Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts

Montgomery, AL



Carvings by Fred Webster

November 11, 2000 - January 21, 2001


The Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts is proud to present Carvings by Fred Webster; on view through Sunday, January 21, 2001 in the Museum's Young Gallery.

Fred Webster (1911-1998), a native Alabamian, took up wood carving as a hobby when he retired from his position as a high school principal. That hobby soon became a passion, and Webster is now recognized as one of the State's most accomplished folk carvers.

His primary subject matter is biblical-illustrating stories such as the Temptation of Adam or Jonah and the Whale -- as well as groups of biblical figures like angels in concert. In each of his small figural groupings, Webster creates a striking sense of whimsy, particularly In the devils engaged in playful scenes of temptation. This exhibition will include approximately twenty narrative groupings from private collections and an illustrated brochure. (left: Fred Webster, photo courtesy Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts)

In an accompanying essay Micki Beth Stiller writes: "After rejecting painting and ceramics, he turned to wood as a medium with which he had modest previous experience. In 1975, he made the first of two visits to the renowned John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, North Carolina, where he took two short courses in wood-carving. "

"Mr. Webster's artistry with wood spanned about twenty years -- from 1976 to 1996. At first, he made single animals and covered wagons, as he had studied at the Campbell School. These he left unpainted, but varnished. Later, he evolved into creating small cartoon characters like Snoopy and Mickey Mouse, painting them with acrylic paints. Still Later, his strong hands turned ordinary basswood into whimsical secular heroes such as former Alabama Governor George C. Wallace in his wheelchair, and the generic 'All American place kicker.' He carved articulated wooden stick figures, painted with bright acrylic colors, and mounted on painted plywood bases."

"The art works for which Webster will be best remembered, however, are the religious subjects, a product of his life-long commitment to the Methodist church of the rural South. A Tuscaloosa dealer in Alabama folk art commissioned Mr. Webster's first religious subject (a Last Supper) after he had seen examples of Webster's carvings at a small, Local craft show in Northport, Alabama. This initial religious theme was the catalyst for a flowering of creative fervor, resulting in about 46 different religious themes and interpretations of scripture, including stories from both the Old and New Testaments.[3] These subjects were familiar and personal -- he had read about them in his Bible all his life. The carver's favorite scene, and that most popular with collectors, was that of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. He also made many, many versions of the Angel Gabriel with the trumpet, and in general, he was fascinated with angels and devils. He produced these as single figures, as well as in groups he called choirs with one angel or a devil conducting, facing the other figures. His wife, Carrie Nell Webster, often did a little finish work on the figures, helping him with sanding and making ears." (left: Moses in the Bulrushes, c. 1990, "There is Little Moses, Let's Take Care of Him," acrylic paint on wood, 9 x 9 x 5 1/4 inches, Lent by Micki Beth Stiller)

"Many of Webster's artworks, particularly the group scenes, incorporate related text written in ballpoint pen on wood scraps that have been mounted flat on the base of the sculpture, or written onto tombstone-shaped scraps mounted vertically. These quirky quotations, such as 'Come on Gabriel, Blow that Trumpet, or 'You have Pretty Hair Samson. You too, Delilah,' Lend a bit of humor and whimsy to Webster's creations. These signs may relate to his years as a classroom teacher, writing lessons and messages for his students on the blackboard. In addition, they serve to enhance the visual imagery of the biblical subjects, and contribute to the bold expressiveness of the pieces. Webster's carvings also evidence a love for constructing things. His Noah's Ark is an elaborate structure, designed as home for the animals he painted in an exuberant palette of colors from gold-leaf to peacock blue. He also built a complicated furnace in conjunction with his illustration of the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, as well as a temple setting complete with columns for the Samson and Delilah.

Endnote: [3] This information was compiled by Dr. Robert Cargo of Robert Cargo Folk Art Gallery is Tuscaloosa, AL

Micki Beth Stiller is a Montgomery, AL attorney, and enthusiastic folk art collector, and the owner of Cotton Belt Gallery, which specializes in the works of folk and outsider artists.

Read more about the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts in Resource Library Magazine

Please click on thumbnail images bordered by a red line to see enlargements.

For further biographical information please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

This page was originally published in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information. rev. 5/23/11

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