"Great and Mighty
Things": Outsider Art from the Jill and Sheldon Bonovitz Collection
March 3 - June 9, 2013
Wall text from the exhibition
- [EXHIBITION CREDITS]
- The exhibition is sponsored by Comcast Corporation and
Duane Morris. Generous support for the exhibition is also provided by The
Pew Charitable Trusts, Capital Solutions, Credit Suisse, William B. Dietrich
Foundation, Dolfinger-McMahon Foundation, Christian R. and Mary F. Lindback
Foundation, Christie's, PNC Bank, Marguerite and Gerry Lenfest, Jeanette
Lerman-Neubauer and Joe Neubauer, Ralph and Suzanne Roberts and Brian and
Aileen Roberts, Erik and Tammy Bonovitz, Christopher Bonovitz and Kate
Dunn, John Alchin and Hal Marryatt, Steve and Gretchen Burke, Christina
and Lance Funston, Lynne and Harold Honickman, Dr. Sankey V. Williams and
Constance H. Williams, Catherine R. and Anthony A. Clifton, Marjorie and
Jeffrey Honickman, John J. Medveckis, Mrs. J. Maxwell Moran, Lisa S. Roberts
and David W. Seltzer, Peggy and Ellis Wachs, Margie and Bryan Weingarten,
and other generous individuals. Support for the catalogue is provided by
Jill and Sheldon Bonovitz.
- [APP CREDITS]
- The free exhibition app is made possible by a National
Endowment for the Humanities grant for education, by the Center for American
Art at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and by supporters of the exhibition.
- What Is Outsider Art?
- What is different about "outsider" art that
it should be given this confusing designation (outside of what?), be treated
as a separate entity from mainstream art, and often be shown only in specialized
museums or sold by particular galleries? Simply put, it is art made by
people who have not gone to art school, who usually do not operate professionally
or earn their livings as artists, and who create, for the most part, with
limited or no connection to the art world and its dealers, galleries, collectors,
critics, schools, and museums. Not categorized by styles, movements, or
trends, it is art made by individuals who are driven to create by their
own particular inner compulsions, which may be visionary, derived from
memories, evangelical, or popular-culture inspired. It is almost always
strongly influenced by local or regional cultures and often is made from
found, homemade, or unusual materials. It occupies a critical position
parallel to but not identical with mainstream modern and contemporary art.
- The most remarkable work of this type is out of the ordinary,
edgy, imaginative, and, at times, obsessive-compulsive. It is frequently
raw or crude in execution but masterful in color choices and composition.
Many self-taught artists create large-scale "environments," some
of which derive from the southern African American yard-art tradition.
Recognized as a specific field in the early twentieth century in Europe
-- at that time associated with the art of the mentally ill -- and in America
since the 1930s, outsider art is now a global phenomenon, and is one with
a growing and increasingly appreciative audience.
- Collecting Outsider Art
- There are a number of fine private collections of outsider
art in the United States, and that of Jill and Sheldon Bonovitz is among
the country's best. The couple has been pursuing work by self-taught artists
for three decades, focusing on American material. They have acquired only
pieces that they love, without attempting to form a geographically or historically
complete survey of the field.
- Outsider art can speak in interesting ways to twentieth-
and twenty-first-century collections such as those housed in the Philadelphia
Museum of Art, as self-taught artists have adopted many of the same approaches
and strategies used by their mainstream counterparts -- such as the use
of collage, assemblage, and found materials; a tendency to render figurative
images abstractly; excursions into the surreal, dreamlike, or otherworldly;
and the incorporation of texts. Yet only a handful of museums in this country
collect outsider art in depth, and none genuinely integrates work by the
self-taught with that of mainstream artists in installations of its permanent
collection. The Philadelphia Museum of Art, which has been acquiring work
in this field for twenty years, welcomes the promised gift of the Bonovitz
Collection as a splendid contribution to the strength and diversity of
its distinguished holdings of modern and contemporary art.
