Regenia A. Perry Folk Art Collection consists of forty-five pieces of sculpture, including one staff; and one painting created by seven African American folk artists: Bessie Harvey, Reverend John L. Hunter, Mr. Imagination, Deacon Eddie Moore, Leslie J. Payne, David Philpot, and Derek Webster. Mostly created in the 1980s and 1990s, the wood and sandstone sculptures, and mixed media painting depict humans, animals, birds, and/or symbolism from African, Caribbean, or Egyptian culture or heritage. Many of the works are made and/or embellished with found objects or materials, spiritual or religious in nature, and vibrant in color. Folk artists may also be known as outsider or self-taught artists.
Regenia Perry is the leading authority on African American folk art, with a private collection of several thousand objects. The artifacts have personal significance because of the heritage and friendship Perry shares with the African American folk artists she meets when she travels throughout the country.
Born and raised in Virgilina, Virginia on a tiny tobacco farm in the 1950s, Perry had to fight her way to the top by working hard. When Perry earned a Ph.D. in Art History from the University of Pennsylvania in 1965, she became the first African American woman to hold a doctorate in art history and the first African American to hold a doctorate in American art. Perry taught art history at Virginia Commonwealth University for 25 years before retiring in 1990. She is the author of numerous books, exhibition catalogues, and articles about African and African American art. Today, as founder and owner of Raven Arts, Perry represents African American folk artists.
In 1929, Bessie Harvey was the seventh of thirteen children born to Homer and Rosie Mae White in rural Dallas, Georgia. Poverty and hardship plagued Harvey throughout most of her life. Harvey explains, "The story of my life would make Roots and The Color Purple look like a fairy tale. There was nothing. In the morning, you'd just get up, go looking for whatever you could find, and if you had one meal that day, then you'd made progress." At the age of fourteen, to ease the burden on her family, she married Charles Harvey; the marriage ended when she was in her early twenties. In the late 1940s, she moved to Tennessee with her five children and married Cleve Jackson. Harvey and Jackson had six children and divorced after twenty years of marriage. Harvey spent much of her life struggling to provide for her eleven children.
In 1972, based on visions inspired by God, Harvey began creating strong spiritual figures, many of them abstract, from found wood. After visualizing images in tree branches, roots, and driftwood, she brought the images to life by adding paint and other found objects to the pieces of wood. Her spiritual work was a collaboration between artist, God, and nature.
Harvey was a renowned folk artist whose work is highly sought after by collectors and has been included in numerous exhibitions. Her works can be found in collections all over the world, including Japan, Germany, Australia, and the Whitney Museum in New York.
Believing his true work to be ministry, Reverend John L. Hunter, also known as “J.L.,” served as the senior pastor of True Light Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas for 31 years. Though he viewed his artwork as secondary, Hunter is considered by some to be the last of the celebrated southern Black wood carvers born at the turn of the century. Using scrap lumber and tree branches, Hunter creates colorful sculptures using a knife, saw, hammer, nails, glue, paint, and glitter. He also has a signature technique of burning the final details into the wood with an ice pick that has been heated over a flame. Hunter's figures range from biblical characters and religious figures to animals to gunfighters, and can be found in private collections around the country.
Mr. Imagination, born Gregory Warmack in 1948, was raised in Chicago by a large religious family. As a child, he made earrings, decorative pins, woodcarvings, and hats that he sold on the street. In 1978, Warmack had a near death experience when he was shot at point blank range while being mugged. He claimed to have had an out of body experience and spiritual vision which led him to make a lifelong commitment to creating regenerative art. About 1980, Warmack began referring to himself as Mr. Imagination to highlight his charismatic artistic alter ego. He believed everyone has imagination and encouraged the use of their imagination. Warmack’s work, mostly sculpture, explores self-identity, immortality, and pride in Black culture. A number of his works are self-portraits and/or include his image within the work. Egyptian, African, and religious symbolism and iconography are present in Warmack’s works. With no formal training, his signature use of sandstone, bottle caps, and other found objects in his creations ushered Mr. Imagination into international success. Warmack died on May 30, 2012 in Atlanta, Georgia.
Deacon Eddie Moore was born and raised in Texas. He worked as a policeman and clergyman for the majority of his adult life. At the age of 35, Moore began his art career, making wood sculptures and dioramas. He gave most of his creations away to friends and family until he met Rev. John “J.L.” Hunter (notable folk artist) at a church affair. Hunter put Moore in contact with folk art collectors and other art business professionals. Newspaper photographs inspire Moore's sculptures and dioramas. With only knives and chisels, he is able to recreate flat images into colorful three-dimensional works of art. Moore's work has been featured at the White House and the African American Museum in Dallas.
Leslie J. “Airplane” Payne, born in 1907 in rural Northumberland County, Virginia, was a fisherman and a crabber. Payne only received a fourth grade education, and remained impoverished for all of his life. He had few opportunities for travel, to satisfy his curiosity about the world, to put his enormous creative energies to work, or to indulge his larger than life personality. But in 1918, he attended an air show when he was only eleven years old that was to change his life. As a direct result of that event, Payne began a lifelong obsession with airplanes and airfields.
