Monday, August 19, 2013



 Just like a blind man I wandered alone
Worries and fears I claimed for my own
Then like the blind man that God gave back his sight
Praise the Lord I saw the light.
                                                   Hank Williams

By Doc Lawrence   

ATLANTA-I met Rita Wood at the end of a rousing rendition of the Hank Williams song, “I Saw the Light,” by a talented blues singer. She was taking a break from greeting potential buyers at her family’s exhibition at Folk Fest, the largest folk art show in the country, held for the past 20 years just outside Atlanta. “I play fiddle,” Rita told me, “and my husband’s quite an artist.”

I walked over to the Dawg’s Art booth, one of about 100 at the three-day show, and met James “Dawg” Wood who introduced me to his art and told me his story. The revelations were similar to those self-taught artisans I know and have been writing about for many years. The common threads tend to be home, land, family, community and humor. Dawg’s works, displayed for the crowds packed into the exhibition hall, told a visual story about life and heritage in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, supplemented by Rita’s revelations about weekly jams at the Phipps Country Store.

Do they dance? “It’s flat-foot,” replied Dawg who demonstrated the ancient steps, confirming that I had seen this performed a few years back in Galax, Virginia.

Dawg has enjoyed some success that eludes many folk artists, having won the admiration of Atlanta-headquartered Coca-Cola Company with one of his paintings that had an image of an old Coke machine, a bit of nostalgia that turned into a profit and some notoriety for the resident of Lansing, North Carolina.

Folk Fest draws visitors from museum curators and art collectors to people who love the color and authenticity of what I call Americana. Officials from the Smithsonian, the American Museum of Folk Art, colleges and universities hobnob with folks who search for that painting or wood carving to brighten up a dull room. The rich and famous stand beside children from rural areas; housewives take a weekend off to look for a hand-crated ceramic angel to put on a mantel. Art and democracy blend seamlessly.

After taking some photos, I said goodbye to everyone, promising to visit Lansing and Ashe County soon. “David Holt is a friend,” Rita said, “and he’s stayed with us at our home.” Holt, a Grammy Award winner and the longtime host of Public Radio’s “Riverwalk Jazz” is a man I admire and knew someday I would indeed make the trip north, driving on roads near the course of the New River in time for a jam at the Phipps Country Store.

Missionary Mary Proctor lives in Tallahassee and has connections with a higher power that few enjoy. Tragedy like the loss of her son never deterred her deep beliefs and contagious optimism. Life goes on, there’s a better world waiting and look on the sunnyside are prevalent themes. I have her works on my walls at home and a favorite shows a woman dancing, holding some daffodils, inscribed with: “Blessed are the hands that giveth flowers.”

No artist does Biblical scenes like the great Lorenzo Scott, a master whose works are in museums from Atlanta’s High Museum of Art to the Smithsonian. Eric Legee still paints on found wood in his Blue Ridge mountain home in rural Rabun County, Georgia, and his themes range from the Dalai Lama to blues legend Robert Johnson. Braselton, Georgia’s Chris Hobe produces what he calls ”revolt art,” a populist expression of current events. When you see it, stops you in your tracks. Precise, detailed and provocative, it’s subject to multiple interpretations like many works by classic artists.

The year is nearing the end of the third season and late summer is a perfect time for Folk Fest: Heat and humidity, endless rain, old friends, the joy of being in the same room and breathing the same air with children, old men, couples holding hands and unconsciously doing some toe-tapping to live music is the perfect backdrop for this edition of Folk Fest.

As Missionary Mary Proctor says, “to be happier, you have to be in heaven.”

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