Artists can crop up anywhere, and out of nowhere, as the Southern Ohio Museum proves today, when it opens its new rough-and-tumble, high-energy survey of unconventional folk art, “Outside in Ohio: A Century of Unexpected Genius.”
Guest Curator for the exhibition, Mark Chepp, a folk art enthusiast who retired as Director Emeritus of the Springfield Museum of Art in 2008, explained the distinction between folk art and outsider art.
“Both happen outside the mainstream of the art world, but folk art tends to develop within a group tradition, like Amish quilts, for example, while outsider artists spring up out of the blue working very much on their own,” he said.
Sixty-one works in all sorts of media from house paint to thread, cast concrete to linoleum, represent a hundred years of creative expression by 18 Ohio artists who never studied art, never hung out in museums and never expected to become known as artists.
The earliest work in the exhibition is a rare oil painting from the late 1880s by Henry Church of Chagrin Falls, a blacksmith who didn’t start painting until age 50. When he died 22 years and many paintings later, his sister took care of them until the Depression forced her into a smaller house. At that point she burned most of the paintings because “no one wanted them.”
Most of the work in this exhibit, however, was created in the 20th century. Featured in the exhibit are artists Ira Bunker, Rickey Barnes, Elijah Pierce, William Hawkins, Levent Isik, Chad Sines, Ben Hartman, Paul Patton, Mary Borowski, Ralph Bell, Mary Francis Merrill, Charlie Owens, Toney Joe Salvatore, and Smoky Brown.
The exhibit also features regional artists such as Mark Thomas from Chillicothe, stone carver Popeye Reed from Jackson, and contemporary artist Carole Estepp from Portsmouth.
Estepp has been hooking original rugs since her retirement as a public school teacher 20 years ago.
At 4 p.m. today (Friday, March 2) Chepp will be joined by Portsmouth native Duff Lindsay, from the Lindsay Gallery in Columbus, and Adrian Swain, from the Kentucky Folk Art Center in Morehead, for a conversation about the folk art phenomenon in general and the exhibition’s artists specifically. The public is invited to join the conversation and enjoy the reception immediately afterward.
“Outside in Ohio: A Century of Unexpected Genius” will remain at the Southern Ohio Museum through May 19 before it goes on a year-long tour to the Kentucky Folk Art Center, the Ohio Arts Council’s Riffe Gallery in Columbus, and the Springfield Museum of Art.