UNCLE Sam sports a business suit and the Statue of Liberty hugs a Bible in Anton Gallery's "Grass Roots Art." It is one of the most refreshing shows in months.
Contemporary folk art was of little interest to art dealers here--let alone to the collecting public--before the Corcoran's eye-opening exhibition of "Black Folk Art in America" last year. Since then, the vigor and originality of America's self-taught wood carvers, painters and draftsmen--both black and white--has captured the public eye and the market as well, with the result that work by 10 such artists has now turned up at Anton on Capitol Hill.
The show offers more art per buck than you're likely to find anywhere else in town, although among the artists is carver Edgar Tolson, whose "Kentucky Gothic"-style Biblical figures were included in a Whitney Museum Biennial, and subsequently became an exception to the reasonably priced rule.
Former Kentucky bus driver Earnest Patton was inspired by Tolson, and, like him, uses only an ax and a penknife to fashion his marvelous array of objects, though much larger, painted ones. The large group of his work ranges from a figure of Abe Lincoln to an amusing"Birthing Scene."
Carl McKenzie's turtles, chickens and owls--along with his aforementioned Bible-toting Statues of Liberty--are rougher hewn, but lose no charm thereby.
Visionary Howard Finster makes what are perhaps the oddest objects in the show--boxed, layered images, usually with a revivalist orientation. "Jesus Can Make It Without You, But You Can't Make It Without Jesus" is a boxed piece made from Plexiglas, beads, chains and lots of words, all of them with a gospel message. Like the fashionable Jonathan Borofsky, Finster compulsively numbers his works, and one enamel painting on wood, titled "Daniel Boone and Wolf Dogs" tells all in the inscription: "Vision of Danial sic Boone . . . By Howard Finster Worlds Minister of Folk Art Church, Inc., Man of Visions: 2000 + 604 paintings since 1976."
The two black artists in the show were in the Corcoran exhibition, where the powerfully expressive painter Sam Doyle made his debut at age 76. Included here are raw, vigorously brushed images of ballplayers, entertainers and faith-healers, all painted on sheets of old tin roofing picked up near Doyle's home on St. Helena Island, S.C.
Inez Nathaniel-Walker, 72, is represented by the flat, highly patterned crayon-and-colored pencil drawings of female heads and figures for which she has attained some renown since she took up art while an inmate of the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility in New York in the early '70s. These rare drawings were made before she dropped out of sight a few years ago.
The show will continue through May 25 at 415 East Capitol St. SE (a few blocks from the Folger Shakespeare Library) and hours are noon to 5, Tuesdays through Sundays. The Tomlinson Collection
Last winter, the Tomlinson Collection opened just two doors from Anton, at 411 East Capitol St. SE, making it a doubly interesting stop, especially for print-lovers. The current show is atypical: paintings and watercolors by realists Susan Abbott and Christina Lego, who have made small but strong renderings of the Baltimore waterfront, and Gary Goldberg, who focuses on the green landscape. Also continuously on view are teapots by Japanese potter Ami Hirata.
But the real interest here is in prints--not necessarily the rare and precious sort, but also images people can afford.
There are works from $40 to $500 names like Hogarth, Rodin, Beardsley and Archipenko. Many are from late-19th-century European journals that regularly included original prints, such as Gazette des Beaux-Arts and Studio.
Hours are noon to 5, Wednesdays through Sundays. The current show continues through May 27. The prints are always available.