Article by Ann Oppenhimer
Announcing the Folk Art Messenger’s One Hundredth Issue!
This is a real landmark considering our meager beginning in 1987, which was a six-page, black and white fold-out. With the 38th issue in 1997, we produced a partial color format that soon went to 40 pages in full color, thanks to the talents of our designer John Hoar, who continues to amaze with his original and innovative ideas. The publication of 100 issues is an occasion to celebrate, and we appreciate the many loyal members who have supported and encouraged us for the past 33 years! And, of course, we commend the multitude of volunteer writers, editors, and photographers who have provided the substance of the magazine!
We have had many suggestions, such as converting to totally online. (Everyone would like something for free.) But we believe, and hope that others also believe, that a magazine should be a thing you hold in your hand, read at your leisure and keep for posterity to read again for reference and enjoyment. We have an active website, where we publish at least two articles from each Messenger, and we have a busy Facebook page, where we post several articles every day from other magazines, newspapers and videos. Both are ways to keep in touch and continue to supply timely and interesting information.
We have many loyal writers who contribute exciting and important articles for each issue. In fact, we have to ration space most of the time. We hope you, our readers, love and appreciate the hard work these writers require to keep the presses rolling and the pages turning.
While making the List of Contributors to this issue, I realized that the real intruding contributor to this issue is COVID-19. This pandemic scourge is everywhere, and it’s affecting everyone in the world. Most of us are staying at home, working virtually and Zooming, ordering food and supplies online, home schooling children, baking bread, wearing masks, washing our hands, keeping our distances from others – and worrying when it will ever end.
Margaret Day Allen suggested writing to artists and asking them how COVID-19 had changed their lives and their livelihoods, and she received more than 40 responses. The artists wanted to express their feelings and their fears as they faced a time of no person-to-person visits and sales, no gallery shows, no fairs or festivals. How would they survive? A few had no problems and felt they could weather the storm by staying home and being careful. Many said they were still producing art because creating is what they do. Others were more desperate – facing a time of no employment and little income. We were happy to give them a chance to ventilate and get some well- deserved attention. We all share their problems and wish for relief.
Similar situations were found around the country and, indeed, around the world. Slotin Auctions were going online for the first time, and they were also beginning to add contemporary art to their offerings. Howard Finster’s Paradise Garden, closed for two months, is now reopening gradually and under restrictions. Museums and galleries are going online and virtual as well. Some galleries and shops are closing permanently. Stephen Huyler has compared the forced isolation we are all working under to the forced isolation of the Indian artist, Sonabai Rajabar, who began making art and continued to create in captivity for 15 years. Minhazz Majumdar sent pictures of the art that folk and tribal artists in India are making to depict the Coronavirus spread; for example, Rupsana Chitraker is painting scrolls that illustrate scenes that are all too familiar in the U.S. – as well as in India.
Another decision faces the Folk Art Society – will we be able to take our trip to Cuba, scheduled for November 5-13, 2020? Even traveling by airplane still seems uncertain and hazardous. No one can yet determine the number of COVID-19 cases Cuba actually has, what the medical system is like, or even if their border is staying open. The cut-off date has been changed to September 5th, and the decision will be made at that time. Safety is most important, and no one can tell what anything will be like in November. My friend, the Cuban artist Luis Joaquin Rodriguez, recently wrote, “When COVID is defeated, we will return to happiness, although the world will change.” True words.
Another future prospect involves returning to a regular Folk Art Society conference, proposed for October 2021, in Charleston, S.C. Alex Patrick has volunteered to be the conference chairman, but he seeks volunteer help, as he lives in Greenville, S.C., 200 miles from Charleston. He has put us in contact with museum personnel and scholars in the area, but we have only a couple of members there. Planning is progressing, and we will notify members as the details become clearer. Of course, even events planned for 2021 remain problematic. It is really too soon to tell what the spread of the Coronavirus will be by then.
In the meantime, stay safe and hope for the best. Nothing lasts forever.
A Pattachitra depiction of COVID-19 by Rupsana Chitraker. Photograph by Minhazz Majumdar.
ANN OPPENHIMER is the Executive Director of the Folk Art Society of America
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