West Virginia native Ramona Love Lampell and her husband, Millard, began searching for self-taught artists from Appalachia several decades ago — tracking down those who were producing works of raw power and striking originality. The couple put together an art collection that is recognized today as one of the premiere of its kind in the nation.
The Art Museum of West Virginia University is featuring a new exhibition of 100 works from the Lampell Collection titled “Independent Vision: Self-taught Artists from Appalachia,” “Independent Vision: Self-Taught Artists from Appalachia.”
“Without formal training, but with a strong aesthetic sensibility and a desire to express themselves creatively, self-taught artists often work in relative obscurity,” said Art Museum Director Joyce Ice. “Their work conveys a perspective rooted in a sense of place, a sure hand and a confident expression of specific values and perceptions, not constrained by rigid boundaries of art pedagogy or criticism.
The artists include sculptors, painters, wood carvers and basket makers who have drawn upon their life experiences, knowledge of the natural environment, and readily available materials, such as wood, clay, stone, house paint and found objects, to create their art.
“Ramona Lampell, who was born and raised in West Virginia, wants her collection to stay in her home state and to be available, especially as an educational resource. We are grateful to be able to share some selections from this collection and to have such an important collection eventually come to the Art Museum of WVU.”
Ramona visited the artists in their homes, on their farms and in their workshops, and became friends with them. She championed their work and helped to organize many exhibitions by the artists, the most notable of which was a traveling exhibition and book titled “O, Appalachia! Artists of the Southern Mountains.”
West Virginia Public Television will soon air a 2015 documentary featuring some of the artists included in the Lampell collection. "O, Appalachia: Art and Lives of Self-taught Artists" was directed by Emmy Award-winning producer Jim Brown and features six artists, five of whom are no longer living, and captures the essence of their lives and the impact of their art and lasting legacy.
Millard died in 1997, but Ramona, who now lives in Linden, Virginia, remains passionate about this art today and about sharing it with the people of West Virginia and the region.
Approximately 25 self-taught artists are part of the exhibition. Some of them include:
S.L. Jones (1901-1997), a wood carver from Hinton, West Virginia, was former C&O Railroad worker, who took up woodcarving to fill his days after he retired and his wife died. He carved figures out of all kinds of wood found in the Appalachian forests.
Cher Shaffer (b. 1947) grew up in Georgia and later lived in West Virginia before moving to North Carolina. A painter, wood carver and stone sculptor, her art is deeply personal and springs from the joys and terrors of her Georgia childhood.
Rev. Herman Hayes (1923-2012) of Hurricane, West Virginia, was a Methodist minister who created unique figures carved out of mahogany, bass wood, willow, walnut, buckeye, ash and pine. Most of his pieces have something about them that evoke a smile.
Rev. Benjamin Franklin Perkins (1904-1993), a minister from rural Alabama, created paintings in blazing colors. Recurring motifs were his church with its clock tower, the Stars and Stripes, and the Statue of Liberty. He also painted gourds with religious messages.
James Harold Jennings (1930-1999) of Pinnacle, North Carolina, lived in a school bus on his family’s land and transformed scraps of wood into windmills, whirligigs, human figures, birds and beasts, all spinning in the wind and painted bright blue, daffodil yellow, and vivid green.
Minnie Adkins (b. 1934) of Peaceful Valley, Kentucky, carves animals out of wood and paints them bright colors. Her creatures include savage-toothed bears, elegant horses, a mother possum and her cubs, foxes, and a sow with piglets. Adkins will visit the Art Museum of WVU in July to give demonstrations of her work.
Oscar Spenser (1908-1993), of Virginia, was a former coal miner who began studying snakes and scouring the slopes of the Blue Ridge Mountains looking for branches that he could transform into life-size snakes. He carved every kind of snake found in the Appalachians.
Charlie Lucas (b. 1951) of Pink Lily, Alabama, creates sculptures out of scrap metal and old car parts. His subjects include fantasies, animals, women and men. The son of an auto mechanic and the grandson of a blacksmith, he uses a welding torch to create most of his works.
Charley Kinney (1906-1991) of Big Salt Lick, Kentucky, was a musician and a painter who also made life-size puppets to dance to his fiddle music. His paintings radiate a fierce glee, with subjects that include bear hunts, skeletons, and his terrifying childhood memories of “hants.”
“Independent Vision: Self-Taught Artists from Appalachia” is organized by Art Museum of WVU Curator Robert Bridges. The exhibition has been made possible in part with funding from the Friends of the Art Museum of WVU.
The Art Museum and Museum Education Center are located near the corner of Patteson Drive and Morrill Way at the Evansdale Campus North Entrance.
For more information about the show, contact the Art Museum of WVU at 304-292-7790.