“Painting for me is like traveling—openly going into the unknown not knowing what to expect.”
– Pamela Smith (From an interview with Vermont Art Guide)
We recently came across the work of Vermont self-taught painter and sculptor, Pamela Smith (1950 -). Her works of art are playful, bright compositions made with crayon, ink, and gouache. The whimsical influence of folk art is seen in her paintings.
Smith is best known for her life-size sculptures of the Madonna, which she created, often alongside her daughter, in order to honor and celebrate motherhood. She displayed her multicultural Madonna sculptures in the front window of Folkheart, a store in Bristol, Vermont, which she and her partner, Slim Pickens owned. (Yes, that’s the correct name!) Seven of her Madonna sculptures are part of the permanent collection of the American Visionary Art Museum – one of our favorite art museums.
More of her work can be viewed at Northern Daughters, which is a contemporary art gallery in Vergennes, Vermont. There are several other talented artists to check out on their website.
It is Spring here in Maine, and believe it or not, the snow on the ground just melted a week ago. The rain season is taking over, and while the weather is warmer now, there is still a lot to be desired. In the meantime, we are dreaming of lazy days on the beach and sunny weather.
One positive aspect of Maine winters is that we are encouraged to explore warmer climates when possible. On a recent trip to Florida, we had the opportunity to meet Roy A. McLendon, Jr. We even returned home with one of his vibrant paintings.
During our visit, Roy welcomed us into his studio, and we spent some time chatting with him about his work and life. He learned how to paint from his father, Roy McClendon, Senior, who was one of the original Highwaymen artists. We were familiar with the Highwaymen from the documentary, The Highwaymen: Legends of the Road,and were thrilled to learn more from Roy firsthand.
The History of the Florida Highwaymen
The Florida Highwaymen were a group of twenty-six self-taught artists of color who worked in Florida during the early 1950s through the 1980s. Collectively, their body of work consists of over 200,000 landscape paintings. The paintings depict unusually bright and colorful scenes of Florida beaches, trees, sunsets, and other natural settings. The beautiful poinciana tree is featured in many of these paintings, often appearing in a shocking red or purple color.
Simon Sparrow (1925-2000) was a self-taught artist who was born in West Africa and raised in North Carolina. Sparrow moved to Madison, Wisconsin in the 1970s where he was known as a street preacher. Sparrow’s spiritual beliefs crossed over into his artwork. He believed he was guided by “spirit” to create.
Sparrow used unusual materials to create his mosaic-like art, including: jewelry, plastic figurines (like Star Wars figures), beads, pine cones, glitter, and other found object materials. He even covered his car in glitter and found objects.
Sparrow passed away in 2000. In 2012, he was the recipient of a Wisconsin Visual Art Lifetime Achievement Award. His work has been included in several exhibitions and was featured on a 2009 episode of Antiques Roadshow.
We recently worked on a project for kids based on the art of Simon Sparrow. As you can imagine, the kids were excited about using the recycled materials to create their work. We did this project with 6 to 8 year old children, but it can be taught to a range of ages, and the materials can be varied based on skill level. For example, older kids can use hot glue guns. With the younger kids, we used a non-toxic glue, Aleene’s Clear School Tacky Glue. Also, in order to prevent a disastrous glitter mess but still pay tribute to Sparrow’s love of glitter, we used washable glitter pens.
Ashley Pierce is a self-taught artist living in Columbus, Ohio. Born in 1982, Ashley began creating art at a young age. She uses her art as a form of self-expression to help work through complicated feelings about her own life and the world around her. Ashley’s work appears to be fun and uplifting, but behind that there is a deeper and more complex feeling that drove its process. Some of her work are portraits of herself and her family. We are huge fans of letting artists speak for themselves, so below are Ashley’s words:
“I pull inspiration for my work from my life. Most of my subjects tend to be self portraits but some are visitors representing an emotion, feeling, vice or real people. I use my art to navigate my life and often find putting the pen to the wood is like talking to an old friend to work out a problem. I start with an idea and create a very loose sketch on wood. It’s not until I start inking the drawing in until I know if it will work out or not. I find it very soothing to create pattern and repetition as it allows me time to work out the feelings in my head. I use watercolor to stain the wood and colored pencil to bring out the drawing. I finish with a Dremel tool, carving into the wood to create more pattern and texture.”
She is represented by Duff Lindsay Gallery. More of her work can be viewed on their website or on Facebook.
Séraphine Louis (1864 – 1942), also known as Séraphine de Senlis, was a French self-taught artist. She was from the town of Senlis, north of Paris, and worked as a house cleaner. She struggled with mental illness most of her life and seemed to find solace in her paintings.
