Encyclopedia of American Folk Art

By Gerard C.Wertkin; Lee Kogan | Go to book overview
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ODD FELLOWS:

SEE INDEPENDENT ORDER OF ODD FELLOWS.


O'KELLEY, MATTIE LOU (1908-1997)

was a memory painter born into a farming family in rural Banks County, Georgia. She spent the first seven decades of her life there. When her father died in 1930, she stayed on to care for her mother long after her siblings left home to raise families of their own. After her mother died in 1955, she continued to support herself, as she had throughout her adult life, working as a housekeeper and in a school cafeteria.

In the 1960s, looking for a more agreeable means of earning an income, O'Kelley began to paint. Shortly thereafter, she began offering her paintings for sale at local art shows in Maysville (in Banks County). In 1975, seeking a wider audience for her art, she went to Atlanta and showed some of her paintings to Gudmund Vigtel, then director of The High Museum of Art. He arranged for her to sell her work through the museum gift shop, and introduced her to a dealer who began representing her work.

Robert Bishop saw her paintings on a visit to Atlanta in the late 1970s. When he became director of New York's American Folk Art Museum, he championed her work. Within a few years of her retirement in 1968 (from her last job, in a Maysville mop yarn plant), O'Kelley was earning a livable wage through sales of her paintings.

O'Kelley primarily painted scenes she recalled from her childhood, youth, and early adulthood on and around the farm where she grew up-images that place her work firmly in the memory painting genre. Painting at a time when small farms were noticeably struggling and declining in number, O'Kelley vividly expressed her nostalgic feelings for the rural, agrarian lifestyle she knew. Her landscapes are highly stylized, and make liberal use of pointillist brushstrokes, in which she uses small dots of paint that form shapes and tones of color when viewed from a distance. The trees in her paintings are so uniformly shaped that they appear to have been created by a topiary artist. O'Kelley's paintings are idyllic panoramas that convey a sense of the family farm as a self-sufficient utopia, a place suffused with peace and contentment.

In 1977, O'Kelley left Banks County and, over the next three years, lived in New York City and Palm Beach, Florida, before settling in Decatur, Georgia, where she spent the rest of her life.

See also American Folk Art Museum; Robert Bishop; High Museum of Art, The; Painting, American Folk; Painting, Memory.


BIBLIOGRAPHY
O'Kelley, Mattie Lou. From the Hills of Georgia: An Autobiography in Paintings. New York, 1983.
--. Mattie Lou O'Kelley: Folk Artist. Boston, 1989.
Sellen, Betty Carol, and Cynthia Johanson. Twentieth Century American Folk, Self Taught, and Outsider Art. New York, 1993.

TOM PATTERSON


OLD STONECUTTER, THE

(also known as the Charlestown Carver or the Stonecutter of Boston) is believed to be responsible for a remarkable group of Boston-area gravestones bearing dates between 1653 and the late 1680s. The paired headstones and foot-stones of fine-grained local slate that this anonymous craftsman carved display distinctive uppercase lettering, the frequent use of Latin phrases, and a variety of death-related iconography. No two stones are exactly alike. Several of this artist's more ambitious carvings are based on an allegorical scene found in Francis Quarles' Emblem Book (London, 1638). Most famous perhaps is the elaborate Joseph Tapping stone (1678, King's Chapel Burying Ground, Boston), which depicts the winged figure of Father Time with his hourglass and scythe hovering over the skeletal figure of Death, who holds a dart in his left hand while the

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