Inner Visions of Art; Museum Offers Unique Exhibitions

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), January 16, 2005 | Go to article overview

Inner Visions of Art; Museum Offers Unique Exhibitions


Byline: Gabriella Boston, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

A model ship made of 193,000 toothpicks, a family of robot sculptures made from scrapped gloves and appliances, and a four-story whirligig are just a few examples of the unique art showcased at Baltimore's American Visionary Art Museum.

"Our artists are all self-taught, which means the art is more intuitive and creative," says Marcia Semmes, director of public relations and development. "The art often has philosophical themes like 'love' or 'war and peace,' and sometimes it comes from life experiences unique to the artist," Ms. Semmes adds, completing the definition of what constitutes a visionary artist.

The museum is unique in its total devotion to works by visionary artists, she says. Visionary artists are different from folk artists in that their vision is personal, while folk artists derive some of their inspiration and style from local or family traditions, she says.

One of the museum's visionary artists is Gerald Hawkes, a matchstick artist and Baltimore native who found his calling as an artist after a brutal mugging. Mr. Hawkes says of his art: "Each matchstick represents a human being. My work shows the beauty and strength of what can happen when people work together." This text is posted next to his matchstick art, which includes a matchstick sculpture of a near-life-size man with a fiddle.

The adult themes and NC-17 life experiences so pervasive to visionary artists don't mean the art is unapproachable for children, museum officials say.

"This is a wonderful place for children. Most museums are like fortresses, but we have made a conscious decision to make this a playful wonderland," says Rebecca Hoffberger, the museum's founder and director. "The children can touch everything, and we never talk down to children. The guards never shush them."

Favored pieces among children include an outdoor wooden wedding chapel, in which children can play, and the four-story whirligig, Ms. Semmes says.

In the past, Ms. Semmes says, some temporary exhibits haven't been very child-friendly, such as last year's "High on Life: Transcending Addiction." However, the current one, "Holy H2O: Fluid Universe," explores the practical, playful, mythical and sacred roles of water and fascinates all ages, she says.

"This exhibit aims to restore our reverence for water - it's to get people to think about water - to take care of it," she says.

"Holy H20" includes sparkly, colorful, sequined sacred flags of Haiti; fish sculptures made solely of bottle caps; and Paul Edlin's mosaiclike pictures with water themes made out of hundreds (maybe thousands) of tiny, cut-up postage stamps.

"Holy H2O" is on the second floor. The permanent exhibit, which includes the toothpick ship and the family of robots, is on the first floor.

The exhibit also has an interactive component. …

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