Encyclopedia of American Folk Art

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

SPARROW, SIMON (1925-2000)

is best-known for his large assemblage works made primarily of recycled costume jewelry and glitter. He also did pastel drawings on paper.

Sparrow was born in North Carolina, where members of his family were sharecroppers. He moved north as a teenager, first to Philadelphia and then to New York, where he lived from 1943 to sometime in the late 1960s. He worked as a house painter there, and later in Wisconsin.

Having drawn since childhood, Sparrow turned to his mixed media masterpieces after he moved from New York City to Madison, Wisconsin. These assemblages were made of glitter, shells, marbles, buttons, Christmas ornaments, beads, jewelry, and other brica-brac; he used them as visual aids when he preached on the streets of Madison. Sparrow was entirely self-taught, but he was able to incorporate figures into his compositions very subtly: typically frontal, flat, and nearly abstract in form, the human or animal presence would seem to float in the artist's colorful, glittering surface. Sparrow also incorporated the frame into the composition; it too was often covered in found material and thus blended in with the overall encrusted surface.

Cubbs, Joanne. Religious Visionaries. Sheboygan, Wisconsin, 1991.
Kogan, Lee. "Simon Sparrow, 1914-2000." Folk Art, vol. 26, no. 1 (spring 2001): 67.
Leach, Mark Richard. Structure and Surface: Beads in Contemporary American Art. Sheboygan, Wisc., 1990.



made some 500 paintings to "put those treasured images on canvas." Her work, which includes family portraits, idealizes rural life in the old Ozarks-cotton picking, camp meetings, country fairs, school days, squirrel hunts, family prayer, Christmas eve. Quilting Bee is filled with patterns and colors in the floor and window coverings, wallpaper, lace doilies, and antimacassars that enhance the vitality of the central quilt, where fourteen women are at work. Spelce's father is in a corner; her Aunt Lucy and two singers are at the piano.

Spelce was the eldest child of Florence and Hilary Arter Bennett; she lived in Dyer, Arkansas, until she entered nurses' training. She worked as a nurse for forty years and was on Michael DeBakey's team in Houston, Texas, in the early days of open heart surgery (1955-1959). She began painting as a hobby. In 1966, she enrolled in an art course at the Laguna Gloria Art Musem in Austin, Texas. After one session, the instructor, Owen Cappleman, concluded that tutelage might interfere with Spelce's artistic expression and advised her to paint on her own.

Spelce worked in oils on canvas, using small brushes for intricate detail. Her hallmarks are bright color, patterning, flattened perspective, generalized lighting, and compositional balance. In 1972, Spelce had a solo exhibition at the Laguna Gloria Art Gallery.

Adele, Lynne. "Fannie Lou Spelce 1908-1998." Folk Art (fall 1998), 35.
Kennedy Galleries, Fannie Lou Spelce (1972). New York.
Johnson, Jay, and William C. Ketchum. American Folk Art of the Twentieth Century. New York, 1983.
Parvin, Bob. "Painted Memories." Texas Highways (December 1977): 18-23 and cover.
Pirtle, Caleb. "Keep on Painting until the Memories Run Out." Southern Living (September 1976): 64-69.

See also Painting, American Folk; Painting, Memory.


SPELLER, HENRY (1900-1997)

created drawings that visualized the pain and the longing conveyed in his beloved Delta blues music. Born in the settlement of Panther Burn, near Rolling Fork in central Mississippi, and raised by his maternal grandmother, Speller dropped out of school at the age of twelve and helped support her when, after an altercation with a white employer, her husband was forced to flee the region. Speller grew up working on Delta farms and the levees of the Mississippi River, where he often drew pictures during lunch breaks. He left Mississippi for Memphis, Tennessee in 1939. There he worked in a succession of odd jobs as a junkman, a landscaper, a garbage collector, and a janitor, and lived within a few blocks of Beale Street, Memphis's musical hub. Speller was an accomplished blues musician who played with such American legends as Howlin' Wolf and Muddy Waters. According to his son William, Speller turned down offers to leave Memphis and play in professional bands. In the early 1960s he met Georgia Verges, who also loved to sing and to make pictures, and who became his third wife. They lived together in Memphis until her death in 1988. His art and health both declined within a few years of her death.

The imagery and insistent rhythms of the Delta blues flow through Speller's work, but his iconography also hints at the social, economic, and racial exclusions he observed throughout his life. His imagery was tethered to Memphis street life, as refracted


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Encyclopedia of American Folk Art
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • List of Entries vii
  • Introduction xxvii
  • A 1
  • B 35
  • Bibliography 75
  • C 79
  • Bibliography 107
  • Bibliography 111
  • D 113
  • Bibliography 144
  • E 145
  • Bibliography 153
  • F 161
  • Bibliography 166
  • Bibliography 171
  • G 189
  • Bibliography 203
  • Bibliography 210
  • H 217
  • Bibliography 225
  • Bibliography 235
  • I 247
  • Bibliography 249
  • J 251
  • K 269
  • Bibliography 273
  • L 279
  • M 293
  • Bibliography 309
  • Bibliography 311
  • N 337
  • O 349
  • P 355
  • Bibliography 388
  • Q 411
  • R 421
  • Bibliography 433
  • S 447
  • Bibliography 450
  • Bibliography 472
  • Bibliography 484
  • Bibliography 490
  • Bibliography 494
  • Bibliography 496
  • T 509
  • U 527
  • V 529
  • W 539
  • Bibliography 540
  • Bibliography 546
  • Bibliography 556
  • Y 561
  • Index 569


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