Skip to main content

Independent Vision: Self-taught Artists from Appalachia

Independent VisionApril 15 - December 19, 2016


“Independent Vision: Self-Taught Artists from Appalachia”
featured approximately 100 pieces of art from the Ramona Love Lampell and Millard Lampell Collection.

The artists included sculptors, painters, wood carvers and basket makers who have drawn upon their life experiences, knowledge of the natural environment, and readily available materials, such as wood, clay, stone, house paint and found objects, to create their art.

“Without formal training, but with a strong aesthetic sensibility and a desire to express themselves creatively, self-taught artists often work in relative obscurity,” said Art Museum Director Joyce Ice. “Their work conveys a perspective rooted in a sense of place, a sure hand and a confident expression of specific values and perceptions, not constrained by rigid boundaries of art pedagogy or criticism.

“Ramona Lampell, who was born and raised in West Virginia, wants her collection to stay in her home state and to be available, especially as an educational resource. We are grateful to be able to share some selections from this collection and to have such an important collection eventually come to the Art Museum of WVU.”

Ramona Lampell visited the artists in their homes, on their farms and in their workshops, and became friends with them. She championed their work and helped to organize many exhibitions by the artists, the most notable of which was a traveling exhibition and book titled “O, Appalachia! Artists of the Southern Mountains” (Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1989).

A documentary film completed in 2015 and featuring some of the artists in the collection airs occasionally on West Virginia Public Television. Titled “O, Appalachia: Art and Lives of Self-taught Artists” and directed by Emmy Award-winning producer Jim Brown, this valuable record features six of the artists—five of whom are no longer living—and captures the essence of these remarkable people, their impact and their lasting legacy.

Millard Lampell died in 1997, but Ramona, who now lives in Linden, Virginia, remains passionate about this art today and about sharing it with the people of West Virginia and region. She attended the opening of the exhibition and reception.

Approximately 25 self-taught artists were part of the exhibition. Some of them include:

S.L. Jones (1901-1997), a wood carver from Hinton, West Virginia, was former C&O Railroad worker, who took up woodcarving to fill his days after he retired and his wife died. He carved figures out of all kinds of wood found in the Appalachian forests.

Cher Shaffer (b. 1947) grew up in Georgia and later lived in West Virginia before moving to North Carolina. A painter, wood carver and stone sculptor, her art is deeply personal and springs from the joys and terrors of her Georgia childhood.

Rev. Herman Hayes (1923-2012) of Hurricane, West Virginia, was a Methodist minister who created unique figures carved out of mahogany, bass wood, willow, walnut, buckeye, ash and pine. Most of his pieces have something about them that evoke a smile.

Rev. Benjamin Franklin Perkins (1904-1993), a minister from rural Alabama, created paintings in blazing colors. Recurring motifs were his church with its clock tower, the Stars and Stripes, and the Statue of Liberty. He also painted gourds with religious messages.

James Harold Jennings (1930-1999) of Pinnacle, North Carolina, lived in a school bus on his family’s land and transformed scraps of wood into windmills, whirligigs, human figures, birds and beasts, all spinning in the wind and painted bright blue, daffodil yellow, and vivid green.

Minnie Adkins (b. 1934) of Peaceful Valley, Kentucky, carves animals out of wood and paints them bright colors. Her creatures include savage-toothed bears, elegant horses, a mother possum and her cubs, foxes, and a sow with piglets. Adkins will visit the Art Museum of WVU in July to give demonstrations of her work.

Oscar Spenser (1908-1993), of Virginia, was a former coal miner who began studying snakes and scouring the slopes of the Blue Ridge Mountains looking for branches that he could transform into life-size snakes. He carved every kind of snake found in the Appalachians.

Charlie Lucas (b. 1951) of Pink Lily, Alabama, creates sculptures out of scrap metal and old car parts. His subjects include fantasies, animals, women and men. The son of an auto mechanic and the grandson of a blacksmith, he uses a welding torch to create most of his works.

Charley Kinney (1906-1991) of Big Salt Lick, Kentucky, was a musician and a painter who also made life-size puppets to dance to his fiddle music. His paintings radiate a fierce glee, with subjects that include bear hunts, skeletons, and his terrifying childhood memories of “hants.”

“Independent Vision: Self-Taught Artists from Appalachia” is organized by Art Museum of WVU Curator Robert Bridges. The exhibition has been made possible in part with funding from the Friends of the Art Museum of WVU.

The Art Museum and Museum Education Center are located near the corner of Patteson Drive and Morrill Way at the Evansdale Campus North Entrance.