Joseph Abrams, a long-since retired New York City garment worker who died in 1998, could often be found collecting spare change in front of the local supermarket adorned in his remarkable newspaper hats of birds and flying snakes.
Willie Eaglin, who says he spent a long time in grade two--till he was ten and left school--has been blind since his sixties (he's now in his 90s). His career as an artist started fifteen years or so ago at the Lighthouse for the Blind where he learned to make yarn dogs. His braided rag rugs--buttons, zippers, labels, and all--are, however, entirely his own creation.
Purvis Young, who sometimes says he learned how to paint from a guard in Raiford State Prison, still lives in the same inner-city, burnt-out, crime-ridden neighborhood. His work is shown internationally.
Ruby Williams was discovered because the signs to her vegetable stand called attention to something more than her vegetables.
PopThayer lives in Central Florida and has populated the side of a road with wonderous mechanical whirlygigs and windmills.
Mama Johnson is a small old church-lady whose house is cluttered with sculptures made of empty Clorox bottles, couch foam, and the Styrofoam packaging from supermarket produce and chickens. The Lord told her to!
Alyne Harris paints remarkable slave-ancestors, angels in heaven, and souls in church; lives in an old sharecropper's shack with her two children in Gainesville; and serves water and ice tea at the local Morrison's cafeteria. Her paintings are extraordinary.
Milton Schwartz won the 1996 First Prize for his collages in the National Art Exhibit of the Mentally Ill.
Also in that show was Eric Holmes, whose painting "Joy America" is the centerpiece of the American Visionary Art Museum's restaurant, the Joy America Cafe.
Mario Mesa is a Marielito whose work was featured on the poster for the 1998 National Art Exhibit of the Mentally Ill.
And Brian Dowdall, who
lives in Cocoa Beach, best known as the setting for I Dream of Jeannie and Ron
Jon's Surf Shop, paints animals with sand on old Publix supermarket brown paper bags.
Copyright © 1999 Jeffrey Knapp and Tamara Hendershot.