Faces of Folk

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Folk Art in Transition

Della Wells
Born in 1951 and a native of Wisconsin, Della Wells is a self-taught artist who began drawing and painting at the age of 42.  She has completed over 2000 works of art in various media and is recognized as a leading African American folk artist with her work included in more than 100 collections throughout the United States.  A renaissance woman of sorts, Wells created a feminist cartoon strip in the Milwaukee Chapter of Nine to Five’s bimonthly newsletter.   In 1997, Wells was the first African American to have a solo show at the David Brunett Gallery in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Cher Shaffer
Cher Shaffer, a self-taught artist, produces work that is influenced both by her heritage, life experience and interactions with family members and friends.  Having spent 30 years as a working artist, Shaffer has had nine, one-woman shows and has been showcased in several galleries and museums throughout the United States.  In 1989, her work was one of several Appalachian artists work featured in the book entitled, “O’Appalachia,” with its own traveling exhibition.

Eric Legge
Eric Legge is unique among “outsider” artists.  He is completely untrained as an artist.  From an early age, he was blessed with talent and has known for a long time that he was destined to create art.  Eric spends his days and nights creating beautiful work that defies accurate description, often hiding elements inside his pieces.  Even the symbolism of his signature reflects an artful touch.  Legge is a far cry from the eccentric elders or unschooled “isolates” many people typecast as self-taught artists.

Matt Sesow
Regarded as an “outsider” artist, Matt Sesow’s imagery is derived from events in his life and the lives of others in various stages of trauma, hope, hopelessness and healing.  Sesow was born in Omaha, Nebraska.  At 8 years of age, he was struck by a landing airplane near his home and his arm was severed by the propeller.  Though Matt’s arm was re-attached by surgeons, his dominant hand was amputated.  Six years later, he traveled to Newcastle, England and participated in the Disabled Olympics on the United States team.  Matt attended college in Oklahoma and received a scholarship from the Mensa Society.  He achieved a B.S. degree in computer/software engineering.  He began to make drawings in 1988 and began painting in oils in 1993.  Matt has traveled the world and has painted in of the countries he has visited.

Michael Banks
Michael Bank’s artwork reflects an abstract and expressionistic style using a mixture of found objects and artist materials that is further complemented by a vivid color palette of penetrating red, yellow and green.  Raised by his single mother in a housing project in northern Alabama, Bank’s artistic prowess for drawing and painting was evident at an early age, as he began to create artwork using whatever materials and mediums he could obtain with encouragement from his mother.  The elongation and distended form of his figures, characterized by their small, facial attributes and swollen mournful gazes, reflects a certain despondency that the artist may have endured due to the passing of his mother in 1992.  It was not until 1997 that Banks recalled his mother’s accolades, and began the healing process via the creation of his own unique brand of artwork.  Today, Banks continues painting full time.  He is a family man and a proud parent of a baby son.  “I still experiment, combining both found objects as well as artist materials into my work.  Everyday I try to create.  Painting is my life.”

Carrie Knowles
Written and Visual Images.
“I have spent my life creating images with words.  About 10 years ago, however, I began to get impatient with writing and decided I also wanted to be able to see those images in color and line.  I had previously dabbled in pottery and once tried painting, but didn’t find either to be the kind of expression I wanted.  Then I started making prints.  Printmaking was most like writing to me.  It used paper and ink and the tedious cutting, pushing, pulling, carving, etching and scratching of printmaking was a lot like writing: all the various steps of printmaking gave me the time I needed and wanted to play with my images so I could edit and carefully think through how I envisioned what I wanted to say.  Printmaking also gave me lots of exciting new tools with which to experiment.  One of the things that attracted me to printmaking was the experimental nature of the artwork.  There seemed to be an unlimited range of tools you could use to create prints and few rules.  By definition, if something could be pressed, pushed, stamped or transferred onto paper to make an image, it could rightfully be called printmaking.  In addition to printmaking, I also make collages.  Creating collages is a natural extension of my printmaking work.  Good printmaking paper is too expensive to waste.  So, when I ruin a print, I cut it up to create new images in collages.”

Gabriel Shaffer
“Hello, my name is Gabriel Shaffer.  I am a self taught artist and son of nationally recognized folk/visionary artist Cher Shaffer, most notable for her appearance in the book, “O’Appalachia.”  I was raised within the medium and had direct contact with the works of many folk and self-taught masters.  My Mom held me as she painted some of her early works.  I have always been here, watching the various artists pass by as I have gotten older.  Three years ago, I moved to Chicago in a decision to further my knowledge and abilities in painting.  This past March, I moved to Asheville, North Carolina, in the Appalachian mountains, not too far from my mother’s farm and studio in Creston, North Carolina.”