The SBS M-15 (First Avenue) bus drops you right at the door to the 19th century lifestyles and handiwork inside the South Street Seaport Museum’s Compass: Folk Art in Four Directions show, mounted by the American Folk Art Museum (which has just hired a new director and is now on better financial footing after selling its 53rd Street building to MoMA and decamping back to its space near Lincoln Center).
The Seaport (currently under the management of the Museum of the City of New York) invited the Folk Art folks to curate a show for four of its newly opened galleries, and it’s a joyful, informative stunner. Stacy Hollander, senior curator, selected art that reflects the spirit of the Seaport’s Schemerhorn Row, a series of six 1810 buildings that originally housed coffeehouses, hotels, and other small businesses serving the bustling sea trade.
In the Exploration gallery, you’ll encounter a vibrant folk-art menagerie, evoking the exotic adventures awaiting seafarers, who would be gone for years at a time, carvings done during the voyages, whale-bone walking canes, and imports from China. In the “social networking” gallery, the Seaport has exposed an original wall, covered in 19th-century graffiti, from the coffee houses of old downtown, when Water Street was the actual East River waterfront.
Everyone should support both of these museums (and get free admission if you sign up for the Seaport’s mailing list). The Museum and the SBS M-15 are in operation seven days a week.