Category Archives: Folk Art

Hite/KMAC Summer Fellow Explores the Permanent Collection

By Hunter Kissel, Hite/KMAC Curatorial Fellow for Summer 2015

Hunter has completed his first year in graduate school pursing a dual Master in Public Administration/Master of Arts in Critical and Curatorial Studies at the Hite Art Institute, University of Louisville; he is a native Louisvillian.

I received my undergraduate degree from Transylvania University in Studio Art last May and now am pursuing a Master degree in Critical and Curatorial Studies at the Hite Art Institute, University of Louisville. The shift from amateur art-maker to aspiring exhibition producer has provided its share of challenges, namely in the language and art historical methods I now use. My personal appetite for participation in the broader arts community, however, has remained the same. The school year ended in the early weeks of May, and I began researching summer opportunities. I was soon offered a fellowship at KMAC.

Denzil Goodpaster. Selected works.
Denzil Goodpaster. Selected works.

As part of the Fellowship, I was given the chance to use KMAC’s permanent collection to display a selection of works in their Brown Forman Gallery. Director Aldy Milliken and Associate Curator Joey Yates often use the summer months to present works from the collection in a gallery setting, and this was sure to be a great chance to practice some of the curatorial methods I had been learning in school. KMAC begins planning their exhibitions as far as two years out in some cases, so completing the show in little over one month seemed like a tall order.

KMAC’s permanent collection contains works by acclaimed regional and national folk artists. Artists from Eastern Kentucky and Appalachia are heavily represented in the collection, and as a result themes of economic agriculture, religion, American identity, and wildlife are all very present. After browsing the catalogue of KMAC’s permanent collection and inspecting some of these artworks in person, I was able to narrow down my selection for the exhibition to about twenty pieces. I selected many of these Appalachian artists as well as some contemporary local artists working in glass, photography, or patchwork.

The selection process was not an easy one. While many of these artworks deserve to be shown, a number of constraints surfaced and I was unable to include objects I really admire. My conversations with Joey Yates were emphasized with the notion that “less is more.” The idea of a cluttered gallery made us uneasy, and subsequently space had to be compromised in order to include a diversity of artists as well as multiple works by the same artist when their breadth required it. Each object needed “room to breathe” (as the popular saying goes), and my selections were heavily influenced by the gallery space itself.

Marvin Finn, Crane 1980
Marvin Finn, Crane 1980

The final title of the exhibition was simple—Highlights from the Permanent Collection. There was no need to contextualize these works. The collection speaks for itself. The final display includes artists like Earnest Patton, one of the most renowned artists in KMAC’s collection, who carves human figures with precision and clean technique. His depiction of Adam and Eve is as topical as that of his mermaid or woman in a swimsuit. Minnie Adkins’ use of a fox motif translates fluidly from woodcarving to quilt, demonstrating the artist’s ability to execute in a variety of mediums. Carl McKenzie’s figures stand as anomalies, distanced from the comparable work produced by Patton, Denzil Goodpaster, and Junior Lewis. His splotched Lady Liberty and Red Cross Nurse are vibrant takes on popular subjects. Finally, Marvin Finn and his flock of familiar birds are at hand within KMAC’s collection.

The resulting exhibition advocates for the importance of collecting. Under Milliken and Yates, KMAC is transforming from an artist-represented gallery into an archival museum. KMAC’s current collection is a solid foundation for a more expansive holding of artworks. Highlights marks a checkpoint for an evolving institution.

Highlights from the Permanent Collection, curated by Hunter Kissel, will be on display in the Brown Forman Gallery at the Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft until mid-September. To see more from the exhibition, visit http://www.kmacmuseum.org. 

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C.C. Coyle and the Parables of America

In The Passing of Weary Souls (pictured above), 1921, a pair of black boots, set in stride, dominate the image. The boots are animated, but no person wears them. As though anyone might be walking in those shoes across the landscape, this painting is about a journey. Emerging from the storage of the collection of Berea College to the walls of the Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft, C.C. Coyle’s paintings are a moral journey through American life as told by a self-taught Kentucky country man.