- [SECTION TEXTS]
- Felipe Benito Archuleta
- Born Santa Cruz, New Mexico, 1910; died Tesuque, New
- A novel woodcarving tradition began in 1964 in the New
Mexican community of Tesuque, near Santa Fe, when fifty-four-year-old Felipe
Archuleta received a vision from God that he should make sculpture. Archuleta
had always been poor; his father abandoned the family of six children when
Felipe was young, and the boy left school to work as a field hand and later
as a stonemason and cook, then for many years as a carpenter.
- As he did not feel worthy to work in the long-established
santero practice -- creating carved and painted religious figures
-- Archuleta turned to carving animals. These animals were so distinctive
and compelling that he quickly gained considerable success and reputation.
During the 1970s the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe showed
his works, and soon collectors were enthusiastically acquiring them. The
artist's son and grandson often assisted in the work, and thus Felipe established
a lively animal-carving tradition in his locale.
- [Tour stop] 578
- Eddie Arning
- Born Germania, Texas, 1898; died McGregor, Texas, 1993
- At the age of thirty Eddie Arning, who lived and worked
on his family's farm near Travis, Texas, was diagnosed with schizophrenia
and hospitalized, and he spent most of his remaining days in mental hospitals
and nursing homes. When Arning was sixty-six years old, an occupational
therapist encouraged him to draw, and for years he drew during much of
the day. At first he depicted single subjects from memory, such as animals,
cars, or farm equipment. As his work evolved, his compositions became more
complicated; they were usually taken from illustrations or advertisements
in popular magazines, which he simplified and abstracted. In 1973, shortly
after he was forced to leave his nursing home to live with his sister,
he stopped making art.
- Arning's work became known beyond his immediate community
through the efforts of an English professor at the University of Texas
at Austin, who began collecting it in the 1960s and became the artist's
- [Tour stop] 581
- Emery Blagdon
- Born Callaway, Nebraska, 1907; died Callaway, 1986
- After Emery Blagdon, who was raised on a farm in Nebraska,
watched his mother (in 1936) and then his father (in 1951) succumb to cancer,
he spent the rest of his life constructing an amazing "machine"
for healing the sick. This consisted of hundreds of sculptures, like the
three shown here, housed densely in a shed on his farm and accompanied
by small, colorful paintings and numerous hanging jars and bundles of minerals,
the whole apparatus lit with strings of holiday lights. All of these elements
were intended to channel the electromagnetic energy of the earth, so that
anyone who entered the shed could benefit from the machine's healing powers.
The visual effect of the forest of dangling sculptures -- with light reflecting
from the shiny surfaces of objects incorporated into them -- was magical.
- Blagdon thought of his ensemble as a curative device;
today we would call it an artist-made environment. The machine was unfortunately
unable to cure the artist's own cancer, from which he died in 1986.
- [Tour stop] 580
- David Butler
- Born Good Hope, Louisiana, 1898; died Moran City, Louisiana,
- David Butler is one of several artists in this exhibition
who began making art after life-changing events. His various manual labor
jobs -- in sawmills and on road construction -- ended in 1962 with a work-related
injury, and his wife died in 1968. In the early 1970s, when he was in his
mid-seventies, Butler began adorning his yard in Patterson, Louisiana,
with colorful, cut-metal sculptures, mostly of fanciful subjects such as
whirligigs and whimsical "critters," and with decorated objects
like birdfeeders, mailboxes, and bicycles. This kind of yard art is part
of a long tradition in the rural African American south. In addition, Butler
made cut-metal window screens for the outside of his house, both to control
the light inside and as "spirit shields" against evil forces.
Two of these spirit shields are shown here.
