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Whirligig: Man Wearing Knickers

Origin: America, Mid-Atlantic
Overall: 21 1/2 x 7 x 3 1/8in. (54.6 x 17.8 x 7.9cm)
White pine, iron, and paint
From the collection of Abby Aldrich Rockefeller; gift of the Museum of Modern Art
Acc. No. 1933.700.2
A standing figure of a man, his proper left foot and the top of his head now missing. His arms are attached by pivots so that they swing, the extremeties of metal rods once having supported paddles to turn in the wind. The details of his attire are carved and painted showing a cut-away coat, knickers, vest, and low boots, or high-top shoes. Artist unidentified.
Label:The figure's major losses and poor surface condition derived from years of exposure before Abby Aldrich Rockefeller acquired the piece. It is unlikely she viewed the deterioration as a defect, however. Many early collectors of American folk art cherished physical evidence of utilitarian objects' day-to-day use, viewing it as the "honest wear" that distinguished such pieces from mere decorations. In this case, the losses of hat, paddles, and a foot also streamline the form and enhance its abstract qualities. The resultant look would have appealed to early folk art enthusiasts, many of whom shared Rockefeller's interest in the formal analogies between nineteenth century American folk art and American modernist art of the 1920s and 1930s.
Some of the figure's finely carved details have survived the inroads of time, including a cut-away coat, vest, knickers, tightly fastened shirt collar, and the upper part of a buttoned, high-top boot. The period when such attire was popular provides bracket dates for the sculpture.
Provenance:Reportedly found in Harrisburg, Pa.; purchased in 1932 in Princeton, NJ, by Edith Gregor Halpert, Downtown Gallery, New York, NY; purchased from Halpert by Abby Aldrich Rockefeller; given by the latter to the Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY, in 1939; given by MoMA to CWF in June 1954.
Mark(s):None visible