Kansas City Star review of the Rare Visions, Detour Art show

Belger Arts presents works collected from folks along the ‘Detour’ route


Special to The Star

 Mike Murphy, one of the show’s co-curators, is seen here with Ruby Williams, an artist from Plant City, Fla.
Mike Murphy, one of the show’s co-curators, is seen here with Ruby Williams, an artist from Plant City, Fla.
 Kathy Ruth Neal of Kansas City began woodcarving in her late 40s. She is represented by three works in the exhibit, including “Mrs. Audubon’s Lament.” Neal died of leukemia at age 63 earlier this year. Kelly Ludwig loaned 102 works from her 400-piece collection of folk art to the “Rare Visions: Detour Art” show at the Belger Arts Center.  This paint on cardboard cut-out work by Mamie Deschillie of Fruitland, N.M., is one of the works from Kelly Ludwig’s collection in the exhibit.  “Mama Porcupine” (2006) was made from painted wood and chopsticks by J.L. Nipper of Beechgrove, Tenn.

Inez Marshall broke her back in a truck accident.

She spent a year and a half in bed, until one day she felt compelled to get to the front door of her home in Northbranch, Kan. Her parents helped her to a rocking chair, and when they opened the door Marshall spotted a small rock. She asked her father for his knife and her mother for a dough board from the kitchen. Marshall began to chisel and carve.

The rock turned into a squirrel and became the first piece of Marshall’s legacy: a wealth of stone carvings and the creation of the Continental Sculpture Hall, housed in an old gas station in Portis, Kan. Before her death in 1984, her personal museum held 10,000 pounds of her hand-carved limestone, including a 600-pound Model T, complete with motor, transmission and working taillights.

“Rock, to me, had a very special meaning. It denoted strength, determination, something to anchor to, something to hold steady when all else failed,” Marshall wrote in her autobiography.

Today you can find Marshall’s work at the Grassroots Art Center in Lucas, Kan., and two of her pieces — a limestone church and a bicentennial water bowl and pitcher — join the celebration of outsider art at the “Rare Visions: Detour Art” exhibit at the Belger Arts Center, 2100 Walnut St.

The brainchild of co-curators Mike Murphy, one of the creators of KCPT’s “Rare Visions and Roadside Revelations” show, and Kelly Ludwig, collector and author of “Detour Art: Outsider, Folk Art, and Visionary Environments Coast to Coast,” the exhibit tells the story of artistic expression through the works of 65 untrained artists.

“It’s the spirit of both the art and the artists that captivates,” says Ludwig, whose personal collection of about 400 pieces of art helped feed the exhibit’s vision. These pieces speak to a time, place and personal history — whether it’s a trip to the Appalachian Mountains after surviving breast cancer or a painted sign that tells visitors exactly what they can do with their money.

“It’s time for this show right now, and as hokey as that sounds, there’s something here that resonates with people,” Ludwig says. “Many of these artists are products of the Depression era. They made do with what they had.”

Drawing from such unlikely artistic materials as water heaters, scrapboard, house paint, aluminum cans, cabinet doors and house siding, many of these artists use common objects in uncommon ways to create the palatial birdhouses of Texas artist Sam Mireles, the Dubuffet-like portraits of Alabama’s Mose Tolliver or the joyful celebration of God and Coca-Cola in the work of Florida’s Mary Proctor.

“You can go anywhere in America and find people making wonderful things,” says Murphy, who with his crew, Randy Mason and Don Mayberger, has traveled 46 states to collect the stories and document the work of the country’s outsider artists. “They are making their statement about the world. You just have to get off the highway and find the stuff.”

The south gallery, where you’ll find Marshall’s work, features outsider artists from the region. It houses, among others, the comic carvings of Kathy Ruth Neal, a pop-top suit by Herman Divers, the signpost confrontations of Jesse Howard and the exquisitely penciled imaginary cities of Dennis Clark.

In the north gallery, the exhibit travels beyond the Midwest to celebrate the artistic wonder and even compulsion of outsider artists, including the glittery glass collages of the “Baltimore Glassman,” the delicate Brancusi-esque wood sculptures of Linvel and Lillian Barker, and the proselytizing paintings of the Rev. Howard Finster, whose commissioned artwork for the Talking Heads’ “Little Creatures” won album cover of the year in 1985 from Rolling Stone magazine.

And no outsider art show would be complete without a room dedicated to the fantastical interpretation of a red-hued underworld, where unfortunate souls are stuffed into well-worn soles and the spin of a wheel ensures your afterlife never lacks John Tesh tunes.

the show 
“Rare Visions: Detour Art” continues at the Belger Arts Center, 2100 Walnut St., through May 1. Hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday, Friday (until 9 p.m. on First Friday); noon to 4 p.m. Saturday and by appointment. For more information, call 816-474-3250 or visit www.belgerartscenter.org.