No curmudgeons need darken the door of the Craft and Folk Art Museum in Los Angeles on Wednesday, when "The Joyful Vision" opens--unless they're prepared to be charmed. This holiday exhibition promises to serve up a bounty of good cheer in its display of works by idiosyncratic and unsophisticated artists.
Florence N. Franklin, a show sponsor, puts it this way: "If you can picture a grandparent holding the hand of a well-scrubbed, overdressed child, the two of them equally round-eyed and happy, you understand my philosophical approach to this exhibition. It's very simple. We wanted to do a bang-up job for Christmas."
To that end, the museum enlisted the services of guest curator John Fowler and a full-time volunteer assistant, Edwin G. Broffman. Scouring Los Angeles for artworks infused with "joyful vision," they rounded up folk artist Joseph Cholagian's towering assemblages in addition to immaculate miniature rooms by interior designer Jane Newmark. Ludy Strauss loaned her cache of American and Canadian hooked rugs that sport fanciful depictions of animals. Bettyrae and Samuel Eisenstein agreed to share their marvelous toy collection.
When Fowler visited Marlene Zimmerman's houseful of naive paintings, he found a self-taught artist who says, "I try to filter out the troubles of the world and show all the positive things." Patchwork country scenes, family portraits, a view of her son's classroom and an interpretation of an old-fashioned quilting bee are among Zimmerman's paintings in the show.
So far, so joyful, but that only accounts for the core of the exhibition. A search for edible art yielded examples of exotic, sculptural Mexican breads and also of the fancy Scandinavian and German baking practiced in Southern California. Joseph Gatto's students from Los Angeles High School of Fine and Performing Arts have promised to produce an imaginative diorama of a California-style Christmas for the museum windows. UCLA's Museum of Cultural History and the Colors of the Wind kite shop lent kites to fill the museum's upper spaces. (The museum also lent the Mexican breads.)
Meanwhile, Janet Marcus, the museum's education curator, has applied her talents to a program of lectures, films, workshops and gallery productions, including a "Hands-on Wall" that is full of opportunities to pull strings, push buttons, move shapes and otherwise be creative without getting one's hands dirty.
In Fowler's mind, a display of Seymour Rosen's photographs of villages and other environments built by folk artists "ties the whole thing together" by proving that "art and good feelings are where you find them." Rosen began taking pictures of unrecognized art forms 30 years ago because he found them astonishing. Now, he spends most of his time working to preserve folk artists' unorthodox creations and to promote public interest in them.
As the exhibition approached its unveiling, Franklin recalled that "The Joyful Vision" was inspired by another exhilarating event--the 1984 Summer Olympics. Finding summer 1985 comparatively dreary, she thought that it was time for a spirited holiday season: "This is our version of handing out sugarplums to Los Angeles."