- [Tour stop] 594
- Miles B. Carpenter
- Born Brownstone, Pennsylvania, 1889; died Waverly, Virginia,
- Miles Carpenter grew up working at his father's farm
and sawmill in Waverly, Virginia, and had little formal schooling. By 1912
he had purchased his own lumber mill, which he operated until 1955. During
a lull in business in the early 1940s he began to whittle small animals
and other objects, but it was not until his wife died in 1966 and he found
himself in need of a diversion that he seriously turned his attention to
carving. The small pieces that Carpenter initially crafted became much
larger works as the artist's skill developed. His animals evolved into
fantastical, brightly painted creatures, often embellished with found materials,
their shapes growing from the tree roots or limbs from which they were
- [Tour stop] 590
- James Castle
- Born Garden Valley, Idaho, 1899; died Boise, Idaho, 1977
- Unlike other artists represented in this exhibition,
James Castle worked at his art from the time he was a child until the last
day of his life. He was born completely deaf to a hardscrabble farm family
in rural Idaho, and despite five years at a special school he did not acquire
the tools of language such as lip-reading, finger spelling, or writing,
though he may have learned the allure of words and the making of books.
- Over decades, Castle explored a variety of creative modes,
using for his drawings a type of ink that he invented -- a combination
of soot from the stovepipe, spit, and water, applied with sharpened sticks
and wadded paper wipes -- and always working on or with found papers such
as envelopes, food packaging, and even his nieces' school homework pages.
Among his most admired works are the "constructions" that he
created from pieces of cut and torn papers stitched and tied with string.
The Bonovitz Collection contains a number of fine examples of these.
- [Tour stop] 574
- Bruno Del Favero
- Born Princeton, Michigan, 1910; died Greenwich, Connecticut,
- Bruno Del Favero's paintings are delicate and mysterious
and just as unrevealing as the few facts we know about the artist himself.
After spending his childhood and youth in northern Italy, he settled in
Greenwich, Connecticut, where he made his living as a mason, chauffeur,
and landscape gardener. We do not know exactly when or why he began to
paint his dreamlike landscapes, which often feature bodies of water with
sailboats or fantastic architecture.
- By the early 1970s, Del Favero was exhibiting his work
in local shows and took himself seriously enough as an artist to join the
Greenwich Art Society. After his death, his family promoted his work, introducing
it to New York dealers Shari Cavin and Randall Morris. The first one-man
show outside Greenwich of Del Favero's paintings was held at the Cavin-Morris
Gallery in 1998.
- [Tour stop] 573
- Sam Doyle
- Born St. Helena Island, South Carolina, 1906; died Beaufort,
South Carolina, 1985
- Sam Doyle grew up on St. Helena Island, off the coast
of South Carolina, in a Gullah community with a distinctive African American
linguistic and cultural heritage. In his twenties and thirties he left
the island for a number of years and held jobs as a porter and laundry
worker, returning in 1943. When he applied himself fully to making art
in his early sixties, Doyle chose to represent figures of importance to
the African American people as a whole and to record individuals living
on St. Helena who were significant to its character and history, such as
its first black embalmer, medical doctor, and policeman. He also depicted
national heroes and famous sports or cultural figures.
- Doyle's colorful gallery of personalities filled his
yard. Like many of the African American artists represented in the Bonovitz
Collection, his inclusion in the Corcoran Gallery of Art's 1982 show Black
Folk Art in America, 19301980, in Washington, DC, established
- [Tour stop] 593
- William Edmondson
- Born Davidson County, Tennessee, 1874; died Nashville,
- Of the several individuals in this exhibition who began
to make art because of signs or commands from God, William Edmondson's
experience is the best documented and the most dramatic. A retired hospital
worker and a devout Primitive Baptist, Edmondson had a vision sometime
between 1930 and 1933 in which he said God appeared and talked to him about
the gift of stonecutting he was going to confer. In a later vision he saw
a tombstone in the sky that he believed God intended him to make.
