Born in Russia in 1884 Joseph Garlock immigrated to the United States in 1905, settling in the lower east side of New York City and later moving his family to Bloomfield, NJ. Garlock worked as a cobbler, opened a fruit and vegetable stand and operated a single vehicle bus line that ran along Bloomfield Avenue into the center of Newark.
He received no formal training in art and did not begin painting and sculpting until his retirement in 1949 at the age of 63. Referring to his art as his “hobby,” Garlock spent 15 years obsessively creating hundreds of paintings, wood carvings and assemblages using whatever materials were available, including lumber, box tops, awning fabric, tree branches and tin cans. He signed and dated each piece he created. His first painting was done on a tin pie plate and depicted the Woodstock, NY, weekend cabin of his daughter Rose, which he used as a studio.
In 2000, five years after Rose’s death, the Garlock family discovered the hundreds of pieces of their grandfather’s artwork that she had continued to store after he stopped creating art in 1965, due to old age and palsy.
Little is known other than that Albert Freeman lived in Lowell, Massachusetts, and probably began creating art in the 1930s.
Portraits of women and men, cowboys, horses, stage coaches, dogs, and wild animals were some of Freeman’s favorite subjects. Linear dot designs appear frequently in his work, used either as framing motifs or as patterning elements on the images themselves. Drawings are in mixed media, primarily tempera on salvaged paper and cardboard, including Cheerios cereal boxes, Jane Parker pie boxes, and even paper plates.
The advertisement slogans and special offers found on the reverse of the drawings often add a curious twist. Freeman’s “woman in pink” casts a sidelong glance at the viewer from the interior panel of a Cheerios box which, on the box front, enticingly promises to reward the purchaser with a “Secret clue to Lone Ranger mystery inside of box.” General Mills has confirmed that some of the cereal boxes are from the 1950s, and the majority of works fall in this decade.
Howard Finster was born at Valley Head, Alabama and lived on the family farm as one of 13 children. He attended school from age six into the sixth grade. He said he had his first vision at three years old, when he saw his recently deceased sister Abbie Rose walking down out of the sky wearing a white gown. She told him, “Howard, you’re gonna be a man of visions.”
Finster started building his first garden park museum in Trion, Georgia in the late 1940s. It featured an exhibit on the “inventions of mankind” in which Finster planned to display one of everything that had ever been invented, models of houses and churches, a pigeon flock and a duck pond. When he ran out of room on his land in Trion in 1961, he moved to Pennville, Georgia, near Summerville, and bought four acres of land to build what he called his Plant Farm Museum “to show all the wonderful things of God’s Creation, kinda like the Garden of Eden.” It included every kind of edible plant that would grow in his local climate and featured such individual attractions as the “Bible House,” “the Mirror House,” “the Hubcap Tower,” “the Bicycle Tower,” “the Machine Gun Nest,” and the largest structure in the garden, a polygonal five-story “Folk Art Chapel.” Throughout the garden he put up signs with Bible verses on them because “he felt that they stuck in people’s heads better that way.”
Finster retired from preaching in 1965 to focus all of his time on improving the Plant Farm Museum. In 1976 he had another vision to paint sacred art. “[O]ne day I was working on a patch job on a bicycle, and I was rubbing some white paint on that patch with this finger here, and I looked at the round tip of my finger, and there was a human face on it . . . then a warm feeling come over my body, and a voice spoke to me and said, ‘Paint sacred art.’” After initially setting out to do 5,000 paintings to spread the gospel, his works eventually numbered in the tens of thousands, as the entire family got involved in their production. Ultimately Finster became one of the most prolific artists in history.
Thornton “Buck” Dial was one of 12 children and grew up poor, without his father’s presence. He was born near the Mississippi state line in 1928 in Emelle, Alabama, and now lives in Bessemer in central Alabama. Although his formal education ended with the fourth grade, Dial eventually became a skilled self-employed craftsman. He worked as a carpenter, housepainter, bricklayer, pipefitter, fisherman, gardener, farmer and as an employee of Pullman Standard Company (railway boxcar manufacturers) for 30 years, before finally starting his own family ironworking business to make wrought-iron patio and lawn furniture.
