THE GEORGE AND HELEN SPELVIN FOLK ART COLLECTION
The Hokes Archives is pleased to announce that the Spelvin Collection will be shown January 31 through March 10, 2009 at the University Art Gallery,
University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, 715 Purchase Street, New Bedford, MA 02740. For more information, contact Lasse Antonsen at 508-999-8555.
The George and Helen Spelvin Folk Art Collection is considered to be one of the most insightful private collections of contemporary "outsider" art. Visiting George and Helen Spelvinís modest yellow split-level house in Lenoir City, Tennessee, is like making a pilgrimage to a sacred temple of American Folk Art. While their neighbors purchased bass boats, home entertainment systems, recreational vehicles, and patio furniture, the Spelvins were quietly amassing a significant collection of contemporary folk art.
In 1998, when the collection outgrew the size of their home and their capacity to maintain it, they donated over 900 works to the Hokes Archives at the University of Tennessee. Placing the collection the hands of the stateís major research university, they wanted it to "serve as a study collection and teaching tool." This traveling exhibition offers a significant opportunity to realize this objective. To download a fifteen-page pdf version of the exhibition text, CLICK HERE .
The complete collection is comprised of more than 900 artifacts, including enamel painted records by Lucas Farley, Arthur Middleton's portraits of American Presidents, numerous "limberjacks" by blues musician Lester Coleman Dowdey, velvet paintings by Charlotte Black, flower paintings on book pages by Emma Whorley, and some of the best examples of "mug jugs" by North Carolina potter Rufus "Sparks" Martinez. E. B. Hazzard's "alien communication device", made of over 300 flattened tin cans and Max Pritchard's hand-printed religious tracts on cereal boxes are also represented in the collection. The collection also includes Loretta Howard "Inter-racial Rad Doll Friendship Chain", Juanita Richardson's bottle boats, and P. J. Hipples elaborate pen and ink drawings.
The exhibition was first presented to the public in the January of 2001 at the Regina Gouger Miller Gallery at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. CLICK HERE for a record of the exhibition schedule and crate information for this show.
Over the past twenty-five years, when they are not busy with their jobs as a school teacher and an insurance agent, Helen and George Spelvin (pictured above) have devoted their energy to the study and collection of visionary folk art. At a time when there has been a renewed enthusiasm for folk art, the Spelvin Collection is certain to make a significant contribution to this growing field. While a small number of works from their collection have been loaned to museums, including the Smithsonian Institution and the Erie Museum of Art, no comprehensive public showing of their collection has ever taken place.
Some characteristics are common to many of the works in their collection. A significant portion of the works show a mastery of representation and an emphasis on portraiture, as we can see in this painting by Arthur Middleton. The Spelvins are attracted to art that shows a strong sense of contrast and design, and a concern with craftsmanship. George believed the universal trait of all art is a commitment to craft. He privileged art that showed discipline and a strong work ethic. Helen shared this philosophy, but also chose artists whose work offered moral or spiritual lessons on the power of the individual to cope and overcome adverse conditions. As an elementary school teacher, Helen believed that artistic creativity is learned by example and that aspects of art could be taught. She disliked the term "Outsider Art," claiming that many of the artists in their collection play a stronger role in their communities than most academically trained artists.
The exhibition requires aproximately 200 running feet of gallery wall space and includes biographical text panels with photographs documenting each of the eleven artists in the collection. This exhibition does not have a rental fee. Shipping insurance and publicity is the responsibility of the host institution. Beauvais Lyons, Director of the Hokes Archives and curator of this exhibition is available for gallery talks in conjunction with the show.
To read an essay about issues raised by this exhibition, CLICK HERE.
A review of the exhibition on the web is posted at: