Tuesday, January 28, 2014

TRAMP L'oeil?

Found something.

Tramp Art: A Folk Art Phenomenon by Helaine Fendelman and Jonathan Taylor

I came across it during Sheboygan Public Library Round 2. If you've been to JMKAC in the last couple months (and let's face it, if you haven't you're probably not a real person), you may recognize that the object on the cover appears to be the same breed as several objects found in Ray Yoshida's home collection which was being shown up until this month at JMKAC. As you may know, Yoshida was a prolific collector of enigmatic art objects that simultaneously reflect, inspire, inform, and embody folk art. In the collection at JMKAC, there were about five objects that look similar to the one pictured above.

I had never seen an object that looked like that before I saw Yoshida's collection, so when I saw this book I knew I had to grab it, because obviously I have missed out on something.

I have the distinct feeling that the title of the book wouldn't go over so well at my current place of employment. In my training to be a docent, I have discovered that the term "outsider art" is not to be used at JMKAC as it is more or less akin to the negative connotations evoked by the term "primitive art." "Self-taught," "folk," or "vernacular" are more appropriate.

According to the book:

"In its common form, a tramp-art object is distinguished by thin 
pieces of wood, carefully shaped, edge notched, and most often
applied and glued layer upon layer to create pieces of startling 
texture and harmony. Stylistically derivative of early northern and
eastern European ornamental wood and chip carvings, the
combination of bold geometric patterns and such embellishments as 
pulls, figures, and bits of mirror lend an elegance and fancifulness
that make one marvel at the artisan's ingenuity."

Nothing derogatory there, but the term still leaves a bad taste. Supposedly tramp art refers to the sometimes nomadic or otherwise homeless lifestyles of the carvers who made these objects. However, the book also suggests that these people only appeared to live this way, and were actually well-established artisans and craftsmen who earned their reputations by bartering shelter and art for scraps and materials to make their objects. 

I might add that the definition and term came from curator Helaine Fendelman, who organized and created a show called "Tramp Art" at the Museum of American Folk Art in 1975. Okay, so it was the seventies. But the book itself was written in 1999 due to an "increasing interest in the topic"...

The entire time I'm reading this I'm wondering, "If tramp art is a thing, why have I never heard of it before?" I'm not saying I'm an expert, because, duh, I'm not. I've never taken an official class on folk art, and I didn't take American art in college, either. So the possibility remains that I'm missing out on this key vocabulary word of my own doing, and I need a little art history intervention or something. 

But I'm still skeptical largely due to the fact that the term isn't mentioned in anything I read on Ray Yoshida's collection, and JMKAC'S word is the only word on the topic that really matters, as far as I'm concerned. 

Besides that, take a look at some of the art defined as "tramp:"

"Top box adorned with wooden balls"

"Medicine cabinet with mirrored door"

"Church with removable spires"

"Anchor sporting silver radiator paint"

With a few exceptions, these sophisticated objects were largely utilitarian in nature. Obviously the church and the anchor are more decorative, but those two happened to be two of my favorites so I included them. The main component to these works that I felt was not made very clear by the book was why this unique style, utilized by so many different makers with different backgrounds, was so popular. While the overall execution of the pieces is described in detail, there is little explanation as to why these relatively non-Western looking notched-edges were being used by Western artisans. The book seems to be missing a piece of the folk art puzzle that other literature on the topic has explained in bulk: Sometimes it all looks the same. There's usually a reason for this. 

I'm not entirely sure why I'm so critical of this book. It's a cool book. On a weird topic. I'm probably the only person who has ever checked it out of the Sheboygan library. I think I just get sick of art historians and curators making up words and definitions just because they can. The thing I love about folk art and vernacular art is that it seems to fall so outside of the pretentious art world. Then I find books like this and I feel like I'm reading about "Indexicality" (case in point: Blogger thinks this isn't a word) all over again. 

So after all this, maybe I found nothing.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Libraries and #selfies

Everywhere I go I find a library.
FACT: I own about 7 library cards.
Every library is different.
For example...
The Kensington Central Library in London had a lot of Icelandic fiction.
The Taylors Falls Public Library preferred that its patrons did NOT check out books.
The Seeley G. Mudd Library at Lawrence had its own Wisconsin section and about three copies of Lolita. It also had a Bladerunner manuscript; a fact I know only because I worked there for three years (miss you lots, Mudd).

