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American Christmas is a new book by photographer Danelle Manthey that examines Christmas displays, and the people behind them, through the lens of American folk art. Through portraits and interviews, the book features the stories of over 40 families and individuals across 12 states. It includes text by Marlene Friis, a foreword from Rebecca Alban Hoffberger, Founder and Director of the American Visionary Art Museum and an introduction by Mark Sloan, Curator and Chief Director of the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art.
Over the course of a decade, Manthey photographed, interviewed and spent time with the creators of these displays, quickly coming to recognize them as folk artists. Entirely self-taught, the creators often do not view themselves as artists, yet create visceral, site-specific installations that should be recognized for their transcendent, highly skilled craft. Many of the selected displays feature region-specific motifs as well as handmade decorations. This tendency, coupled with the traditional imagery and decorative nature of the displays, situates the work as a form of contemporary American folk art.
Through the act of photographing the displays, Manthey enshrines them as a distinct art form. Where many would diminish the works as decorative cheer, Manthey looks beyond to reveal the innovation and commitment that grounds all great art. Along with making these themes accessible to a non-art audience, she succeeds in sharing the community and joy these works are founded on-something that is much needed in our current world.