She worked in solitude by candlelight, creating colorful and whimsical paintings of flowers and plants based mostly on her imagination. In order to afford paint, she made her own pigments using household and plant items, such as red wine, flowers, and candle wax.
Séraphine was discovered by German art collector Wilhelm Uhde in 1912. He was a collector of Henri Rousseau and Pablo Picasso’s work, among other notable artists of the time. Uhde came across a painting by Seraphine at his neighbor’s home where she worked as a cleaner. Uhde did his best to support her work as an artist and included her an exhibition held in Paris in 1928, called “Painters of the Sacred Heart,” The other artists included: Henri Rousseau, André Bauchant, and Camille Bombois.
In 2008, a film by Martin Provost was released about Seraphine’s life. You can view the trailer here.
Holly Farrell was born in 1961 in North Bay, Ontario. Farrell is self-taught and has been a full-time painter since 1995. She turned to art making as a hobby to de-stress from her work at a group home for teenagers experiencing developmental and psychological obstacles.
Farrell mainly works with oils and acrylics. Her use of color creates a calming effect. Her subjects, which are familiar everyday objects (including many vintage items), seem to be elevated to a higher level, conjuring up a peaceful feeling amongst the chaos of daily living. They are almost portrait-like, asking you to see their personalities.
Personally, I was drawn in by her work due to my photography interests. I often photograph objects that have been discarded or lost in hopes that their former beauty or meaningfulness in someone’s home can reveal itself again. I see some of that in Farrell’s work, too.
“When the objects started to take on a character of their own, I realized I was really painting portraits without any people in them.”
Harry Underwood, Flame Vine of Florida. Pencil, latex paint, wood. 36″x 42″.
Harry Underwood, The Pepsi Principle of Refreshment. Pencil, latex paint, wood. 3’x 4′.
Harry Underwood, Sit. Pencil, latex paint, wood. 26″ x 26″.
Harry Underwood is one of my favorite painters. I first saw his work at the Outsider Art Fair in Chicago about ten years ago and immediately purchased a piece (which was a rare occurrence back then). It’s hanging above me as I write this.
Harry was born in Florida in 1969 and currently lives in Nashville, Tennessee. He is a self-taught artist who began painting in 2001 while working as a flooring installer. Harry dedicated his spare time to working on his art, and his persistence eventually paid off. His work is represented by several notable galleries and has been in shows in the United States, France, and England.
Harry’s paintings evoke a sense of nostalgia and are slightly surrealistic. They conjure up feelings of simplicity, summertime vacations, childhood memories, and a longing for another time or an imagined place. The nostalgia is enhanced by his use of beautifully subdued and expressive colors.
His process involves outlining his painting on plywood using a mechanical pencil and then filling it in with latex house paint. The pencil marks become part of the picture, adding an extra element to them. He also layers poems and words onto his paintings, and has referred to his work as “illustrated poetry.”
“And there’s no truer sound than a sound never found from the shy, the innocent, and the unknown.”
Emma Kunz (1892-1963) was a Swiss artist, healer, and researcher. Kunz’s intricate large-scale drawings were made with colored pencils on graph paper. She created each drawing using a pendulum and a form of divination, called radiesthesia. Her artwork was part of her research on vibrational energy, and it also served as a healing tool for her patients. Kunz would often have her patients sit or lie near the drawings in order to help them with the healing process.
Kunz was also interested in finding alternative remedies to help her patients. In 1941, after working with a seriously ill patient, Kunz discovered the healing properties of a rock found in the Roman Quarry of Würenlos, Switzerland. She named the rock AION A. The powder form of the rock was used to treat her patients with inflammatory issues and other illnesses. AION A is still sold as an alternative medicine in Switzerland.
Kunz’s first exhibition, The Case of Emma Kunz, was held after her death. Today, there is a museum dedicated to her work and life in Würenlos, Switzerland.
Gayleen Aiken (1934-2005) was a self-taught artist from Barre, Vermont. Many of her artworks feature a family of 24 imaginary cousins called the Raimbilli Cousins. She invented them when she was a child.
A review in the New York Times from 2013 aptly describes her work:
“Carefully detailed and quirkily annotated pencil and crayon drawings of musical instruments, rural homes in zooming perspective and the inner workings of a granite gravestone company, whose raw material comes from nearby quarries, exude infectious curiosity about the world around her. There is much commotion in her works.”
Aiken passed away in 2005, leaving behind a large body of artwork, including handmade books, paintings, and cardboard figures. To view more of her work, visit the Gayleen Aiken Collection page at GRACE (Grass Roots Art and Community Effort).