Lavon Van Williams
Mark Anthony Mulligan
Exhibit shows facets of African-American folk art in Kentucky
By DIANE HEILENMAN © The Courier-Journal
The conventional take on Kentucky folk art is that the majority of it is made by white artisans living in Appalachia.
An exhibit that opens Wednesday at the Kentucky Art and Craft Gallery in Louisville offers another dimension. "African-American Folk Art in Kentucky" is one of the first exhibitions to scrutinize the works of black artisans seriously.
The show was organized for the Kentucky Folk Art Center in Morehead, where it premiered earlier this year. Curator Adrian Swain of Morehead selected 10 artists, four of them from Louisville, forming an exhibit that ranges across broad thematic lines.
A continuation of the African and slave use of figural wood carving is carried forward by Lavon Van Williams of Lexington, a former college and professional basketball player taught to carve by his brother and their great-uncle. Williams has turned to art full time since the mid-1980s.
Willie Rascoe, born in 1950 in Christian County, is a builder who makes his African-inspired abstractions entirely from found wood, shell, bone and metal. He creates complex and intriguing abstractions that convey complex ideas such as "Forbidden" and "Emptiness." He lives in Cerulean, Ky.
Memory painting, a typical folk-art medium, is practiced by O'Leary Bacon, a retired social-services administrator for the state who was born in Louisville and now lives in Cincinnati. Memory painting is also done by Joan Dance of Paducah and Helen LaFrance of Boaz, Ky.
Perhaps most fascinating is the crochet work in plastic-garbage-bag strips by Zephra May-Miller of Louisville. The former mortician constructs double-faced garments because people are "two-faceted."
The common notion of the folk artist as an individual on an unending journey of spiritual discovery seems to find expression in the maps of Mark Anthony Mulligan of Louisville, whose colorful cartography includes real place names and business logos inside fantastical aerial views.
The whimsy of folk art and a love of craft for its own sake appear in toys and painted animals by Marvin Finn of Louisville and in baroque mixed-media pencil holders by Charles Williams of Lexington. Ingenious painted pictures by the late Willie Massey of Brown, Ky., have a sculptural, collage quality and an often-esoteric but biblical subject.
The artists will conduct free demonstrations:
Also, there are two workshops, which cost $30 each.
The first, from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Sept. 25 at the gallery, is "Woodcarving With Lavon Van Williams." The second is "Driftwood Sculpture With Willie Rascoe" in two sessions, both going from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., on Oct. 9 and Oct. 16 at the gallery.
For reservations or more information, call (502) 589-0155, Ext. 204.
The gallery, at 609 W. Main St., is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
"African-American Folk Art in Kentucky," sponsored by Brown & Williamson, runs through Nov. 6.