Mary Francis Merrill was a prolific artist throughout her 30 year career, which included a decade-long struggle with an anxiety disorder that kept her away from people. Despite or perhaps in response to that, she created art depicting warm personal relationships. (See Lady in Red and Dog and Lady and Cat.) Living in a housing project, she had limited resources so she often used found objects and scraps of fabric, as in her dolls (See Pink Ribbon, Pearls and African). Mary was known to leave dolls like these behind her property and watch from her window as children came to collect them.
Art-making provided soul-saving releases for artists Ralph Bell and Mary Frances Merrill, both of whom suffered crippling disabilities....
Wolfe tells Merrill's as another story of an artist who started making art late in life, whose production seems to have been tied to years of agoraphobia. Confined to her house, she used anything she had at hand to work with, including according to Wolfe, "chewing gum, make up, jewelry, and coal nuggets."
It's no coincidence, I think, that Hawkins, Brown, Mayo, Bell, and Merrill began making art late in their lives. Unlike academically trained artists, they seem to have come to art with lives full of experience and reflection, ready for some place to put it—exuberantly. Such explosions of color and invention. such confidence in instinct make their pieces in this show masterworks indeed. We are all lucky for Wolfe's insight in recognizing this art that comes directly from life unmediated by technique.
Folk Art, Outsider Art and Visionary Art are terms used to describe the work of self-taught artists who are recognized for unique talents refined to a point of mastery. Self-taught artists have not pursued formal artistic training through a university or art school, nor have they worked extensively under an artist from the established art world. While some self-taught artists may deliberately sidestep the world or art academia, most of them lack access to formal art training due to economic, class, racial, health or geographic restrictions.
Despite these challenges, the artists represented in this exhibit found their artistic voices and developed competent techniques that enabled them to communicate their messages. Many have been extremely prolific, producing hundreds if not thousands of pieces of art in their lifetimes. The talents of a number of these artists weren’t discovered until late in their lives, some after death.
What causes a person to make so much art without a lot of recognition or financial support?
Each work on exhibit offers clues and insights into the particular forces that drove these artists to produce their art.
autodidactcatfemale artistfemale portraitoutsider artself taughtcrayon and paint25 x 19.5 in