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Twenty Years of Folk Fest

Marty Steiner | August 16th, 2013

An unusual group of ten characters made from roots, limbs, sawdust, and glue date from the late 19th century. They were offered only as a group for $9900 by Don Schweikert of Hickory, North Carolina.

Mary Proctor was surrounded by her work in her booth that was set up like a small church with two highly decorated pews.

This exceptional papier-mâché mold of the Statue of Liberty stopped many a shopper. Unusual in size and the first seen by Ridgefield Gallery owner Ken Fadeley in decades of working with these molds, it was offered at $6200. The early airplane whirligig behind the statue was $400.

This Clark House Pottery, Greenville, South Carolina, running horse has everything that makes this pottery’s work unique. Bill Clark throws the clay and executes the folds in a vase form, Pam Clark forms and sculpts the horse, and lastly Bill glazes and fires the piece. The folds in the support and the metallic glaze are the Clarks’ signature. The horse was $300.

Hazel Giles of Glenville, North Carolina, is known for unusual smalls. This 19th-century South Carolina pine two-piece corner cupboard is unusually small, and perhaps that was why it was in her inventory. With all original glass it was tagged $1200.

Cotton Belt Gallery is in Montgomery, Alabama, also the home of the Hank Williams Museum and Williams’s elaborate gravesite. Micki Beth Stiller, gallery owner, found this suitcase with a painted tribute to Williams and his Drifting Cowboys band by an anonymous artist and tagged it $450.

Atlanta, Georgia

A little over 20 years ago, Sam Pennington, cofounder of the Maine Antique Digest, called to ask what I knew about “Outsider” art. The answer was a deafening silence. “That’s OK. Most of our readers also will be learning as we go,” Pennington commented.

What followed has been a 20-year stream of articles about contemporary American folk, self-taught, and Outsider art. A significant portion of the stories have been devoted to Slotin Folk Art auctions and Slotin’s annual Folk Fest. Folk Fest is billed as the “World’s Greatest Folk Art Show and Sale” and the “Largest and Most Important Self-taught Art Show.”

During these 20 years, folk art has moved to mainstream collecting and collections. Small temporary exhibits inside galleries of minor museums moved to permanent space at larger, more established museums. Dedicated folk art curators were hired at many important museums. The Slotin Folk Art organization with its auctions and Folk Fest grew in size and importance in the art scene.

Folk Fest is essentially a trade show of galleries and, more recently, individual artists. This year’s August 16-18 show had nearly 100 exhibitors arranged around six aisles in an 85,000-square-foot facility in Atlanta that attracted over 12,000 visitors. This show, like all antiques and art shows, has been affected by today’s economic realities.

In the first aisle are mostly founding dealers or dealers from the early years of the show. Lindsay Gallery, Columbus, Ohio, generally has one or more of the artists it represents present in its booth. This year Duff Lindsay, gallery owner, brought Bill Miller and Harry Underwood. Miller also came last year with his collage forms constructed from vintage linoleum, many representing events and people from the 1960’s.

Tennessee artist Harry Underwood brought soft-toned nostalgic views from a time of  “mom and pop” restaurants and community dances. Underwood scribbles handwritten commentary on the face of his work. His paintings sell for $2000 to $11,000.

Ridgefield Gallery, Ortonville, Michigan, specializes in wooden papier-mâché molds as well as an assortment of southern pottery and other unique objects. These molds were an exciting new form at Folk Fest. Shortly after World War II, wood carvers in the Paete area of the Philippines found a new market for their carving tradition. Religious examples from Paete dating as early as 1580 grace European churches including St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. In the postwar era, papier-mâché toys and decorator items were produced. Among the molds offered at the show were animals, human forms, and famous statues such as the Statue of Liberty. Prices ranged from $175 to $6200, based largely on size, scarcity, and, to a lesser degree, the subject. The gallery reported that Folk Fest was its “best sale ever.”

Robert Reeves of Atlanta, Georgia, is one of the established dealers and usually brings some early objects by anonymous artists. Of particular interest this year was an oval domed glass portrait of an early airplane pilot. The pilot is wearing a leather hood under his helmet. A similar hood has been accurately dated to 1910 by an aviation museum. The portrait was priced at $650. Reeves always has outstanding southern pottery. This year he offered a syrup jar with the impressed mark “C S Kline Atlanta” for $1000.

