Encyclopedia of American Folk Art

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

Y

YARD SHOW

denotes one of the oldest and most dynamic visual traditions in black America, especially the South. The process of "working in the yard" or "dressing the yard" to create outdoor displays appears throughout black neighborhoods across the United States (and perhaps the rest of the black diaspora). Thousands of black homes are decorated with a seemingly unlimited assortment of materials: bottles, tires, secondhand housewares, real and artificial flowers, reflective objects, tools, garments, automobile parts, special plantings, wires and ropes, seats, stones and roots, as well as occasional hand-lettered signs. These yards have been the original display contexts for numerous surviving artworks, and have existed in some form since the nineteenth century. Many African-American vernacular artists-Nellie Mae Rowe, Lonnie Holley, David Butler, Charlie Lucas, Joe Light, Royal Robertson, Dilmus Hall, Mary Smith, Hawkins Bolden, Cleveland Turner, and Sam Doyle, among others-were recognized initially for their yard art environments.

The yard show's origins lie partly in the "make-do," improvisational, creative stance of a historically disenfranchised people, and partly in religious and metaphysical traditions traceable to African and Native American antecedents that also survive in other areas of African American culture. While yards decorated with found materials and artworks may be common to all the world's peoples, and especially prevalent among the marginalized, the "yard show" refers to a specific set of methods for treating ("dressing") the yard and home. The term "yard show" emerged from ideas proposed in the 1980s by African art historian Robert Farris Thompson and was codified by him in his 1993 book and exhibition Face of the Gods: Art and Altars of Africa and the African Americas, which posited the black yard as a displaced, personalized religious site or shrine whose terms inform much of the creative activities of black people in the diaspora.

The yards assume a wide range of forms, from spare arrangements of planters and rock formations to dense clusters of found objects interwoven among buildings and natural features such as trees. The uses of yard shows are equally diverse, from practical gardens and spaces designed for outside living in warm climates, to complex autobiographical statements about the maker's identity, in which materials assume symbolic meanings and relationships. In every event, yard shows become points of literal and figurative contact between the private and public spaces of a community, performing commemorative, honorific, spiritual, narrative, hortatory, and sometimes transgressive functions as a cultural discourse that evades neat pigeonholing as art, religion, landscape design, archive, or simply expedient storage.

See also Hawkins Bolden; David Butler; Sam Doyle; Environments, Folk; Dilmus Hall; Lonnie Holley; Joe Light; Charlie Lucas; Nellie Mae Rowe; Mary Smith.


BIBLIOGRAPHY
Arnett, William, and Paul Arnett, eds. Souls Grown Deep: African American Vernacular Art of the South, vol. 2. Atlanta, Ga., 2001.
Gundaker, Grey, ed. Keep Your Head to the Sky: Interpreting African American Home Ground. Charlottesville, Va., 1998.
Thompson, Robert Farris. Face of the Gods: Art and Altars of Africa and the African Americas. New York, 1993.

PAUL ARNETT


YOAKUM, JOSEPH (1890-1972)

produced some 2,000 landscapes in colored pencil, graphite, pastel, chalk, watercolor, ink, ballpoint pen, and fiber-tip pen on paper. These stylized landscapes have captions identifying the place: his home town is shown in the sketch This Is the Flooding of the Sock River through the Town of Ash Grove Missouri on July

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