Collector finds passion in ‘outsider art’

(From the Wednesday Sun – I took the liberties to take out the errant job title from the photo caption…)

© 2009 NPG Newspapers – Wednesday Sun. All rights reserved.

Collector finds passion in ‘outsider art’

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EDMEE RODRIGUEZ/SUN PHOTO KELLY LUDWIG, graphic designer, has more than 400 pieces of ‘outsider art.’ Ludwig wrote the book ‘Detour Art.’

Art and the people who create it speak to Kelly Ludwig in a big way.

Ludwig, Kansas City, Mo., a graphic designer by trade, began collecting art and artists’ stories as she drove around the country with roadies Mike Murphy, Randy Mason and Don the Camera Guy in Kansas City Public Television’s “Rare Visions and Roadside Revelations.”

“I have a thing for road trips,” she said. “They kind of ignited the bug in me.”

Besides designing scores of books for the Kansas City Star, two for Rare Visions and one of her own, and launching a Web site with her book’s namesake, “Detour Art,” Ludwig has amassed more than 400 pieces of what she calls “outsider art.”

The pieces she collects were created by people outside mainstream art who have no formal training. The art, for many, is known as folk art.

“I had to find these artists,” Ludwig said. “I had to see these artists.”

Ludwig’s treasures – such as a 5-foot, welded sculpture of a tin man, two-headed alligator coffee table or model of a church with aluminum siding – spill onto her porch, into her back yard and cover every nook and cranny of her house.

She embraces outsider artists who use ordinary or recycled materials they have on hand, like house paint, wood or welding tools.

“They take something they learned and apply it to art,” she said. “They are very thrifty.”

Ludwig admires the artists and their stories as much as she does their art.

“It is a beautiful world, this kind of art,” she said. “It’s vibrant, exciting and colorful. I love meeting the people.”

Whimsical tin figures, colorful paintings and mixed media dot her living and dining room walls. Fantasy creatures in brightly painted hues, animals sculpted from wood, household items or recycled materials wait to be noticed.

A colorful wooden Noah’s Ark with more than 70 pairs of tiny animals lay on the fireplace next to a Hobbit-looking creature laden with bottle caps. Painted beaded shoes, a guitar studded with flattened bottle caps and a painted bird on roller skates flank her dining room table.

“These are like great travel souvenirs,” Ludwig said.

Circumstances drive many people to outsider art, she said. They might be prisoners or in a mental institution, have experienced a tragic loss like a fire, or become disabled or retired only to find they want something more meaningful.

“They have something to say visually,” Ludwig said. “They express their relief in their artwork.”

In 2010, Ludwig will take a portion of her collection on the road as a traveling exhibit starting in Lake Charles, La.

She plans 10 shows over three years in museums throughout the United States with Smith Kramer: Museum Traveling Exhibits.

She held her first local exhibit, “Rare Visions – Detour Art,” this spring at Belger Art Center, 2100 Walnut St.

“I thought there was a craving for that kind of show,” he said. “It was a great turnout.”

Mo Dickens, gallery assistant, said Ludwig has a special quality for collecting folk art.

“She’s got a passion for it,” he said. “She is knowledgeable about the art and the artists.”

Dickens said many visitors may know a relative who creates their own brand of folk art.

“It’s not intimidating,” he said. “They can relate to it.”

Ludwig is launching project this fall that she said sums up everything she loves – design, data base, travel, folk art, off-beat attractions.

“It’s my life in a nutshell, without Lola, my dog,” she said.

With Propaganda 3 and KCPT, she will introduce an iPhone application called “Best Road Trip Ever,” with 4,000 quirky sites including hotels, museums, cemeteries and diners around the country.

“She’s been instrumental in egging us on,” Mason, a KCPT executive producer, said. “She has enthusiasm and genuine interest in these subjects.”

Ludwig said childhood summers at Lake of the Ozarks, immersed in local culture, awakened her to outsider art. That, and her mother, who Ludwig claims is the original folk artist with her contact paper crafts and plastic geraniums that attracted humming birds.

“She would just sit there and laugh at those humming birds,” Ludwig said.

A life filled with design, art, travel and people qualify her as one of the luckiest people on the planet, Ludwig said.

“My passion, job, vocation hobby – it’s all rolled in one,” she said. “I do what I love and I love what I do.”