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.
Danelle Manthey is a photographer living in New York City and Upstate New York by way of South Dakota. Her work investigates the complexities of identity, with a focus on recognizing the creativity and artistry of the “Everyman.” After attending Columbia College Chicago’s photography program, Manthey embarked on American Christmas in 2003. In 2005 and 2010, she was awarded artist residencies at Chashama in New York. In 2010, American Christmas was exhibited in a solo exhibition at Jenkins Johnson Gallery in New York City. She returned to Jenkins Johnson Gallery in 2011 for a group show and in November of the same year, exhibited her series The Others in a two-person show at Susan Eley Fine Art. Manthey has participated in multiple art fairs, including Governors Island Art Fair, PULSE Art Fair New York and Pool Art Fair New York and has exhibited in galleries across the US.