Educator takes lessons from outsider artists

Mose Tolliver's self-portrait depicts himself standing with canes. The renowned outsider artist used housepaint on a board, 13 inches by 29 inches. Image courtesy of Slotin Folk Art and LiveAuctioneers Archive.

Mose Tolliver’s self-portrait depicts himself standing with canes. The renowned outsider artist used housepaint on a board, 13 inches by 29 inches. Image courtesy of Slotin Folk Art and LiveAuctioneers Archive.

PEORIA, Ill. (AP) – Mary Lou “Pixie” Jacquin has a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in art education. She has completed all but her dissertation toward a doctoral degree in art education.

She taught art to grade school students for years before retiring from Trewyn Middle School in 2004.

Now she teaches an art class at Bradley University for prospective grade-school teachers who have no background in art, but probably will be expected to teach art at some point in their careers.

But the artists who have influenced her most in the last 30 years or so have never taken a single art class, much less earned an art degree.

Jacquin’s basement is a cornucopia of art collected from rural roads and urban streets populated by men and women whose impassioned work is rarely, if ever, classified as fine art. Most often, it is called primitive, raw, naive or folk – the simple work of simple people, typically unschooled and unskilled, judged outside standard Eurocentric, mainstream art scenes, and, thus, often known as “outsider art.”

University of Illinois art professor Elizabeth Delacruz introduced Jacquin to outsider art in the 1980s when Jacquin was working on an advanced degree in art education. After a few gallery trips and many more written assignments, Jacquin’s interest grew from research to fascination.

She tracked artists to their homes in the hills of Tennessee, the mountains of Alabama, or wherever they lived.

“Of course, when you get there, you buy a piece of their artwork, too,” she said.

Her travels also led to outsider art festivals. The consequence is meeting and buying work from some of the best-known artists of the outsider art world before they died:

– The Rev. Howard Finster, who called himself “a stranger from another world” and embedded his preaching in his paintings as well as a gigantic roadside sculpture dubbed “Paradise Garden.” His visionary sacred art is on display at the University of Illinois’ Krannert Art Museum through March 28.

– Mose Tolliver, whose vivid images featured haunting self-portraits, in house paint on plywood, usually on two crutches or two canes, referencing the workplace accident that led him to start painting.

– Jimmie Lee Sudduth, who painted with his finger, using different shades of Alabama mud blended with common substances such as soot, coffee grounds, syrup and sweet potatoes to lend color and texture. He was fond of saying when he died, his brush would, too.

She has stories to tell about Danny “The Bucketman” Hoskins, who, with blow torch and paint, turns plastic 5-gallon buckets into totem poles, and Missionary Mary Proctor, who was called to create spiritual paintings on doors after her family perished in a fire because they couldn’t open a door.

Jacquin is as intrigued by outsider artists’ inventive mediums as she is by their inventive art.

“They’re always repurposing, recycling,” she says.

Tolliver took pull rings from soda cans and attached them to the back of his paintings for hanging.

Collecting outsider art, she says, has taught lessons she uses in her own paintings.

“I don’t take myself as seriously as I used to,” she says. “I think my work has become more direct, simpler in message, and a lot more humorous.”

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