While pursuing these jobs for income, he spent much of his free time “making ideas”—sculptures and paintings that could convey his intense convictions about race relationships and proper human behavior. Many years passed before he began to regard this activity as “artistic” although now his work is found in major museums and contemporary art collections around the world. His sons and grandson have also become well-known artists.
Thornton Dial likes to say, “Art ain’t about paint. It ain’t about canvas. It’s about ideas.” To get his ideas across, he often references iconic stories to make his point. He often uses a tiger as a symbol for a person (especially an African American) struggling to survive in the jungle of American life. “Any time you get a cat [and] put him out there with nothing, he’s going to survive . . . . So he will kill, catch things. We do the same things. We fight for these things. Fighting for freedom, fighting for anything.” But resorting to violence isn’t the only means, nor even the most important trait for achieving survival. Maintaining dignity in the face of opposition is vital. “Pride is important,” he points out.
Charles Dellschau was an enigmatic self-taught artist, a Texas butcher who, after his retirement at age 69, filled at least 13 notebooks with drawings, watercolor paintings and collages depicting fantastic imaginary airships.
He lived and worked in an attic apartment in Houston. Dellschau’s earliest known work is an illustrated diary dated 1899, while the latest yet discovered is an 80-page book dated 1921-1922, suggesting that his career as an artist spanned nearly 25 years. His work was in large part a record of the activities of the Sonora Aero Club, of which he was a purported member.
Dellschau’s writings describe the club as a secret group of flight enthusiasts who met at Sonora, California, in the mid-19th century. One of the members had discovered the formula for an anti-gravity fuel he called “NB Gas.” Their mission was to design and build the first navigable aircraft using the NB Gas for lift and propulsion. Dellschau called these flying machines Aeros. In none of the books does Dellshau claim to be a pilot of any of the airships, identifying himself only as a draftsman for the Club. His collages incorporate newspaper clippings (called “press blooms”) of then-current news articles about aeronautical advances and disasters.
According to a coded story hidden throughout the drawings which made up his notebooks the Sonora Aero Club was a branch of a larger secret society known only as NYMZA. Despite exhaustive research, including search of census records, voting rosters and death records, nothing has yet been found to substantiate the existence of this group except for a few gravestones in the Columbia Cemetery (north of Sonora) where several of the surnames mentioned in the diaries are found.
Born in Huntsville, Alabama, William Dawson grew up on a farm, where he learned to ride horses bareback. In 1923, he married and moved to Chicago, where he was employed for 38 years by produce distributor E.E. Aron at South Water Market and became one of the first black members of the Teamsters Union.
It was not until Dawson was semi-retired in 1965 at the age of 64 that he began seriously to devote his time to art. Working part-time as a security guard, Dawson passed time carving wood figures. When he retired completely, he focused all his energy on creating sculptures of men and women that range in size from several inches to several feet.
Dawson soon began using pieces of discarded lumber or old chair and table legs found in the neighborhood alleys to carve the totems and other figures for which he would become famous. Dawson’s work became internationally renowned as part of the 1982 travelling exhibition Black Folk Art in America, 1930-1980, which originated at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. Dawson became famous for taking First Lady Nancy Reagan’s arm at the show’s opening reception and personally leading her through the exhibition.
According to Jean Dubuffet, Pierre Carbonel, born in Anglet, France, “is not an artist and does not want to be. For him the term artist is to be avoided.” Carbonel corresponded with Dubuffet for decades after first encountering the famous artist and founding advocate of Art Brut at a retrospective exhibition held at the Musée des Arts Decoratifs in Paris in 1960. Their letters have been published as a book in France.