The Mead Public Library in Sheboygan looks like it is going to have plenty to offer in terms of unique treasures. Besides containing a copy of the book Sublime Spaces and Visionary Worlds by Leslie Umburger (my esoteric b-day wish list book), it also had a good selection of books on folk art and crafts (sorry for the bad pics):

Self-Made Worlds: Visionary Folk Art Environments
by Roger Manley and Mark Sloan

GREAT BOOK. Lots of pictures. 16+ Wisconsin environments included. Bonus treasure in back: A listing of global folk art sites and environments.

Self Taught, Outsider, and Folk Art: A Guide to American
Artists, Locations and Resources
by Betty-Carol Sellen and Cynthia J. Johanson

Slightly outdated. But pretty useful if you can sort out the stuff that's still relevant. Did you know that there's a museum in Alaska called the Alaska State Museum that has a large collection of eskimo art?

Vintage Halloween Collectibles
by Mark B. Ledenbach

I wish I would have found this when I was trying and failing to write a Halloween post back in October. This book identifies and reveals the prices of hundreds of vintage Halloween items such as a "heavy cardboard dual-sided skull lantern with original inserts and slot and tab construction."

Libraries are awesome, and everyone forgets it. Go to a dang library! Who knows what you'll find...

ALSO- Happy #museumselfie day! 

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

List of Stupid/Embarrassing Things I Have Done So Far At My New Job

1. Asked a preschooler if she knew how to read.
2. Waved enthusiastically across the room at someone I thought I knew but didn't.
3. Asked a cafe waitress whether or not I need a master's degree to work in exhibitions (overheard by at least two staff members).
4. Walked through an exhibit that was being torn down despite the fact that there was a large sign on the door reading: "Exhibition Staff Only."
5. Realized that this was not the first time I had walked through a rotating exhibition and had in fact previously asked an exhibitions staff member if he "needed help."
6. Introduced myself to a group of volunteers that I thought were staff members.
7. Struck up a 45-minute conversation with a Lawrence Alumni while I was supposed to be helping with a class.
8. Mistakenly asked the staff photographer whether or not he had been to the center before.
9. Gave lame and awkward handshakes to a plethora of important people.
10. Got a bladder infection my second day on the job.


Tuesday, January 14, 2014

New Backyard Again

I moved to Sheboygan, Wisconsin and started an internship in the middle of an arctic deep freeze.

Were I to have made a different life decision, this anecdote could have read something like:

-I stayed in Minnesota and continued to pull my weight in a communal living situation that made me unhappy.
-I moved to Bozeman, Montana and started a job in the middle of the usual deep freeze.
-I moved to Austin, Texas and it was really warm, but I couldn't find a job I liked.
-I used up all my savings and traveled America looking for art I found on a variety of obscure websites and books and subsequently ran out of money and options.

But the anecdote is what it is, and I preemptively enjoy Sheboygan despite my feelings that I shouldn't enjoy it at all. I like the old houses, and the short walk to the lake. I like the main street, and the tasteful storefronts housing a surprising variety of restaurants. I like the name. I like my new house (I have a shelf in my closet that can fit almost my entire shoe collection), and I like the short drive out of town that leads to the Wisconsin countryside. Above all, I love my internship.

And even though I already like a place I barely know, I still hear an imaginary voice asking me why I haven't left Wisconsin yet. Why I'm not taking more of a risk. Why I like Sheboygan. What's to like? It's not New York, it's not Chicago, it's not Portland, it's not Austin. It's not any city that a 20-something is supposed to like.

Nope. It's a small city of 50,000 people located 50 miles north of Milwaukee on Lake Michigan that is known for the JMKAC, the Kohler Company, and bratwurst. It's an hour away from where I grew up, and an hour and a half away from where I went to college.

So, to a stranger's eyes, or to a person or two that I know quite well, it may look like I haven't done anything, or gone very far, or achieved very much. But to my own eyes I live in a nice place. And I'm not straining very hard to see things that make it unique and interesting.

Over the past few months I've learned that being a 20-something is deceptively difficult. It may be easy for Taylor Swift to shriek at the top of her lungs about the ecstasy that is the age of 22, but Taylor Swift never had to choose between having a job she loves and having a social life.

So until further notice, I'm a 20-something living in a town entirely underpopulated by my own demographic. I'm not moving for awhile, and I probably won't have as much fun as Taylor Swift. But I'll learn a heck of a lot more, and at the end of the day, I'll know I did something I care about.