Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Folk Artists Don't Break Rules, They Don't Know The Rules

Shock and awe describes my feelings walking into the home of folk art collectors Victoria and Jay Wehnert.  Their house, sitting on a rather sizable lot by the Houston Heights neighborhood standards, looks like a historic home in a faraway small Texas Hill Country town. One swing of the front door and a brief peek inside, I felt as if I was stepping into a jewel box, unable to decide which jewel to gaze at first.

I was standing listening to Jay speak.  I heard words coming out of his mouth.  I know I did.  And words were coming out of mine. But I could not concentrate, as my blood was pumping from the sheer excitement of what I was about to discover. 

Never had I been in a home with this vast of a collection, curated and grouped with such interest, as if each salon style wall was grouped by a professional team setting up for a magazine shoot.

Even their kitchen is surrounded by their collection

The first thing Jay wanted to discuss was the fact that their collection is composed of 3 types of art:

  1. outsider art
  2. self-taught art
  3. folk art   

So, what's the difference between these terms?  The significant difference, as Jay describes, is that folk artists create items that have a utilitarian purpose: a potter makes a bowl to use, a quilter makes a cover to warm someone, a carver makes a decoy for hunting.  When they are making these items, the artists know their work is part of a craft history.  An outsider artist doesn't know they are an artist.  They are creating for more personal and internal reasons.  Their creation has no intended audience, and it is for their own personal use.

Tramp Art cross

Matchstick cross
Types of art that they collect:

Tramp Art       
Matchstick Art

Coin Art

Memory Jugs

Not to mention stamp art, gum wrapper chains, bottle cap art, popsicle art, beaded fruit, and so much more.

Coin Art in the shape of a bald eagle

Memory Jug - Their collection of these made me want to distract him and walk out with them

One artist I recognized when looking around was an evangelical preacher named Reverend Howard Finster, whose work is part of the permanent collection at The High Museum in Atlanta.  Howard created to communicate his Evangelical messages about God, his personal visionary experience and to tell others about his relationship with God. 

What Jay pointed out about the telephone pictured above by Howard Finster is that it may appear funny to us, but it's not a joke. The art is serious and we have to be able to go beyond our amusement of it, and see the endeavor.  Howard wanted people to be able to reach God.

They also have numerous pieces by "The Baltimore Glassman," Paul Darmafall, who they found creating his pieces while living on the streets.  He wanted to put his messages of independence and health out into the universe.  This meant depositing them in trash cans and hanging them on chain link fences.  The idea that someone would hang his work in their home was foreign to him. When Jay started buying his work, Paul's concern was whether the piece was hung close to a window because "fresh air is important."

Glass piece by "The Baltimore Glassman"

Types of messages he was putting out to the universe

What are the initial reactions of people when they come into your home?

They are probably a little overwhelmed.  Once their brains settle down, they are interested in the stories of the artists and how they came to do what they do.

Since space is rare in your home now, how does your collecting continue?

By asking ourselves two questions.  One, where is it going to go? And two, what is it going to relate to?  After being married for thirty years, Jay and Victoria consult and collaborate on everything in the collection.

Jay is a former speech pathologist, who now represents a small group of contemporary artists who share many of the qualities of folk artists, as their perspectives are also on the fringe.  In 2011, he started Intuitive Eye, to expand on his interests and activities in the world of art.  

Along with his wife, Victoria, he has collected Outsider, Self Taught, Visionary, Folk and Contemporary Art for over 25 years. Through Intuitive Eye he has developed collaborative relationships with artists, galleries, institutions and collectors to present the best of the art that fascinates him. 

I want to thank Victoria and Jay for graciously welcoming me into their home and allowing me to take pictures of their private collection and share them with you. And to my high school friend Vivian Norris, who was kind enough to connect me to Jay, I owe you some guacamole.

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