Grassroots Art in the Midwest
Sales Date: December 9, 1998
160 Pages, 7.75 x 11.00 in
- Published: December 1998
On the front page of the New York Times Book Review, artist Red Grooms once exclaimed that grassroots artists “are so interesting I can scarcely keep them out of my dreams—visionaries who turned their visions into art on a grand scale even though they had no training in art.” In this lavishly illustrated volume, the authors illuminate and celebrate these “backyard visionaries” and the remarkable works they’ve created in the Midwest.
Grassroots art (sometimes referred to as “outsider art”) has been variously described as “eccentric,” “unschooled,” “self-taught,” “primitive,” and “raw.” Such art is characterized by the use of common, unconventional, or castoff materials; hodge-podge styles; ambitious scale; whimsical expression; and a creative impulse concerned more with the artist's own pleasure than with the critical reception of the work itself.
The authors here focus on examples of grassroots art environments—which include sculptures, paintings, and assemblages—in Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri, and Oklahoma. They reveal the special character and unexpected delights of works like Samuel P. Dinsmoor’s world-famous “Garden of Eden”; Claude Melton’s quirky “Nativity Rock Museum”; Ed Galloway’s fabulous six-story “Totem Pole” honoring Native Americans; and Dave Woods’s idiosyncratic creations refashioned from “junk that most people would haul to the dump.”
Written by members of the Kansas Grassroots Art Association—the oldest organization in the country dedicated to preserving such sites—Backyard Visionaries describes the authors’ personal experiences of the artists and their work as well as the artists’ cultural contexts and influences. More than 150 photographs—many in color—capture their unusual creations, and a chapter on preservation tells how we can help maintain them. All in all, this is a fascinating tribute to a group of artists that we are only just beginning to understand and appreciate.
"Books that are useful, that show visually where the “stuff” was created, as this on does, and incorporate telling quotes from knowledgeable sources to connect with the work, are valuable resources for the casual reader as well as museum personnel. Backyard Visionaries is clearly one of those."—Great Plains Quarterly
"Brackman and Dwigan’s attempt to define grassroots art is helpful, but their effort to place this art in a social context is even more gratifying."—Annals of Iowa
"Those who are already entranced with this art form will delight in this well-researched—and amply illustrated—approach to the subject; newcomers should be warned that browsing is likely to lead to serious addiction."—The Bloomsbury Review
"A joy to read from start to finish. Backyard Visionaries introduces us to the unsung ‘makers’—for they rarely considered themselves artists—who have built exceptional environments throughout the Midwest. At first we may regard them as fascinating curiosities, or what one author calls the ‘noble savages of the art world,’ working with unrestricted freedom outside the boundaries of artistic and social convention. But the authors reach for a deeper understanding and open our minds to the endlessly intriguing questions these ‘makers’ inspire."—Elizabeth Broun, Director, National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution
Foreword by Elizabeth Broun
1. Aesthetics and Grassroots Art; A Folklorist’s Perspective, Carl Magnuson
2. Ed Root and Dave Woods: Grassroots Artists, Defined or Not, Gregg Blasdel
3. Remember the Grotto: Individual and Community, Barbara Brackman
4. The Garden of Eden, John Hachmeister
5. In Imitation of Nature: Father P. M. Dobberstein’s Grottoes in Iowa and Wisconsin, Lisa Stone, Jim Zanzi, and Earl Iverson
6. Claude Melton’s Nativity Rock Museum (The Grotto), Jim McCrary and Jon Blumb
7. The Healing Machines, Dan Dryden and Don Christensen
8. Ed Galloway’s Totem Pole: A Case Study in Restoration, Carl Magnuson
9. Survival of Grassroots-Art Environments, Cathy Dwigans and Ray Wilber