- In response to these spiritual events Edmondson began
carving tombstones and outdoor stone ornaments. These might never have
been known beyond Nashville had not New York photographer Louise Dahl-Wolfe
introduced Edmondson's work to Alfred H. Barr, Jr., the director of the
Museum of Modern Art. Barr perceived in them aesthetic qualities in common
with modernist art and held a small, one-man exhibition in 1937 showcasing
the artist's carvings. Edmondson is today considered one of the iconic
self-taught artists the United States has produced.
- [Tour stop] 575
- Howard Finster
- Born Valley Head, Alabama, 1916; died Rome, Georgia,
- Some self-taught artists remain undiscovered during their
lifetimes; others, like Howard Finster, capture the popular imagination
and become quite well known. As a revivalist preacher in Georgia, Finster
had a message to spread and he was not shy about doing it. When God appeared
to him in 1976 through a paint smudge on his finger and told him to make
"sacred art," he created paintings and small constructions filled
with texts, mainly passages from the Bible and various religious exhortations.
- Finster numbered his pieces sequentially, and they reached
into the thousands (by the 1990s he solicited the help of family members
to help make them). In many of these works, the artist engagingly combines
the mundane with the divine: bulldozers and angels, a Ford motorcar and
the Hebrew Bible, Uncle Sam and "visions of other worlds." His
work soon became popular among collectors, and in the 1980s he designed
album covers for musical groups such as R.E.M. and Talking Heads, and even
appeared on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.
- [Tour stop] 582
- Lee Godie
- Born Chicago, 1908; died Chicago, 1994
- Dressed in colorful makeshift or cast-off clothes and
wearing heavy makeup, Lee Godie was a well-known sight on the streets of
downtown Chicago from the 1960s through the 1980s, peddling her art at
prominent locations -- for many years on the steps of the Art Institute
of Chicago but also in parks, bus terminals, and train stations. She drew
birds, still lifes, and people. The people -- shown bust-length in profile
or front-face -- often sport fancy hats, stylish garments, and remarkable
eyelashes. At times she used discarded window shades as her canvas, and
she frequently inscribed short, quirky texts on her compositions (such
as "Chicago We own it . . ." on the drawing Mr. Blue Bird
- Perhaps more because of her colorful persona than her
art, Godie was profiled in the early 1980s by the Chicago Reader, People,
the Wall Street Journal, and Art in America.
- [Tour stop] 585
- Consuelo González Amezcua
- Born Piedras Negras, Mexico, 1903; died Del Rio, Texas,
- Consuelo ("Chelo") González Amezcua
lived most of her life in Del Rio, Texas, never marrying and working in
the S. H. Kress 5 & 10 Cent Store. In contrast to this rather sedate
life, and despite her lack of formal art training, she created drawings
inspired by, and reflecting on, the art of the past and the present from
all over the world. The sources of her inspiration -- including Mexican
filigree jewelry, Spanish Colonial architecture, nature's flora and fauna,
and Middle Eastern miniature paintings -- are evident in the images and
patterns in her work. She referred to one of her subjects as "born
in the garden of my imagination," an apt metaphor for the lush and
exotic motifs she depicted.
- González Amezcua's art was first shown outside
Del Rio in 1968 when Amy Freeman Lee, an artist and writer in San Antonio,
Texas, curated a show featuring her drawings at the McNay Art Museum in
- [Tour stop] 592
- William Hawkins
- Born Union City, Kentucky, 1895; died Dayton, Ohio, 1990
- William Hawkins, raised on a farm and with only a third-grade
education, settled in Columbus, Ohio, and held various jobs that ranged
from plumber to truck driver to brothel manager. He began making art sometime
in his thirties, frequently using magazines, newspapers, textbooks, and
other print media as sources for his imagery. He also reinterpreted famous
works of art and current events and depicted animals and Ohio landmarks.
- Found plywood and Masonite panels and house paint were
the artist's primary materials, and he manipulated his paint with worn,
stubby brushes. He sometimes incorporated collaged reproductions of works
by other artists, actual pages cut from his print sources, and found objects
such as strips of wood into his compositions. When Hawkins was around eighty-six
years old, he won first prize for a painting he submitted to the amateur
artist division of the 1982 Ohio State Fair. After this success, he painted
full time until his death in 1990.