Coyle’s paintings tell the stories of America through the land, family, history, and imagination. In many paintings, Coyle depicts the quintessential scenes of the American landscape. The expertly composed Yosemite, Bridal Veil, Nevada, and Vernal Falls, 1935, depicts the four great falls of Yosemite National Park. He also painted the famed Mariposa giant sequoia tree of southern Yosemite and Red Rock Canyon of the Painted Desert. During the late 19th and early twentieth centuries, Americans gained access to and protected these national treasures through the establishment of National Parks. Coyle painted these scenes in person, and occasionally through photographs. His landscape paintings echo the words of famed environmental advocate John Muir (1838-1914), whose tireless work led to the protection of the Sierra Nevada, when he stated in Yosemite, 1912, “Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul alike.”

The falls of Yosemite appear again in the grand painting entitled The Hand that Rocks the Cradle Rules the World, 1935. This painting best illustrates Coyle’s sense of narrative as parable. Like a moral story, the painting is an illustration of the American dream and the value of motherhood. Coyle provides a rich description of this painting in his diary, stating, “I am giving this picture to the public believing that every great man or woman had for their background the training of a good mother. It has been said that many of our great men owe their crown of glory to a good wife. That takes us right back to the mother again. This wife got her training from a good mother. Of course we must make some allowance for a fertile brain; even a fertile brain can be ruined if it does not get the proper training and support.” Thus, the good mother rests near a cabin, representing a schoolhouse, surrounded by her four children at various stages of need and independence. It is clear that her good deeds lead great men to the innovations of technology and the pages of history contained on the right side of the canvas, from aircrafts and railroads, to memorials and the White House. A sweeping epic of generations, the story unravels across the canvas, floating on dream-like clouds.

C.C. Coyle, The Hand That Rocks the Cradle Rules the World, 1935.
C.C. Coyle, The Hand That Rocks the Cradle Rules the World, 1935.

In all of these paintings, and in the words of Coyle’s diary, there is an earnesty to his call for moral fortitude and the American spirit. Although Coyle might be considered a folk artist because he was not traditionally trained, his deliberately planned, studied, carefully executed and sophisticated painting style reveals a body of work that is far more complex and cohesive than might be imagined for a naïve artist. While some research has been done on the biography and interpretation of his works, there is great potential to reveal a rich tapestry of American life.

       -Eileen Yanoviak has been selected by KMAC as the incoming University of Louisville Hite Art Institute Fellow for 2013-2014.

#whoiscccoyle

The life story of Carlos Cortez Coyle is so similar to the many Americans that lived during the Great Depression that it’s hardly newsworthy. His stories of financial and emotional trauma during this time are not what make him unique. But what does separate Coyle and arouses public attention are his 24 paintings that are on exhibit at KMAC.  This is just a small sampling of his 82 piece collection stored at Berea College in eastern Kentucky. Compositions consisting of Kentucky and California landscapes, humorous morality tales, mystical visions and most importantly a visual diary of a man concerned with leaving a lasting heritage. This special research exhibition is presented in order to lay the groundwork of including him among the names of Modern self-taught artists and to begin answering the question of Who Is C.C. Coyle?

Coyle spent the early part of his life in Dreyfus, Kentucky and in 1889 he briefly attended Berea Foundation School (now Berea College) where he was introduced to Appalachian arts and crafts. Some of his early drawings of birds, plumes, feathers and goddesses can be found in an old school diary that Berea College now possesses. Coyle left Berea before graduating for reasons unknown and moved to Florida, then Canada and eventually to San Francisco where in 1929, at the age of 60, Coyle took up oil painting and completed over a hundred works in just thirteen years.

In 1942, prompted by his failing health, Coyle paid to ship four crates from San Francisco to Berea College in Kentucky containing 47 paintings, 35 drawings and an illustrative diary of his work. He wrote a letter to the college explaining his shipment of works and the intention “to give my art to the land of my birth where I played and spent most of my youth.” Berea staff were unsure as to what to do with this unexpected collection and the works were left crated and put into storage where they remained with the occasional piece being pulled from time to time until 1960 when art professor Thomas Fern discovered the collection and held Coyle’s first solo exhibition. The exhibit received some local public recognition from the Louisville Courier Journal’s art editor William Mootz who wrote that Coyle “may some day rank as an important American primitive.” Berea Art Department staff found Coyle who at 88 was suffering from blindness and residing in Leesburg, FL. He wrote a letter of thanks to the school for showing his work in the gallery. Carlos Cortez Coyle died two years later in 1962. He was 90.

The Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft presents the work of C.C. Coyle to be viewed in the larger context of exceptional naïve artists and to recognize his place in Kentucky’s art history.

Image: Carlos Cortez Coyle, Age 65 and 22. 1936, oil on canvas, 44 x 36 in. Photo: Geoffrey Carr

Eyes On KMAC Interns: Oh Cecilia!

On Friday (Jan 4), a new exhibit, Home Away Home, opened on the 3rd Floor Brown-Forman gallery, which counts as the third exhibition curated by a KMAC intern. It just so happens it is the second exhibit at KMAC curated by Miss Cecilia Adwell. You could say, she likes it here.

Cecilia is a vibrant person from her violet dipped platinum blonde hair to her cheetah print stockings, which serves her well as a student passionate about the creative and vivid world of folk art. Her way of thinking about curating a show and bringing together pieces from KMAC’s permanent collection is quite interesting and it has brought a lively energy to the third floor gallery space. Even though the recent Home Away Home has been “in the works” for some time, it didn’t become a reality until her winter break from the California College of the Arts – San Francisco when she could come to Louisville to organize the exhibit.

I caught up with Miss Cecilia to ask her about her experience as an intern at KMAC.

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KMAC Curatorial Intern Miss Cecilia Adwell

Tell us a little about yourself.
Well, I’m originally from Oldham County, KY. My father worked in the prisons there. Being surrounded by artwork from inmates is really what peaked my interest and appreciation for self-taught or “outsider artists”. In high school, I moved to the city (Louisville) and received undergraduate degrees from Jefferson Community College and Bellarmine University. While at Bellarmine, I spent a summer in London working for a commercial gallery. I decided then that exhibition making was what I wanted to pursue so upon my acceptance to the California College of the Arts, I moved to San Francisco where I am currently studying for my MA in Curatorial Practice.

Tell us something you’ve learned from your experience here.
Being a part of this museum has been an invaluable experience. I worked as an education intern before Aldy was hired and to see the direction the museum is moving is really exciting as a student curator focused on craft and folk. The integration of folk and craft within the larger fine arts world has been happening for decades now and to see it in action on the museum level is really encouraging.

You’ve curated two exhibits at KMAC. Which would you deem more successful and why? This is a tough question. “Success” is a problematic term for me because there are so many levels of “success” that can be achieved. Hollers And Harvests and Home Away Home are two very different exhibitions. Both succeeded in bringing local, young artists into the conversation with Kentucky’s historical folk artists. Hollers and Harvests was very straight forward and didactic in approach, which is great for museum visitors. Home Away Home has a more complex curatorial approach, which was more difficult to explain to the public, but overcoming those difficulties was more satisfying. All in all, if the museum is happy, the visitors are engaged, and the artist I’m working with is happy, then I feel the exhibition was successful.

How did you choose Derrick Snodgrass to be a part of your recent exhibition Home Away Home?
Derrick has a very magnetic personality. I was first introduced to him at ACME Ink Tattoos in the Highlands I then went online to look at his tattoo portfolio and came across his paintings. I was hooked. I was looking for an artist to choose pieces from the KMAC collection in order to find inspiration for producing new work and I felt he would do a good job with interpreting some of the darker themes present within the collection with his own work. I am so happy with the work that came out of this process. He did such an amazing job.

You’ve worked with KMAC’s folk art permanent collection quite a bit, do you have a favorite folk artist or story from working with these pieces?
Through organizing and researching the collection I have grown an attachment to the artworks and the people who have made them. I love the overall story of Kentucky’s folk art history, learning about how artists are connected through familial ties and how artists arrived at a career in art through hard financial times or as a result of emotional or physical trauma is really a beautiful thing. I love that most of these artists don’t explain a lot of their work, when you learn about their personal life, it just makes sense.

Strangest comment you’ve heard at one of your exhibition openings?
Well, I’m pretty strange myself so nothing really surprises me.

What are your plans after your internship at KMAC?
I graduate in May and I’m terrified. I don’t know what my plans are yet, but I do know that I want to work with a museum that contains objects and artworks that I am personally passionate about. My goal was to leave Louisville and eventually return home to share what I’ve learned with the community, but I don’t know when this will happen. I just want a museum job that makes me happy and allows me to flex my creativity. Making a little money wouldn’t be so bad either.

