May 13, 2014–January 8, 2017

Empire State Building

Artist unidentified Achievers

New Jersey

c. 1931


84 x 30 x 30"

Collection American Folk Art Museum, New York

Museum purchase made possible through the generosity of the Briskin Family Fund in honor of Frank Maresca, 1999.3.1

Photo by John Parnell

Artist unidentified

Empire State Building

As early as the colonial period, altering the physical landscape was a measurable indication of man’s domination over nature in America. In architecture such aspiration and achievement came to be equated with height, and one of the greatest accomplishments in the modern era was the completion of the Empire State Building in 1931. Rising 1,250 feet into the sky, the steel and limestone structure was the tallest skyscraper in the world for more than forty years until New York City’s World Trade Center towers were built. The needle-like stepped-back silhouette was a response to the city’s 1916 zoning ordinance, the first comprehensive zoning law passed in the United States.

This imposing tower, nearly eight feet high, is related to a variety of intricate woodworking techniques that flourished from the 1870s through the 1940s. Hobbyists, mostly male, often used discarded and freely available wood from cigar boxes and crates to make boxes, frames, and furniture. This model is instead made with the more precious cherry. The hollow structure is built entirely without the use of nails or glue in an original stacking method of small interlocking pieces of wood. Oral tradition maintains that an ironworker on the Empire State Building created this feat as a personal testament to his own part in the historic construction.

Stacy C. Hollander, “Empire State Building,” exhibition label for Self-Taught Genius: Treasures from the American Folk Art Museum. Stacy C. Hollander and Valérie Rousseau, curators. New York: American Folk Art Museum, 2014.