Tinsel paintings are collages featuring colored foil sheets that create a shimmering effect when applied/painted to glass and illuminated by candlelight, firelight or gaslight. (It was a popular pastime in 1850-1890 England.) The 19th century artists behind these twinkling tokens were usually refined schoolgirls who re-purposed tinsel (or foil in American English) from tea packages. Their subjects tended to be floral bouquets and birds. The tinsel trend arrived in the US around the same time the Statue of Liberty sailed into New York Harbor (1885) – and she, in all her copper, iron and steel glory, quickly became a favorite subject for American practitioners.
The largest public repository for the art form today is the American Folk Art Museum in New York City. The museum - often described as beleaguered (it sold its ten-year-old building to neighbor MoMA for $31.2 million to help conquer its $32 million debt) - hopes its collection of 200 tinsel paintings by self-taught, mostly unidentified artists will lure visitors into its new space in Lincoln Center. It might, too--there is a long history of people being drawn to coruscating things. Admission is free.
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