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Because the above jpg copies of the brochure are not able to be recognized by the search engines of the web I have included a text version of the comments by the two curators of this exhibit, Tom Patterson and Roger Manley here below:

SOUTHERN VISIONARY FOLK ARTISTS

The artists and architects whose works are included in this exhibit are self-taught, independently minded, ruggedly individualistic, eccentric, highly imaginative and altogether indifferent to what goes on in the world of contemporary "high art." At the same time, they are not "folk artists" in the purist sense of working within a community-sanctioned tradition passed down from one generation to the next. But the very fact that they don't fit easily into any of the neat, art-historical categories is one of the things that makes their word so exciting and refreshing. From the standpoint of the art establishment, they are outsiders, dealing exclusively and compulsively with their own private obsessions within the context of their work, and giving not much thought to the possibility that there might exist an audience of that work. They're not in it for fame, fortune, status or widespread recognition, but rather for entirely personal reasons. These artist share the common ground of rural Southern roots, little or no formal art education, and inspiration derived from personal need, religious vision and mystical perception. Because of their folk origins and their vision-inspired work, we have chosen to call them "visionary folk artists," using the word "folk" in the broadest and most literal sense, in which it means simply "the common people."

The discovery that there are such artists carrying on their uncommon work in various locales far beyond the borders of the mainstream and the academic is not a new one. A few examples of this type of art and architecture have been well know and highly publicized for decades. Simon Rodia's "Watts Towers" in Los Angeles, the "Ideal Dream Palace of the late retired postman Ferdinand Cheval in rural France, and S. P. Dinsmoor's "Garden of Eden" in Lucas, Kansas, are three that come to mind immediately. But the fact remains that of the individuals who are not producing remarkable visionary folk art, only a very small number have received the recognition they deserve. Because these artists are usually poor and elderly, and because their work is often unprotected and unappreciated by their immediate neighbors, the products of their hands and imaginations are the endangered species of the contemporary art world.

The Jargon Society has always been interested in the outsiders of the literary and visual arts fields. Its founder, North Carolina poet and photographer Jonathan Williams, has been tracking down and publishing their work for almost 35 years now. Back in the 1950's JW was an early activist for preservation of the aforementioned Watts Towers, and he has for a long time been showing his slides of work by visionary folk artists to audiences at his poetry readings in the U.S. and England. Since the beginning of the 1980s, JW and some of his cohorts in the Jargon Society have been devoting particular attention to visionary folk artists––hitting the back roads and seeking them out, talking to them, photographing and writing about their home-made environments, and occasionally buying pieces of their work. After many such exploratory forays into the American hinterlands, we came to three conclusions that are pertinent to the present exhibit: one, that the work of these artists is every bit as vital and significant as anything now going on in the art world, two, that the American South is a particularly fertile area for this type of work, with probably more first-class folk visionaries per square mile than any other part of the world, and three, that it is high time something be done about getting this work properly documented and where possible, preserved for posterity, in recognition of its true cultural and aesthetic importance.

With these conclusions in mind, the Jargon Society last year launched a new program with a long name an large agenda. The Southern Visionary Folk Art Preservation Project. Among its aims are the discovery and documentation of work by visionary folk artist over a nine-state region, publication of a series of books on these artists, educational programming to promote greater pubic awareness of their work, preservation of the South's most important visionary folk architectural environments, and eventual establishment of a museum to house works such as those that are presented here.

This exhibit provides the public with its first close-up views of what the Jargon Society has been quietly doing in this field for the past year. Roger Manley and I––along with Jonathan Williams, poet Thomas Meyer and photographer Guy Mendes––have visited dozens of these artists across the South in order to assemble the collection of works displayed here, and several collectors have been kind enough to loan pieces for the exhibit. The result is a highly diverse show of powerful stuff. Still, it represents only the tip-end of the proverbial iceberg.

One could go on at some length discussing the varied meanings of this work, rhapsodizing over what it tells us about the nature of the creative act, et cetera. Given the rare talents and sensibilities of the artists themselves, however, it seems more appropriate to let their art speak for itself, in its own dazzlingly idiosyncratic language.

Tom Patterson
Executive Director, The Jargon Society
Winston-Salem, North Carolina (1985)

 

PROTECTING AND PRESERVING VISIONARY FOLK ART

Visionary folk artists––also known as naive artists, grassroots artists and "found" artists––are living links with the pure source of art. Unlike "fine" artists, they do not originally seek recognition, fame, success or status. And unlike traditional folk artists, they do not normally work within a time-honored and community-sanctioned tradition. Nor do they typically answer a need external to their own personal needs, in the way that a quilt maker, for instance, helps other people stay warm. Because they do not fit into any of these categories easily, programs and organizations that exist to help other artists are not available to these folk visionaries.

Why do visionary folk artists need help anyway?

Unlike other artists working within the mainstream fine arts world or within a framework of community tradition, folk visionaries more often than not create in spite of tremendous adverse pressure––pressure which almost inevitably results in the loss, dispersal of destruction of the products of years of creative activity. This pressure has a variety of sources, greedy "folk art" dealers, neglectful relatives, community zoning ordinances, neighborhood disapproval and vandalism. Visionary folk artists quite often lead lives that are misunderstood by their acqaintances and frequently live in circumstances of poverty. It is rare that the fruits of there labors result in an financial reward or recognition, while it is clear that others profit from their talents.

On the other hand, it is completely safe to say that on an absolute plane, the greatest artistic achievement in Southern Art in the last two centuries have been made by these overlooked individualists working alone. The fact that few folk visionaries have achieved any recognition and that little of their creative output series is proof only of the pressure I have described above, and not a reflection on the merits of their achievements.

A number of folk visionaries––several dozen in North Carolina alone––create conceptual spaces which are rooted in their surroundings and cannot be preserved in traditional museum collections. Vast dream towers and stone cities, dinosaurs and monument to divine intellect fall into ruins or succumb to kudzu when their creators can no longer protect and maintain them.

Clearly, then, there is a need for an institution that would seek to maintain an environment for these artists that permits creation while preventing destruction. Activities of such an institution would be directed toward both fostering understanding of visionary folk art and creating an interest in it, while actively seeking to preserve inducement work for the future. Such an institution would be founded on the notion that visionary folk art is to art as pure science (as opposed to applied science) is to science. In both cases the cultural importance is incalculable but undeniable. This notion recognizes that the visionary folk artist draws from the wellspring of blessings at the original source of all art: the human heart and mind.

Roger Manley
Photographer folklorist, Jargon Society consultant
Durham, North Carolina (1985)