rusq: Vol. 52 Issue 2: p. 163
Sources: American Folk Art: A Regional Reference
Nevin J. Mayer

Coordinator of Instruction, John Carroll University, University Heights, Ohio

Congdon and Hallmark, a folklorist and an art educator respectively, have previously collaborated on Artists From Latin American Cultures: A Biographical Dictionary (Greenwood, 2002) and Twentieth Century United States Photographers: A Student’s Guide (Greenwood, 2008). Slippery as the term “folk art” has become in contemporary culture, American Folk Art: A Regional Reference uses for its working definition a group of “artists who both adhere to a particular cultural context and are individually innovative about the way they make their art” (7). In its unique arrangement of 300 visual folk artists into five regions of the United States, the set hopes to inspire in the reader further exploration of the intriguing “connection between creativity and place” commonly seen in folk art (ix).

For their scope, the authors have focused on mostly well-known artists who are currently active or who have practiced their art since 1900. The celebrated self-taught painters Grandma Moses and Horace Pippin are included, as well as recipients in the visual folk arts of the NEA National Heritage Fellowship up to 2010. A perusal of the American Folk Art Museum’s Encyclopedia of American Folk Art (Routledge, 2004) will show omissions, such as the experimental potter Billy Ray Hussey, who has departed from local tradition. However, the Regional Reference is not intended as a comprehensive survey, but rather as a guide to the kinds of folk arts that typify a region. As such, it complements the Encyclopedia of American Folk Art, not only in its regional arrangement, but by including artists who “are less well-known” and, therefore, “ harder to explore in depth” (x).

Thoughtfully arranged with a general introduction and regional introductions, followed by individual entries on the artists of the region, each section is followed by a bibliography of resources. This reviewer, a native of the Midwest, found the section on “Midwest Region Artists” revealing in the way it characterizes the region’s rich urban, rural, immigrant, African American, and Native American heritage. Representative artists include a bobbin lace maker, a rosemaler artist, and others who carry on various artistic traditions brought from Europe. In the Midwest’s postmodern status as “the rust belt” of America, the entry on the Detroit assemblage artist Tyree Guyton is most appropriate indeed.

The Regional Guide is generally well illustrated with black and white photographs of artwork. There are also a handy glossary of terminology, a list of places to see folk art, and sections on “Artists Listed by Media” and “Artists Listed by Region.” While the indexing is fairly detailed, there are no references provided to areas such as states or smaller communities that might be associated with a folk artist, nor are there any maps.

Consistent with its effort to inspire further exploration, the set briefly notes some areas of folk art that do not fit into its regional arrangement, such as “prison art,” “tramp art,” and certain web-based art (8). Readers interested in exploring folk artists outside of the visual arts will find helpful Alan Govenar’s Masters of Traditional Arts: A Biographical Dictionary (ABC-CLIO, 2001). Written with a general audience in mind, American Folk Art: A Regional Reference is an appropriate purchase for just about any library.

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