Following an old folk art tradition of utilizing found objects and materials is the Tin Man, Kenny Hoff. He returned to Folk Fest with his architectural salvage art, creations made from old pressed steel/tin ceiling tiles. However, most of the interest and sales this year came from more recent material. Hoff has gathered lumber from tsunami debris washing ashore on the beaches of America’s Pacific Coast. Many pieces he recovers have Japanese writing on the back. He assembles them into abstract geometric panels. They sold for $1000 to $2200. Hoff now maintains two galleries, in Atlanta and California.

As an established artist Minnie Adkins of Gizzard Holler, Isonville, Kentucky, is widely known for her carved and painted wood animal images, as well as quilts. Recently Adkins has turned her creative attention to illustrating children’s books with her carved creations. She has teamed with Kentucky songwriter Mike Norris to produce two books. Bright Blue Rooster and Sonny the Monkey are described as “a magical combination of Appalachian storytelling and woodcarving artistry.” A companion CD is available for each book with the story narrated by the authors, a folk song of the story by Norris, and an interview of Adkins. The books can be purchased in combination with either a MP3 file or the CD or in the CD version only. Folk art is moving into the 21st century!

Mary Proctor is another established artist whose work generally combines messages of faith with images of women. This year her booth took on the appearance of a folk art church. She used pews rescued from her old home church before the structure was demolished and decorated them with a variety of small “message” pieces. Two such examples were tagged at $7500 each.

Cotton Belt Gallery is based in Montgomery, Alabama. A frequent exhibitor, owner Micki Beth Stiller is a practicing attorney and avid folk art collector. Cotton Belt offers a cross section of southern folk artists’ work. Bernice Sims’s Sweet Potato Truck was tagged $795 as was her Tent Revival.

After a few years’ absence, dealer Jan Raber of Jubilation Antiques, Tampa, Florida, returned and brought some scarce works by anonymous makers. An unusual unfinished needlepoint sampler by Hannah Cox, Marblehead, Massachusetts, dated 1802, was tagged $38,000. Raber has previously sold Newfoundland Grenfell woven items at Folk Fest. A Grenfell purse, with a written history inside, was tagged $1200.

Haitian art always has been part of Folk Fest and continues to grow in popularity. Atlanta-based Le Primitif Galleries, a founding exhibitor, was joined by two other galleries in presenting Haitian art. Gillianne Inc., Jefferson, Georgia, offered many older classic works. Perhaps as significant was the offering of a rare and much-needed reference book of Haitian artists. La Peinture Haitienne in any condition is expensive. The example offered was in excellent condition and tagged $250. Arte del Pueblo, New York City, returned to Folk Fest for the third time with many older works from Haitian and Caribbean masters.

Assemblages, combinations of diverse objects to create decorative forms, continue to attract much attention. Joel Pinkerton of Louisville, Kentucky, combines cast-off kitchen items, especially old coffeepots, strainers, coffee cans, and the like to create figures and fantasy forms.

Artist Leon “Le” Yaun stunned his Folk Fest followers this year by not having a painting of a whale in the booth as he has for many years. He did bring some of his early (late 1940’s) intricate pen-and-ink drawings. Swamp Scene and Six Maidens were $300 each. He wouldn’t comment on whether he would bring any of his colorful whale images next year.

One of the most intriguing Folk Fest artists was Lucky Stradley of Hubbell, Nebraska. She produced utilitarian pottery for years but then became fascinated with face works. These are not your usual face jugs and pitchers but “gazing balls,” which are spheres, much like heads, with applied facial features. These sell for $125. Face planters (at $65) and other forms quickly followed. She also produces larger architectural pieces. This was Stradley’s second Folk Fest; it is one of only three shows that she does each year.

Folk Fest continues to be a barometer of the folk, Outsider, and self-taught art market. Candid conversations with many gallery owners may be best summarized by Duff Lindsay of Lindsay Galley. “Over the last twenty years the market has shifted to two areas…a very high end by a small handful of artists… and also to a new generation of artists that are hard to categorize as ‘folk’ but rather contemporary ‘self-taught’ artists.”

Steve Slotin reflected on the 20 years: “The entire genre has seen acceptance and growth over these years. We have seen vast differences in definition of folk, Outsider, and self-taught overcome, which has led to a growing collector base, increased prices, and widespread acceptance in the traditional art market. It is the only art form that has not been influenced by European tradition. Our [Slotin’s] goals are being accomplished.”

Information for all Slotin events is available at the Web site ( and or by telephone at (770) 532-1115 or (404) 403-4244.

Originally published in the December 2013 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2013 Maine Antique Digest

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