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Home Away Home Exhibit Opening
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Miss Cecilia Adwell, Curator Intern

 

In Closing: Some Remarks on a Museum’s End

Last month, the Museum of Craft and Folk Art (MOCFA) in San Francisco announced that they would close their doors forever come December. It’s always disheartening news to hear of a cultural institution closing and this is especially close to home since KMAC and MOCFA share in its objective of promoting excellence in art and craft.

In a press release, MOCFA claimed two reasons for their permanent closure: “Sustainability in the current economic climate, with reduced funding for the arts, was a significant factor in the decision, but Museum leadership also felt that, in many ways, MOCFA had achieved its essential mission.”  Unfortunately, cutbacks are a reality for arts organizations during this time of economic instability and just this summer the U.S. House of Representatives Appropriations Interior Subcommittee proposed a $14 million cut for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). However, when a museum states that it can close in part because it “achieved its essential mission” then I worry about the future of all museums.

MOCFA and KMAC share another significant link in that both institutions have benefited from an emerging curator from Louisville, Cecilia Adwell. She is currently enrolled in the Masters of Arts in Curatorial Practice at San Francisco’s prestigious California College of the Arts (CCA) and has worked with MOCFA in the continuation of her studies. She also served as a curatorial intern at KMAC during the summer, which resulted in the Hollers and Harvests exhibit. She is an ambitious student and passionate about preserving historical folk traditions while also keeping an eye on the larger, international fine arts world. I asked her if she would share her thoughts and feelings about the closing of MOCFA and the implications she feels it will present.

Cecilia writes:

I was very fortunate to work on a project with Museum of Craft and Folk Art curator, Natasha Boas, in conjunction with social practice artist, Harrell Fletcher. The time I spent at MOCFA was truly inspirational. Being a curator from Kentucky interested in folk art and craft, I was able to find a cozy little home in the museum off Yerba Buena Lane. While inhabiting a small space, the impact on the surrounding community was huge. MOCFA gave exposure to contemporary craft and folk artists (both locally and globally) through exhibitions, invigorated local children with a love for craft with their award winning educational programs, and once a month brought the community together for evenings of collective crafting at the CRAFT BAR.

For contemporary craft and folk art, MOCFA stood apart from its single-focus, institutional peers in that it approached “outsider” categories of arts production in a new light rather than a traditional didactic methodology that surrounds exhibitions featuring international artists. Fine arts, craft, and folk art are all on the same trajectory; therefore, these distinctions need not restrict or confine varying levels of arts practice on an international scale. Great care was given to elevate dialogue surrounding craft and folk art to a new level that argued for thoughtful reformation of the previously separate and distinct categories of artistic production.

It is now an exciting time for those of us interested in this field. Fine and folk art are confronting each other in contemporary curatorial methodologies, and hand crafted art is making a resurgence in the practices of formally-trained, fine artists. As MOCFA did, KMAC is exploring new territories and banishing old principles surrounding folk art and craft as nothing more than a novelty in the arts world.

It is easy to focus on the grief MOCFA’s closing will cause the international craft and folk art scene; however, many who have commented on the closing are ignoring the silver lining to this cloud. The women I worked with at MOCFA are by far the most valuable resource – they are passionate about the museum’s mission and message to the community. As these employees leave MOCFA, they will be dispersed into the arts world, carrying with them ideas and values surrounding the expansion of the current definitions of craft, folk, and fine art. The reputation of this fantastic institution is not lost. Rather, it will live on in new facets of the arts world through talented and passionate former employees and through the next generation of curators and arts educators who were touched by their 30 years of exhibitions and programming.

I thank the staff of MOCFA for allowing me to be part of their family during my time in graduate school. I learned valuable lessons that are permanent fixtures in my own curatorial practice, and hope that I can carry their standard of excellence in exhibition and their fervor for craft and folk art wherever my career takes me.

In continuation of her curatorial studies, Cecilia will return to KMAC this winter to curate an exhibition from the permanent collection.

Photo: Courtesy of Gudrun Enger, attractions.uptake.com.

Hollers & Harvests and Swimming Hole

July 6, 2012 – August 31, 2012
Click here to see more images.

Hollers & Harvests displays a collection of works, from the museum’s permanent collection, that highlight the relationship between folk artists and their frequent ties to farming and agriculture. In conjunction with this exhibit, Swimming Hole transforms familiar seasonal objects into a large scale interactive wall sculpture.