Sunday, August 12, 2012



By Doc Lawrence

ATLANTA-“Always remember,” the frail old man with twinkling indigo eyes told me, “that God loves you and will never abandon you no matter what.” Anyone else who said that to me while I was reading a newspaper in a storage room next to a loading dock would have been met with a little skepticism. But this was the Reverend Howard Finster, the world’s most famous folk artist, who told everyone he was a man of God, adding that he was “not of this world.” The encounter was at Folk Fest many years ago, and each year as I return for stories and to buy some art, I remember those words from the man who became a friend.

The 20,000 or so people flocking to this year’s edition of Folk Fest, the world’s largest folk art exhibition, won’t see Finster, who died in 2001, but many of his amazing works are here along with collectibles by Ab the Flagman, Missionary Mary Proctor, Lorenzo Scott, Eric Legee and a few hundred more self-taught painters, sculptors, potters and wood carvers.

There is no family-friendly event anywhere that remotely approaches the excellence of this three-day art celebration just outside Atlanta. Good-will permeates everything. Laughter dominates. You see a painting that foretells Armageddon juxtaposed with a flying alligator made of tin, or a scene depicting a creek baptism. The artists and galleries embody multiculturalism at its best. Different people from vastly different places and backgrounds show off their works to total strangers. A painting of a sunrise over a rural church brightens the wall of a gloomy office. A painted face jug becomes a conversation piece in a faraway kitchen.

"For a long time this art has been kept out of the mainstream art community," says Folk Fest Show co-founder, Steve Slotin. "Self-taught art is the most important visual culture America has ever produced. Because many of the world’s most important folk artists are from the South, and the phenomenal success of Folk Fest, Atlanta is now recognized as the hub of folk art.”

Folk Fest’s acclaimed success has propelled the annual exhibition to a higher level ordinarily reserved for museums. As Steve Slotin has said, self-taught artists do not seek out the art world, the art world “passionately seeks them out.” Folk art comes from untrained people like Rev. Howard Finster who draw on their culture and experiences in an isolated world; and is made with a true, untutored, creative passion.

Like most of the authentic South, folk art’s existence is threatened by urbanization and homogenizing popular culture.  Folk Fest celebrates these artists and their works by showcasing unbridled creativity and majestic vision that may soon disappear.

For directions to Folk Fest:

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