In the 1940s, Payne began to construct airplanes, most of them relatively small in scale. Beginning in the 1960s, however, Payne began to construct what he called imitation planes. These were large scale planes, constructed so that Payne and a passenger could sit in the cabin and enjoy the view. Payne invited selected young ladies and local children to join him on flights in his planes and they would ride around the surrounding fields. Payne wore a flight suit, aviator cap, and goggles, and outfitted each passenger with helmet and goggles. He kept flight logs of all his passengers and imaginary itinerary, and also had his passengers take Polaroid photos. On those occasions, for those few hours, Leslie Payne became a pilot, with all the powerful and romantic notions that that suggested in the 1960s. On the back of his flight suit was emblazoned a huge emblem that revealed his self-made identity: Old Airplane Builder. Homemade.
Using scrap metal, wood, canvas, automobile parts, kitchen tools, and other materials that he scrounged, he built imitation planes and then transformed his small farm into an airfield, complete with air tower, machine shop, and runways. In addition to his passion for flying, Payne created model boats, hand-painted commemorative signs, and whirligigs. He exhibited all his works of art in an elaborate yard show at his home. After Leslie Payne retired to a nursing home in the late 1970s, and after his death in 1981, his airfield was abandoned.
Born in Chicago, Illinois in 1940, David Philpot began carving wooden staffs as a hobby in 1971. Inspired by the biblical story of Moses and the Ten Commandments, Philpot decided to create staffs instead of the popularized canes. He carves detailed intaglio and relief designs into the surfaces of his works and stains them in contrasting colors. Many of his creations also feature found objects: leather, mirror, coin, or jewel inlays. The final staff is fashioned with a handgrip and coated with polyurethane for a shiny finish. Philpot’s decorative staffs depict a style and spirit similar to African prototypes.
Born in Porto Castillo, Honduras on April 26, 1934, Derek Webster's family moved when he was only three years old to escape revolution. They settled in Belize, where Webster spent the majority of his childhood. As a young adult he worked on banana boats and tankers, eventually porting in the United States. While visiting his sister in Chicago in 1964, Webster found work as a janitor for a local hospital and permanently made his home on the west side. Usually labeled as self taught, he did not begin his artistic career until his mid-40s. When Webster purchased a new home in 1979, he was inspired to decorate his yard with what he called, "colorful sculptures." Webster is now regarded as an innovative folk artist whose found object sculptures have been displayed in several major exhibitions. Webster incorporates vibrant colors and themes from his Caribbean heritage into his work, often depicting carnival dancers and masqueraders. He used wood and discarded materials that he gathered from the alleys of Chicago. Webster completed about three hundred works before his death in 2009.
Congdon, Kristin G., and Kara Kelley Hallmark. 2012. American folk art: a regional reference. Santa Barbara, Calif: ABC-CLIO.
King-Hammond, Leslie. 1995. Gumbo ya ya: anthology of contemporary African-American women artists. New York: Midmarch Arts Press.
Laffal, Florence, and Julius Laffal. 2003. American self-taught art: an illustrated analysis of 20th century artists and trends with 1,319 capsule biographies. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Co.
Patterson, Tom, David Philpot, Mr. Imagination, and Kevin Orth. 1994. Reclamation and transformation: three self-taught Chicago artists : David Philpot, Mr. Imagination, Kevin Orth. Chicago: Terra Museum of American Art.
Patterson, Tom. 1993. Ashe: improvisation & recycling in African-American visionary art : Diggs Gallery at WSSU, February 2-March 29, 1993. Winston-Salem, NC: Diggs Gallery at Winston-Salem State University.
Perry, Regenia, and Maude Wahlman. 1990. Spirit work: religion in African-American folk art. Dallas, Tex: MAALC.
Perry, Regenia. 1982. What it is: Black American folk art from the collection of Regenia Perry, October 6-27, 1982 : catalog. Richmond, Va: Anderson Gallery, Virginia Commonwealth University.
Perry, Regenia. 1989. "African art and African-American folk art: a stylistic and spiritual kinship". Black Art--Ancestral Legacy : the African Impulse in African-American Art. 35-52.
Perry, Regenia. 1989. Black art ancestral legacy the African impulse in African-American art. Dallas, Tex: Dallas Museum of Art. http://catalog.hathitrust.org/api/volumes/oclc/20491888.html.
Rosenak, Chuck, and Jan Rosenak. 1990. Museum of American Folk Art encyclopedia of twentieth-century American folk art and artists. New York: Abbeville Press.
Rosenak, Chuck, and Jan Rosenak. 1996. Contemporary American folk art: a collector's guide. New York: Abbeville Press.
Sellen, Betty-Carol, and Cynthia J. Johanson. 1993. 20th century American folk, self taught, and outsider art. New York: Neal-Schuman.
Wicks, Stephen C., Bessie Harvey, Judith E. Stein, and Robert S. Cogswell. 1997.Awakening the spirits: art by Bessie Harvey : an exhibition organized by the Knoxville Museum of Art, in collaboration with Austin-East High School : Knoxville, Tennessee, April 4-July 27, 1997. Knoxville, Tenn: The Museum.
Yelen, Alice Rae. 1993. Passionate visions of the American South: self-taught artists from 1940 to the present. [New Orleans]: New Orleans Museum of Art.
Chuck and Jan Rosenak research material, circa 1987-1998. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
African American artists
Animals in art
Arts and the poor
Birds in art
Collectors and Collecting
Color in art
Found objects (Art)
Human beings in art
Permanent Collection, Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum