Colorful, imaginative creatures are luring viewers into the North Gallery at the Museum of Arts and Sciences.
Kids love folk art. It inspires them to create their own works of art using found objects or non-traditional materials that they have at home, said Susan Welsh, executive director of the museum, where the exhibit All Creatures Great and Small runs through Jan. 5. That really gets their creative thought process going. It will be fun seeing their reaction to some of these beautiful things.
The exhibit showcases folk art from about 20 self-taught artists. The pieces were chosen because of their references to animals, which complements the museums Smithsonian Traveling Exhibition, Titanoboa: Monster Snake. The creatures -- small and great -- range from a baby pig to a large horse.
How many snakes and roosters can you find in this show? Probably more than youre able to see at first glance, because theyre hidden in some sculptures and paintings. Understanding why the artists are painting things like snakes and roosters offer a perspective on the artists themselves.
Authentic and innocent voices speak throughout the exhibit. The colors draw you in, but the history will keep you there. These pieces may seem childlike, but they cant be handled like toys.
Moving the menagerie
Last month, Todd Rivers, chief preparator for the Georgia Museum of Art, demonstrated the process of unloading these fragile pieces. All of the artwork in All Creatures Great and Small is borrowed from that museum, located at the University of Georgia.
Rivers is in charge of the installation and handling of the permanent collection there, and he supervises the packing and transportation when pieces are loaned out to other museums. Folk art is often provisional, made from whatever at-hand material the artist is able to use. In other words, they can fall apart pretty easily. Transporting these pieces is a job that takes careful planning.
When traveling from the Georgia Museum of Art, Rivers said, We have to be conscious of things on the road ... it took three hours to get here because we have to drive slowly.
Using a delivery truck with wood flooring helps this process: Items can be strapped and screwed into the floor for extra security.
It helps being an artist, said Rivers, who graduated from the Savannah College of Art and Design with a concentration in illustration. If you are an artist yourself, you are more familiar with the way things are manufactured, or the way paint is applied or how prints are made. ... You get a better idea of what they can and can not handle.
Putting it together
Welsh takes a look around at the work needed before unpacking the pieces from the Georgia Museum of Art. When dealing with borrowed art, there is a huge responsibility to care for the pieces. That includes making sure the gallery is in pristine condition before even opening the artwork to avoid the risk of particles, dust or paint contaminating the pieces.
The gallery walls need sanding and painting, old labels have to be removed from the previous exhibit, and new cases used to display the artwork need to arrive. All these things have to be done before opening the boxes of folk art.
By days end, Welsh had managed to unveil only one piece from the borrowed collection. The color red gleamed through the bubble wrap as she excitedly opened it, careful not to touch any part of the artwork with her bare hands. She quickly put on gloves as she lifted the sculpture from the top of the box.
Large Red Fox is what the description said, and thats what it is -- a piece of artwork that truly deserves its own case.
Understanding folk art
The collection was donated by Carl and Marian Mullis as part of the permanent folk art collection at the Georgia Museum of Art. All of the artists represented are self-taught, which means they have no formal training or education in the arts. They also have limited access to paint and materials, so they create their work very differently from what are considered mainstream artists.
The execution of their work may appear crude, but the focus on self-taught art would be the raw emotion, energy and subject matter, Welsh said.
A visitor might see just another animal painting or sculpture, but that animal may have a social, political or religious connotation to it.
For instance, Myrtice West, a self-taught artist from Alabama, conveyed a religious message in her painting Ezekiel Chapter 32. West married at 17 and only had an eighth-grade education. She drew on a vision she experienced in a church pulpit. Her artwork depicts her vision and what happened once she let Christ come into her work.
Her work was inspired by the biblical book of Revelation and the fear she had for her daughters safety. Wests daughter was married to an abusive man, who ultimately shot and killed her. Wests paintings are very dense. She has a lot going on in her canvases, including biblical verses surrounding her figures.
You can really spend a lot of time figuring out what she is trying to communicate here, Welsh said.
Jimmy Lee Sudduth, also from Alabama, has a distinctive, ephemeral style.
His technique is so rooted in human culture, Welsh said about Sudduths piece Alligator. His work, she observes, takes you back to visions of cave paintings.
Sudduth was a connoisseur of mud. He developed more than 30 different shades of mud from his region. He also used syrup as a binding agency to keep his mud intact on whatever surface he employed. He used his fingers as a paintbrush and kept the self-described yard man distinction in his artwork. The energy Sudduth conveyed in his paintings made him popular amongst his buyers and folk art collectors.
Since most of these artists had limited education and lived in very rural areas, they needed an outlet for their thoughts about society. Some misconceptions exist about outsider art versus folk art. Outsider art might have the same political and biblical themes, but is not usually created by self-taught artists. Folk art is always the work of self-taught artists, so the two words often interconnect.
I loved the idea of exhibiting self-taught art or folk art because its so accessible and so inventive, Welsh said. It just appeals to all ages and all demographics. It broadens this whole definition of what is art. Folk art is still so new and contemporary.
All Creatures Great and Small is one of three current exhibitions at the Museum of Arts and Sciences. The others are painter Corrine Colarussos The Sunrise Show and Assemblages by self-taught Macon artist Timothy Hedden. To learn more about the museum, visit www.masmacon.org.
Stephanie Fritz is a journalist working with Art Matters: Engaging the Community through Embedded Arts Journalists, a collaboration between the Macon Arts Alliance and Mercer Universitys Center for Collaborative Journalism. Fritz and other writers in the program will be spending time with arts and arts organizations in the Macon area through June, reporting what they discover, and fostering ongoing conversations about the arts in Middle Georgia. This project is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts, Art Works. Matching funding provided by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.