Magic markers, tree stumps, gnawed-on fence boards; items such as these don't necessarily give off an artistic vibe to most people. Dr. Connie Sullivan-Blum thinks they should.
Blum, the folk arts coordinator for The Arts Council of the Southern Finger Lakes, spent Friday morning preparing a space at 171 Cedar Arts Center's Houghton Gallery for her upcoming exhibit, "Salvaged: Outsider Art in the Southern Tier."
In collaboration with Lynn Dates, executive director of 171 Cedar Arts Center, Sullivan-Blum has acquired art works from virtually unknown, untrained local artists for the exhibit.
"They created this artwork that was a lot of times abandoned or on salvaged material," she said. "These people were self-taught. Some of them had mental illness, some of them were alcoholics, all of them were rural and poor."
One such artist is Amos Oakden. Born Milton Oakden in 1936, the Addison native lived in a one-room schoolhouse for his entire life. His artwork was found in the small shack three years after his death in 2006.
"He would take pieces of scrap metal and he would outline what he wanted to draw or paint and then make these little holes and fill it in with magic marker," Sullivan-Blum said. "That's part of what makes it outsider art is that he's using unconventional materials."
Once Sullivan-Blum heard Oakden's story in 2009, she began finding out about other outsider artists - one of whom even knew Oakden personally.
Tom "Holy Moses" Kerr, his nickname a reference to Grandma Moses who also began painting late in life, was born in 1949 and grew up in Canisteo. Now a Hornell resident, Kerr works primarily with tempera paint on scrap items such as old boxes and sticks.
"He just picks up scrap things that he finds and paints on them," Sullivan-Blum said.
Kerr has done a series depicting an early 19th century street scene in Bath, she said. Replicated on various materials, Kerr's representation reflects historical references, nostalgia and commentary on modern life.
Other artists with works displayed in the exhibit include Kevin "Kev" Card of Millerton, Pa., and the late Bob Smith of Syracuse.
Murals painted by Martha Robertshaw will also be on display for the exhibit.
Robertson, was born in Shinglehouse, Pa., in 1898, and eventually ended up in Fisherville near the Arnot Mall, where she lived until her death in 1989.
Known for her elaborate murals, Robertshaw depicted rural landscapes on the walls inside her home.
"She literally just painted on everything," Sullivan-Blum said.
The murals, which are now on display at the Big Flats Community Center, were a sort of comfort to her ill husband once he could no longer leave their home.
"She did it because her husband got sick from poison gas exposure during World War I," Blum said. "He couldn't leave the house at all, so she wanted to bring the outside in and painted the murals everywhere."
Page 2 of 2 - Sullivan-Blum says her exhibit begs the question, "What makes something art?" and attempts to answer it through the works of the featured artists.
"It's exciting because people know these people and they care about them," Blum said. "They're just regular folks, so it has a different feeling than when an artist who's recognized by the art community puts on a show."
"Salvaged: Outsider Art in the Southern Tier" opens Jan. 13 and runs through Mar. 21 at 171 Cedar's Houghton Gallery.
There are three programs in conjunction with the exhibit: An opening reception from 5-7 p.m. Jan. 17; the "What is Outsider Art and Why Should We Care?" panel with artist and collector Tedd Arnold and documentarian David Seehausen from 7-9 p.m. Feb. 13; and "Picking and Scrapping: The Art of Getting By" with Sullivan-Blum from 7-9 p.m. Mar. 13.