By Dariel Bendin
Art educator Ted Oliver purchased his very first piece of folk art , a little cut out by Howard Finster back in the early 80s. “That was when I first became aware of the importance of Southern folk art in the art world,” he said in a recent telephone interview about the current show at the The Franklin G. Burroughs-Simeon B. Chapin Art Museum.
This is especially significant because the exhibition consists of works collected by Ted and his wife, Ann, over the past 30 years.
Both have been art educators throughout their careers. Ann earned her Masters in Art History at Ohio State and was the education director of the High Museum in Atlanta. Ted’s art degrees are from the University of Georgia. He was a Fulbright scholar and taught in public school and at the university level.
After marrying in 1996, the couple began collecting Southern Folk art together. In 2005, they opened Olivers Southern Folk Art, a gallery they ran until 2010, when they closed up shop to have more time for writing about their beloved Southern folk artists.
The Collectors’ Vision: Southern Folk Art from the Collection of Ann and Ted Oliver opened in April and runs through Oct. 2. If you haven’t yet seen the exhibition, don’t let it pass you by. This is an opportunity to gain historical, sociological and artistic insight into the realm of Southern folk art.
Folk art, also called outsider art, has been defined as art that is inspired by personal experience as opposed to formal training in art history and technique.
The Olivers’ collection will clarify that even further by introducing you to artists, some of whom were illiterate and immune to fads and fashions of the day. They were simply inspired by the events of their own lives.
It was 1996 in Asheville, N.C. when the Olivers saw a painting by Jimmy Lee Sudduth. They bought it for $300, and it changed their lives.
“Jimmy Lee became a hero of ours,” said Oliver. “He was such an inspiration for us.”
Sudduth finger painted on plywood, with his own mixtures of sweet mud – clay, earth, rocks, plants, and sugar.
Another artist with whom they have enjoyed an especially close relationship is Atlanta’s Lorenzo Scott, a spiritual painter who can almost be considered realistic. He is particularly drawn to religious subjects. According to the Museum’s promotional materials, Scott builds up his frames with automotive Bondo and gilded to imitate museum masterpieces.
One of the newer artists the Olivers follow include John “Cornbread” Anderson from Georgia, certainly one of the most prolific contemporary folk artists on record. “We’ve also been looking at Jim Gary Phillips from Kentucky,” said “Oliver. He bought a load of cabinets at a flea market, and started painting the pieces with scenes of growing up in Kentucky. Amazing.”
For art lovers just beginning their own folk art collection, Oliver has this advice: “Get yourself some books. Read up on the subject. And buy established artists. Slowly.”
The exhibition at the Myrtle Beach Art Museum includes what Oliver considers to be one of their most famous pieces, the Coca-Cola bottle by Howard Finster. “Finster [having completed some 48,000 pieces] is probably the most collected Southern folk artist,” he says.
According to Oliver, Finster created his art as a way to pay homage to God for curing him of a life-threatening disease. He slept very little, drinking Coke and chewing tobacco to stay away.
Also considered highly significant are the works by Lanier Meadow, a traditional north Georgia folk potter from whose family used to make utility crockery. Face jugs by this well known artist are included in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian Museum.
Also included are works by other well-known north Georgia folk potters such as Lanier Meaders’ brother Reggie Meaders, A. G. Meaders, Bobby Ferguson, J. H. Purdue, Chester Hewell and B. R. Holcomb.
Approximately 100 of the Olivers’ 1,000 Southern folk art pieces are included in the unusual exhibition. They are sure to engage and educate you.
Admission to the Museum is free at all times, but donations are welcome. The Franklin G. Burroughs-Simeon B. Chapin Art Museum is located just across from the Springmaid Pier at 3100 S. Ocean Blvd. in Myrtle Beach, S.C. Regular gallery hours are Tuesday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
For more information, call 843-238-2510 or visit MyrtleBeachArtMuseum.org.