department in 1994, becoming the first North American general museum with a full-time curator devoted to folk and self-taught art.
Its folk and self-taught collection — now numbering nearly 800 pieces and widely considered one of the most significant among public institutions internationally — holds a particularly strong representation of works from the South, a region fertile in vernacular expressions. Notable artists represented include Nellie Mae Rowe, the Rev. Howard Finster, Thornton Dial, Ulysses Davis, Bill Traylor, Sam Doyle, William Hawkins and Mattie Lou O’Kelley.
Said Jentleson: “I look forward to leading a new era in the High’s longstanding support of those visionary artists whose masterpieces importantly broaden our understanding of who can be considered an artist in America and on what terms.”
The High’s folk and self-department art department has been what amounts to a holding pattern since longtime folk art curator Susan Mitchell Crawley resigned in early 2013, concerning some patrons. When the High released an extensive list of recent acquisitions last summer, for instance, folk art was the only of its seven collecting departments omitted. The folk post was the last of the High’s seven curatorial positions to be endowed.
“I feel confident that Katherine has the training, the passion and the personality to lead the High towards achieving our goal of assembling the world’s preeminent collection of Southern self-taught and folk art,” patron Dan Boone said. “The High’s outstanding collection in this field combined with Katherine’s talent will enable the museum to further develop a curatorial program that spurs new scholarship and raises appreciation of this important American genre.”