- [Tour stop] 587
- Shields Landon Jones
- Born Indian Mills, West Virginia, 1901; died Hinton,
West Virginia, 1997
- Born into an Appalachian sharecropping family of thirteen,
S. L. Jones left school sometime after the eighth grade to work on the
Chesapeake and Ohio Railway. He rediscovered his childhood hobby of woodcarving
when he retired from the railroad and soon after that he lost his wife.
The small figures he initially created grew until they were almost life-size,
exuding personality through their brightly colored clothing and the addition
of "real" embellishments, such as the belt on the preacher shown
- In 1972, collector Herbert Waide Hemphill, Jr., spotted
a piece by Jones in the West Virginia State Museum in Charleston and began
to buy his carvings. By the late 1980s the artist was known as one of the
most important regional woodcarvers in the country, with works in the American
Folk Art Museum in New York and the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum
in Williamsburg, Virginia.
- [Tour stop] 570
- Justin McCarthy
- Born Weatherly, Pennsylvania, 1892; died Tucson, Arizona,
- Justin McCarthy's father was a wealthy and respected
Pennsylvania newspaperman, until his death in the early 1900s brought financial
ruin to the family. McCarthy?who had the most education of any of the artists
in this exhibition?attended law school at the University of Pennsylvania
in Philadelphia for two years before suffering a nervous breakdown. During
his confinement at the State Homeopathic Hospital for the Insane between
1915 and 1920 he discovered drawing. After his release, McCarthy worked
as a farmer, warehouse employee, chocolate mixer, and steelworker to support
himself, although he continued to create art. His drawings, watercolors,
and paintings depict everyday events and popular imagery of the day, their
subjects pulled from books?including the Bible?magazines, film, fashion,
and sports competitions.
- [Tour stop] 596
- Sister Gertrude Morgan
- Born Lafayette, Alabama, 1900; died New Orleans, 1980
- Sister Gertrude Morgan was a colorful personality, a
street preacher and gospel singer in the French Quarter of New Orleans
from the 1940s through the 1970s who established her own Everlasting Gospel
Mission in a small house in the Lower Ninth Ward of the city. In the mid-1950s
Morgan began to use visual images to support her spiritual messages. Her
works are often filled with long biblical texts or mix visionary religious
subjects with images from modern life: for example, the New Jerusalem,
the divine recreation of Israel's holiest city, in Sister Gertrude's imagination
becomes a multistoried apartment complex flanked by streaming hordes of
- New Orleans art dealer Larry Borenstein showed Morgan's
work at his gallery from 1960 onward, and she gained a considerable reputation.
Many of her pieces were included in the landmark exhibition organized in
1982 by the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, Black Folk Art
in America, 1930-1980.
- [Tour stop] 579
- Elijah Pierce
- Born near Baldwyn, Mississippi, 1892; died Columbus,
- Someone has to "discover" self-taught artists
for their work to become known, and it is surprising how often that person
is another artist or an art student. This was the case with Columbus, Ohio,
barber Elijah Pierce, who made remarkable small bas-relief carvings with
simple tools -- a pocketknife, a chisel, a piece of broken glass, and sandpaper.
- Pierce showed in local exhibitions, but his work did
not provoke wider attention until 1968, when the artist was in his mid-seventies.
A graduate student in sculpture at Ohio State University spotted his work
and became a strong advocate, and Pierce enjoyed a growing reputation from
the 1970s on, with his pieces being shown at galleries and in museums.
It is hard to imagine today, when he is recognized as one of America's
best-known woodcarvers, that for much of his life Pierce was better known
as a barber and Baptist preacher whose uncle had taught him to whittle
as a child on a Mississippi farm.
- [Tour stop] 576