Inside the outwardly nondescript North Atlanta Trade Center, something magical was happening. The 80,000-square-foot facility virtually shone with a glow from the 90-plus galleries displaying a wide offering of folk art radiating with youthful innocence or spirituality.
The August 18–20 show, now in its 13th year, presented folk art, Southern folk pottery, outsider art and self-taught art from galleries and dealers across the country and into Canada and Mexico. Pottery, paintings, furniture and objets d’art vied for attention at every turn as bright colors and whimsical themes dominated the show.
Final numbers had not been tallied at press time but show promoters Steve and Amy Slotin said the show posted a record attendance with nearly 10,000 tickets sold.
“This was without a doubt our best show ever and we had our best Friday night attendance that I can remember,” Amy Slotin said. “And despite the economy, the dealers have been calling and emailing with words of thanks for the best show they have had in years.”
The show attracted collectors of every folk art specialty and budget. There were starter pieces for as little as $5 all the way up to $50,000 items. Pottery was especially strong this year and a Carlton Garrett sculpture sold at Ginger Young Gallery, Chapel Hill, N.C., for $26,000. Many dealers reported they were “ecstatic” with their sales.
Young had the Garrett work, a courtroom scene carved of yellow pine and painted with 45 figures, in her family for more than 20 years. “It was a marvelous example of his talent,” she said of the Georgia artist (1900–1992). Young has exhibited at the last 12 shows and did well this year, selling several paintings by Alabama old master Jimmy Lee Sudduth, who at age 97 has recently stopped painting.
Primitive Folks, Maysville, Ga., has been represented by galleries at Folk Fest since 2001 but this year marked the artists’ first time in person. John Sperry is known for his whimsical paintings on roofing tin using bright colors and his inventory of paintings in the $170–$190 range were quickly depleted. The artist also had on view two papier mache sculptures. He and his wife, Danette, collaborated on “Curletta,” made from a wooden frame head stuffed with cloth and papier mache and a cloth-wrapped frame. John used strips of his trademark roofing tin to create hair. The sculpture was in his personal collection for several years before being offered at the show. While it did not sell, a similar sculpture that was a functional lamp with a face painted on a lampshade found a new home.
America Oh Yes, Hilton Head, S.C., featured more than 40 artists at the show and said sales were on track as last year with a busier than expected Sunday and a strong Friday night. The gallery has been with Folk Fest since its inception and sold out of its Kina Crow pottery at the show. Jon Whiddon’s large paintings scored a hit with buyers as did Sandy Mastroni’s paintings, mixed media pieces and pottery and Diana Campbell’s small works on handmade paper with Indian ink.
Russian folk art took center stage at Art Teaches The World, Hixson, Tenn., where the bulk of offerings may not have qualified as folk art in the traditional sense but it almost all sold. Works by Yuri Bolotov and Sasha Filippov had an expressionist and Impressionist flavor that resonated with buyers, who eagerly snapped up their works. The first-time exhibitor is already making plans for a return outing at next year’s Folk Fest.
Proving that everything old can be made new again, many artists took the concept of recycling to unprecedented levels. S.D. Meadows Folk Art Gallery, Palestine, Ill., used lighting, garden tools and more to fashion folky sculptures. Elayne Goodman, Columbus, Miss., created bowls out of jigsaw puzzle pieces and had button paintings and quilts adorning her booth walls. Another artist transformed an antique typewriter into a work of art.
Connie Roberts’ whimsical wood sculptures, all of which have whistles incorporated into them, found a strong audience at Signature Shop, Atlanta, Ga. Roberts, an antique folk art collector, has been carving wood since she was a child and all the sculptures she makes now are working whistles made from a variety of woods and found materials. An across the board selection of her whistles sold well at the show from single pieces including matchbooks and toothbrushes to animals in groups or singly and a clever teapot with teabag whistles.
Stephanie Wheeler Gallery, Smyrna, Ga., was pleased with the show in her sophomore appearance. The gallery mostly offered oil paintings, which sold well, and had a small selection of hand blown glass works from John Hudnut that were reminiscent of Dale Chihuly and could be had for around $400 each.
Customers streamed in and out of Yours By Design, Roswell, Ga., their eyes riveted to fanciful and functional furniture from David Marsh. Owner Kathy Schreiman rated the weekend a success and said a cabinet by Marsh, “Alfalfa,” sold on the floor for $975 with orders taken for two more in a different variation. Reptile pottery by Alpharetta, Ga., potter Mazi sold well, as did hand felted purses.
The late Harry Teague’s art was represented at The Ivy Garden, Holly Springs, Ga., with his devoted wife, Diannia, running the booth that showcased his prints and two children’s books he illustrated. “I just couldn’t quit this year,” she said of the show. After surviving a stroke in 1990 and taking up a paintbrush five years later for the first time in his life, Harry died in January of a heart attack. “It’s all for Harry,” she said of her efforts to keep his art in the public eye.
Sharing space were primitive folk artist Emmy Houweling, New Castle, Ky., and Chilipony Studio, Louisville, Ky. Houweling featured paintings of her adopted home state (she grew up in Holland) and she paints mostly rural scenes of life as it happens around her. Chilipony’s artist Crystal Carol offered mostly Native American and horse-inspired art, which did not sell as well as traditional folk art, but she did make some sales and found plenty to admire in the booths of her fellow dealers.
Lanier Meaders, of the esteemed Meaders potter family, is credited with reviving interest in the old style of pottery making. Though he died in 1998, his tradition of unique face jugs lives on. Several exhibitors paid homage to Meaders and this pottery niche with their own representations of face jugs on display at the show, including Select Southern Pottery, Newtown Crouch, Potteryman and Mike Hanning, who spent 30 years as an antiques dealer before becoming an artist. His life story echoes many of the folk artists at the show, who said they either found their calling late in life or received divine inspiration to spread the Word through art.
For many longtimers, the folk art community is a close-knit family with Folk Fest serving as an annual reunion of sorts for exhibitors separated by great geographic distances. The news came as a shock to many when longtime exhibitor Cavannaugh & Blue, Gainesville, Fla., announced its retirement after this show. The gallery began exhibiting at Folk Fest in its second year.
“We decided it was time to wind down,” said Don Cavannaugh, 70. He and his partner Ed Blue retain a wonderful personal collection of many of the artists they have represented at Folk Fest over the years and sought recognition for, including Alyne Harris, Bernice Sims, Annie Weelborne, Marie Rodgers and early on, Jessie Aaron. “These artists attracted us because they are or were self-inspired and motivated by inspiration not money,” he said. The gallery’s final show went well with quite a few pieces selling to individuals and other pieces offered on consignment with other dealers. The remaining inventory was placed with Slotin’s auction service.
Besides the upsurge in pottery, particularly Southern folk pottery, at this year’s show, Slotin said seasoned collectors are now buying that one folk art gem instead of spending the same money on a handful of items.
Folk Fest is always staged the third weekend in August. Next year’s dates are August 17–19. For information, www.slotinfolkart.com or 770-932-1000.