Saturday, August 6, 2016

Collecting Southern Folk Art by Self-Taught Artists in Alabama and Beyond

Riché Richardson, Photographs Taken on July 20, 2016

Riché Richardson's Home Office Featuring Art Quilts by Chris Clark, Photo Taken March 29, 2016

Riché Richardson Pictured with Mose Tolliver, "Mose T," at His Montgomery Home and Art Studio, July 1999

Riché Richardson and Mother Joanne Richardson Pictured with Lee Harris, "The Renaissance Man," at His Montgomery Home and Art Studio, July 1999

By Riché Richardson

I began my collection of Southern folk art in 1999 while working as an assistant professor at the University of California, Davis and have continued to nourish and grow it over the years. My collection of original Southern folk art, which so far includes 12 different artists and over 40 paintings on wood, canvas and cloth of various sizes, is grounded by the work of Alabama artists, especially Mose Tolliver. Works by Jimmy Lee Sudduth and Bernice Sims also make up the core and foundation of the collection. Almost a dozen paintings and art quilts (the collection's first ever) by Birmingham, Alabama artist Chris Clark are also now included. His work is among my favorite art to live with in both my home and office because of its core thematic content related to religion, music and community. Indeed, he has been referred to as a “gospel singer of the visual arts.” Other artists in my collection include Michael Banks, Mose T.'s daughter Annie Tolliver, and Lee Harris (aka "The Renaissance Man"). Furthermore, the collection includes works by Zelle Manning, Myrtice West, Ruby Williams, Leonard Jones and Mary L. Proctor.

The self-portrait by Jimmy Lee Sudduth and Michael Banks's monumental tribute to Mose T. (a departure from Banks's technique reminiscent of Jean Michel-Basquiat's) and the pair of paintings by Mose T. that feature Tolliver's self-portrait and a portrait of his wife, are the works largest in scale; the painting by Lee Harris of the flower vase is the smallest. The collection is fueled by my origins in Montgomery, Alabama and my commitments to supporting the work of Alabama artists and to living with and celebrating Alabama art and the art of the U.S. South more generally. I also find inspiration in it given my self-identification as an Alabama-born mixed-media appliqué quilt artist and my academic work as a scholar in the field of Southern studies, along with black/Africana studies and African American literature. Thematically, my collection touches on topics from the Civil Rights Movement to the tragedy of September 11.

The academic who has inspired this collection most is bell hooks, whose powerful story of collecting African American art is chronicled in the critical essays in her book Art on My Mind. It deeply inspired me when I first read it as a graduate student in the PhD program in English at Duke University in the 1990s. I later began to build a collection of art when I became an assistant professor and focused on the genre of Southern folk art. California-based artists are at the core of the other original art that I have collected, including Clarence Major, Milton Bowens, Kelvin Curry and Joyce Carley. In addition, I have an original piece by Tom Feelings, along with several original pieces by Jamaican artists and some others.

Pieces from my Southern folk art collection were borrowed for an African American art exhibition held on the campus of University of California, Davis at the Nelson Gallery during the summer of 2007, which was curated by Felicenne Ramey, an exhibition that drew on the art collections of various faculty and featured works by Jacob Lawrence, Romare Bearden, and Elizabeth Catlett. I also loaned my collection for exhibition to the public at the Carol Tatkon Art Gallery at Cornell University from February-June 2012, which was curated by Christine O'Malley and Larissa Hensley and sponsored by New Student Programs, the Office of the Provost and the Office of the Dean of Students.

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