A Look Back Into the Archives: Folk Art

By Mandy Tomasik, KSU library and information science practicum student

If you haven’t seen the new Butch Anthony: Vita Post Mortum exhibition yet, you really should. It’s phenomenal, and actually only the latest in a long line of folk, outsider and self-taught artist exhibitions here at the Akron Art Museum.

“But wait,” you say. “Doesn’t the Akron Art Museum have a modern and contemporary focus? What’s with the folk art?” I think Herbert Waide Hemphill, Jr. says it best: “American folk art both is and has been very much at home with modern art. Serious searching artists of the 20th Century, forced for various reasons to alienate themselves from academic art, or dissatisfied with the rise and fall of the experiments and “movements” of modern art, have been attracted to and strongly influenced by folk art in a search for re-appraisal and basic definitions of expressions and media.” (qtd. in Six Naives: Ashby, Borkowski, Fassanella, Nathaniel, Palladino, Tolson exhibition catalog, 1973, Akron Art Museum Archives)

Here’s Mary Borkowski, part of the December 1973-January 1974 Six Naives exhibition.

Mary Borkowski, from Six Naives: Ashby, Borkowski, Fassanella, Nathaniel, Palladino, Tolson exhibition catalog, 1973, Akron Art Museum Archives

Mary Borkowski, from Six Naives: Ashby, Borkowski, Fassanella, Nathaniel, Palladino, Tolson exhibition catalog, 1973, Akron Art Museum Archives

Just hanging with the cat, the picture of mid-century domesticity. But then in 1965, she began making embroidered thread pictures on felt or velvet backgrounds. These surreal images exude a mood of “melancholy and muted terror” (Six Naives: Ashby, Borkowski, Fassanella, Nathaniel, Palladino, Tolson exhibition catalog, 1973, Akron Art Museum Archives) that one wouldn’t possibly expect to come from that sweet cat lady.

The Whip and A Man’s A Man, from Six Naives: Ashby, Borkowski, Fassanella, Nathaniel, Palladino, Tolson exhibition catalog, 1973, Akron Art Museum Archives

The Whip and A Man’s A Man, from Six Naives: Ashby, Borkowski, Fassanella, Nathaniel, Palladino, Tolson exhibition catalog, 1973, Akron Art Museum Archives

A snake-man whipping a dog-man and a dapper gentleman in his underwear. And that’s what I think is so interesting about folk artists. Viewing their work offers glimpses into seemingly intense personal worlds that are often surprising, refreshing and even unsettling. So on that note, definitely check out Butch Anthony: Vita Post Mortum in the Corbin Gallery through January 25, 2015. If you stop by the museum library as well, you can even make your own skeletonized portrait à la Butch Anthony to go up on display!

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