May 13, 2014–January 8, 2017

Brooklyn, New York


Oil on canvas

44 x 34"

Collection American Folk Art Museum, New York

Gift of David L. Davies, 2002.23.1

© Robert and Gail Rentzer for Estate of Morris Hirshfield, licensed by VAGA, New York

Photo by Matt Flynn

The Artist and His Model

In La pensée sauvage (The Savage Mind), the anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss contrasted the concept of bricolage, a construction that results from tinkering with materials that happen to be available, to the methods of the engineer, which rely on the systematic use of a set of basic tools belonging to a specific science. Self-taught artists generally adopt the first creative process: unshaped by artistic conventions, their works display unexpected approaches to themes and usages. Morris Hirshfield’s art exemplifies this mindset: after a long illness that precipitated his retirement in 1937, he began to paint, applying to his art the techniques of the garment and slipper manufacturing in which he had been professionally involved. He made preparatory large-scale drawings—as if they were patterns for clothing to be assembled after cutting—sketching outlines of the major forms before he began to paint. His knowledge of textiles is visible in his paintings through a decorative repertoire of ornate fabric, striped upholstery, and embroidered clothing.

Valérie Rousseau, “The Artist and His Model,” 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.