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The Rockford Art Museum's collection of Outsider Art is comprised mostly African American Self-Taught Art from the 104 piece James Hager Collection donated in 1994. This art developed in the Deep South in isolated African American communities. Unlike Folk Tradition, which is commonly handed down, these artists have refined their skills through personal effort, trial and innovation. Their choice of expression and their means of execution are self-taught and unique to each. This artwork, despite being uninformed by the mainstream artworld, cannot be seen as simple. The choices these artists make in materials and depiction are the result of the artist's personal life experiences, their religious beliefs, their connection with the land, politics and their heritage. Most of the remainder of Rockford Art Museum's Outsider Art collection is composed of local Outsider Artists. The very term "outsider" seems to pertain to something foreign and exotic, living somehow in a different world. This collection of local outsiders reminds us that art doesn't need to come from a prestigious school nor from someone up above dubbing this art and that not. It reminds us that art is personal and communal, best to be experienced rather than studied.
Outsider Art Artists
Thornton Dial has been "making things" for as long as he can remember-more than 50 years. For most of his life, Dial has worked with his hands as a bricklayer, carpenter, house painter, construction worker, fisherman and pipe fitter. After retiring from the Pullman Boxcar Company, he formed the Dial Metal Patterns Co. in 1984 and began making patio furniture with sons Richard Dial and Thornton Dial Jr. more...
Born the seventh of twenty-seven children, Lonnie "Sandman" Holley grew up in Birmingham, Alabama, and spent much of his youth in foster homes and reform schools until he ran away to Louisiana at age 14. He eventually returned to Birmingham and worked as a short-order cook. In 1977, Holley suffered the catastrophic loss of two nieces who died in a house fire. As a result of this personal anguish, he attempted suicide. When his attempt failed, Holley "prayed to the Lord to take me to the top." He said it was then that he received the divine inspiration to "make art!" more...
Joe Louis Light
For most of his youth, Joe Louis Light worked on a farm until he enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1951. Discharged after suffering a self-inflicted wound, Light engaged in illicit activities and was incarcerated in the Nashville Penitentiary on two separate occasions. His conversion to Judaism during his second prison term changed the path of his life. After his release, he traveled throughout the South, finally settling in Memphis, Tennessee. Light supported himself by selling housewares in flea markets, and eventually married Rosie Lee. more...
Purvis Young combines a deep-seated religious belief with social commentary. Working in urban Miami, an area typified by the poverty of its citizens, Young's images depict the plight of the underprivileged and their redemption by a loving God. He typically paints on discarded objects found on the street. more...
Shields Landon Jones
"The heads look as I feel, happy or sad-they aren't of anyone in particular but they come from me."-S.L. Jones
After the death of his first wife in 1969, wrestling with grief and lonliness after a 45-year marriage, S.L. Jones built a small workshop behind his house. There he picked up his two childhood hobbies: fiddle-playing and wood-carving. He began by taking small horses, rabbits and dogs to the county fair and proudly displaying the ribbons he won in the. As he gained confidence, he began to embellish his sculptures with paint, stain and penciling. His materials of choice were the native black maples, walnuts and yellow poplars growing around his West Virginia home. more...
Stephen Warde Anderson
Stephen Warde Anderson has spent but all of a few of his years in Rockford, yet he has had exhibitions nation wide including Chicago, Milwaukee, and New York. Prominent museums that hold his work include the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C., the Museum of Contemporary Folk Art in New York, the Roger Brown Study Collections of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Milwaukee Art Museum and Rockford Art Museum.
Anderson didn't begin his career as a professional artist until his thirties and has no professional training as an artist. He is entirely self-taught working in the mediums of tempura and gouache. In 1988, he had a show at a Rockford cafe where he was picked up by Phyllis Kind Gallery in Chicago. more...
Gene "Duke" Holmes
Gene Holmes, lifelong resident of Rockford, was for many years the star of downtown Rockford. In early years whle he worked at his father's restaurant, Holmes & Son Lunchroom, a local political hangout, he could be seen cruising around in a flashy convertible sporting a top hat. Years later, while living at the Chandler and subsequently the Faust Landmark Hotel, Gene, wearing a creatively collaged hat, could be seen roaming the downtown city streets, or having conversation at a nearby diner. more...