Both Dorothy Miller and Holger Cahill were committed to educating the public about the importance of American art in all its forms. Prior to three seminal exhibitions organized by Cahill in the early 1930s, knowledge of folk art had been limited to a small group of avant-garde modernists and a select few dealers who began collecting it in the 1920s. The artists were the first members of the art-world to discover the wonderful vitality of folk art when they stayed at the Ogunquit School of Painting and Sculpture in the early 1910s and throughout the 1920s. The artists' accommodations were old fishing huts decorated with locally acquired paintings, decoys and hooked rugs.
Cahill stayed in the fisherman's cabins in 1926 and he too was drawn to folk art for the same reasons the modernists loved it: like modern art, folk art rejected true realism and classical illusionism in favor of a stripped down, more honest approach. The modernists loved the simple formal brilliance of folk art; surface design, compositional structure and the abstract use of color were all stylistic factors that appealed to the modernists' sensibilities. In discussing the artists as the first collectors of American folk art, Cahill wrote: "About 1920, artists, rummaging through antique shops and farmers' attics for old American furniture came across pictures which arrested their attention. Most of these pictures were merely quaint, but some of them had esthetic value of a high order, and all of them had a quality which gave them a certain kinship with modern art." Cahill nearly single handedly introduced the American public to its indigenous art forms by mounting three important exhibitions. "American Primitive: An Exhibit of the Paintings of American Folk Artists" (1930), and its sequel, "American Folk Sculpture: the Art of the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century Craftsmen" (1931), were staged at the Newark Museum and subsequently, both shows traveled throughout the country. Continuing to reinforce the importance of folk art, Cahill organized "American Folk-Art: Art of the Common Man, 1750-1900" at MOMA in 1932, the same year Cahill became acting director during Alfred Barr Jr.'s leave of absence. The MoMA exhibition was mostly comprised of paintings belonging to Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, whom Cahill advised.
With the success of the shows, Cahill, along with Edith Halpert, opened the American Folk Art Gallery in 1931. Cahill traveled the eastern seaboard filling the gallery with his finds. After establishing himself as a dealer of sorts, and fearing he was being overcharged, he employed "pickers," which included Dorothy Miller and friends in their circle.
In the 1940s and 1950s, while Miller was busy introducing America to artists such as Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock and Jasper Johns, she and Cahill continued to collect folk art. Their personal collection reflected their breadth of taste and passionate commitment to American art.