Personal Recollections: Collecting Folk Art in Virginia, an exhibition opening October 6 at the Meadow Farm Museum in Glen Allen, Va., will consider the collectors and their relationship to their collections. Three items each have been selected from most of the 28 lenders, and each group of objects will be accompanied by an instructive wall panel quoting the collector's views.
The lenders to the show are members of the Folk Art Society of America from Virginia, including four museums: Meadow Farm Museum, Anderson Gallery of Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Longwood Center for the Visual Arts in Farmville and Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum in Williamsburg. Unfortunately, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond refused to lend its one folk art painting, a memory scene by Lynchburg, Va., folk artist Queena Dillard Stovall.
"Social interaction is the wellspring of art; it is its fundamental impulse," said John Freimarck at his pottery studio in Manquin, Va. This remark came at the end of a lively word-portrait of Steve Ashby (1904-1980), a folk artist who lived in Delaplane, in Northern Virginia. After Ashby's wife died, the artist dressed life-size figures with her clothes (the outfit being complete from the panties to the outside layers, according to Freimarck), which he would prop up in his front yard. Not surprisingly, startled by these ghostly apparitions, neighbors would stop to strike up conversations with the artist.
Concrete Woman, Ashby's sculpture selected for the show, was also once offered for the view of passersby. The sculpture was hanging from a tree when Freimarck bought it in 1974. Quite different from Ashby's usual dressed-up, wooden female characters, it is his only sculpture made of concrete. In fact, the figure's classical stance embedded in such a thoroughly mundane medium is quite arresting.
For some lenders to this exhibition, collecting folk art has become a way of life. Peter Cecere, from Woodville, is an obsessive collector. His house barely contains the 12,000 works of folk art he gathered during years of foreign service for the United States Information Agency in Spain and Mexico, as well as during many trips to Ecuador, Bolivia and Uruguay.
"I've always been a collector," Cecere recently said in an interview published in The Washington Post. "The epiphany was Bolivia, when I walked into a craft fair. I was absolutely floored by the folk art there. Now, of course, I wouldn't have any of it in the house -- it was pretty bad. But enthusiasm has nothing to do with taste. When you first start, you are more into what I would call airport art."
Striking about Cecere's collection is not only its ownership of his house but also the humor underlying the display. A flock of sheep gathered on three shelves is wittily interspersed with tigers, such as the one in the exhibition. In addition, mass-produced gadgets placed here and there seem to denounce the excessiveness of the whole ensemble. However, Cecere's seriousness is revealed in the meticulousness with which he has catalogued his collection.
The youngest lender is Cassie Womack from Richmond. She agreed to lend Maple Syrup, Highland County, Monterey, Va. by "Uncle Jack" Dey (1912-1978), who lived in Richmond, with the understanding that she can visit her painting as often as she wishes. She is quite attached to this work because, for the four-year-old, it is the springboard to many bedtime stories. Cassie is assiduously following in the footsteps of her parents, Catherine Roseberry and Rob Womack, whose collection includes many works by Anderson Johnson (1915-1998), S.L. Jones (1901-1997) and Abraham Lincoln Criss (1914-2000), as well as Rocking Mary by Sam Doyle (1906-1985), never before shown to the public.
Rocking Mary was literally the marker of the beginning of a new life for Womack and Roseberry: They bought it from the artist on their honeymoon to St. Helena Island in 1983. While many newlyweds discuss china patterns, they were given the choice between killed slaves, prostitutes, embalmers, bus drivers and other local St. Helena Island personalities commemorated in paintings by Sam Doyle. In the end, the couple was won over by Doyle's description of Rocking Mary as "a woman with a walk," a description he discreetly whispered into Womack's ear, for he knew they were on their honeymoon.
Humor is certainly present in Jaws, a 1978 sculpture by Miles B. Carpenter (1889-1985) from Waverly, Va., recently donated to the Longwood Center for the Visual Arts by Richard Gonet of Ashland, Va. Johnson Bowles, director and curator of the collections at the center, said, "Jaws is a quintessential Miles Carpenter work in its materials, humor and social commentary. Although the work is called Jaws, a more apt title is Jaws 2 for its uncanny caricature of the 1978 [movie] sequel to Jaws, J