A traveling chocolate and perfume salesman, Carbonel was also inspired by Dubuffet’s collection of works by self-taught artists. In an old cowshed on his family farm he began experimenting with blending emulsions to create what Dubuffet called his “combats with liquid densities.” The resulting abstract organic forms resemble driftwood, wind-sculpted desert rocks, close-ups of insects, complex striations of subterranean matter, moonscapes and haunting faces, often all at once. Although the images may at first seem accidental or even to have come about “naturally” Carbonel developed his technique to achieve a high degree of control and repeatability that allowed him to create multiple series of multi-layered paintings.
In 1973 Carbonel retired from life on the road and settled near Blois, in the Loire Valley. He moved into a small stone house in the countryside in a hamlet of five houses called “Les Motteux,” where he found occasional employment as a census taker and survey collector, and picked grapes and asparagus to make ends meet. Dubuffet’s death in 1985 left Carbonel without the support and encouragement that had largely motivated him. While his work is in nearly every major European collection of art brut and outsider art, and Dubuffet considered him one of his greatest “finds,” Carbonel has yet to be fully appreciated in the US, and so far, Intuit is one of the few American institutions to have accessioned his work. Carbonel remains active as an artist in warm weather but ill health and advancing age severely limit his output now.
Charles James Castle, two months premature, was born deaf on September 24, 1900, in central Idaho’s isolated Garden Valley. In contrast to his older sister Nellie, who became deaf after a childhood illness, James never learned to read or write, although the Castle family developed a simple system of hand gestures. Fascinated with shapes and forms throughout his life, James copied alphabets, numbers, and symbols, and created his own brand to mark copyright or authorship in his books, but whether he distinguished between abstract marks and sketches of objects is not known.
Though Garden Valley was isolated, the Castle residence served not only as family home but also as the community’s post office and general store. To keep young James out of trouble, his parents would confine him in the area where mail was received on the first floor, or upstairs in a large room accessible only by way of exterior stairs at the rear of the house. From these vantage points James gained considerable access to a variety of graphic art and ‘found’ or fashioned art supplies, including postcards and newspapers containing cartoons and comic strips.
Castle created dozens of books with pages of facsimile postcards, replete with colored stamps and cancellation marks. Cartoon and comic strip images also appear in his books, along with advertisements taken from periodicals and catalogues.
Born in Nebraska, Emery Blagdon was the oldest of six children. He attended a country school and worked on the family farm. Between 1956 and 1986, after losing both parents and three younger siblings to cancer, Blagdon filled a barn and outbuildings with a large and extraordinary oeuvre that he called “Healing Machines.”
Blagdon believed that his deliberately and delicately constructed pieces, made from copper wire, foil, ribbon, beads, magnets, and other found items—in combination with small geometric or concentrically-patterned paintings—generated an electromagnetic energy that could alleviate pain and prevent or perhaps even cure disease.
Few people visited Blagdon’s shed environment when it stood in Nebraska. Dan Dryden, who had known him personally, and Don Christensen, who caught his friend Dryden’s enthusiasm for the work, acquired Blagdon’s entire oeuvre at public auction after the artist’s death.
An artist known for evoking Kansas City life in the 1950s, Thomas Baker was not appreciated during his lifetime, but was discovered in the 1990s by Chicago art dealer Tom McCormick. Baker was born in Pittsburgh in 1911. He took a job after high school as an insurance underwriter and married Mila Hoover, a Radcliffe graduate with a degree in art history, who became an assistant to the Director of the Nelson Atkins Museum in Kansas City. The couple became minor art collectors themselves, decorating their home with as many significant artworks as they could afford.
On the surface a conforming man, Baker devoted much of his spare time to creating whimsical, satirical, and naive social genre paintings that revealed his boredom with his day job. His only formal training was a brief night art class. His passion for art making seems to have started in 1953, when his wife purchased watercolors for him. He sketched on cheap dime store notepads and painted on scraps of wood, his work often revealing a tension between realism and allegory or satirical commentary on recent fads.
Baker never exhibited his own work alongside the “quality art” that he and his wife collected, but kept it in the basement and sold it for several dollars each. Constant partygoers, he and his wife both died from the effects of alcoholism, he at home in 1972 in the breakfast nook where he had done his painting.