Willem Volkersz first saw slides of Simon Rodia’s folk art icon, Watts Towers, while he was an art student in Seattle, Washington. Watts Towers in Los Angeles is a group of structures as high as 99 feet made from scrap metal and concrete, with pottery shards and broken bottle fragments set into wet cement made by an Italian immigrant with a vision.
Volkersz quickly developed an interest in equally exciting folk art environments and made pilgrimage to several of these sites, including Samuel P. Dinsmoor’s Garden of Eden, Jesse Howard’s Signs and Wonders and Hans Jorgensen’s house decorated with farm tools. It was on a 1977 trip to Howard Finster’s Paradise Garden that he and his wife, Diane, made a commitment to collecting and documenting the work by artists variously called contemporary folk artists, outsider artists, grassroots artists, or self-taught artists.
Their collection now includes hundreds of pieces by American self-taught artists. The exhibition at the Fine Arts Center will have three areas of focus. First, it will represent a general survey of work in the collection with pieces by artists Howard Finster, Eddie O. Martin (aka St. EOM), Nellie Mae Rowe, and more. The exhibition will also include in-depth looks at the work of three artists featured prominently in the collection—Alva Gene Dexhimer, Robert E. Smith, and Mark Negus.