The Temptation: Edgar Tolson and the Genesis of Twentieth-Century Folk Art


Why, beginning in the late 1960s, did expressive objects made by poor people come to be regarded as "twentieth-century folk art", increasingly sought after by the middle class and the wealthy? Julia Ardery explores that question through the life story of Kentucky woodcarver Edgar Tolson (1904-1984) and the evolving public reception of his poplar "dolls". The Temptation presents a vivid and intriguing chronicle of folk art's ascendancy during the sixties, seventies, and eighties, enlivened by the voices and opinions of diverse participants in the folk art scene. Ardery draws on original in-depth interviews with, among others, folklorist Alan Jabbour; folk art collectors Herbert W. Hemphill Jr., Michael and Julie Hall, and Chuck and Jan Rosenak; painter Roger Brown; Nancy Druckman of Sotheby's Auction House; folk art dealers John Ollman, Carl Hammer, and Larry Hackley; and members of Tolson's family. This range of informants presents a full and profound record of the conflicts and aspirations that built the folk art field and fueled a twenty-year tug-of-war over its definition, pricing, and interpretation.