Whimsical, self-taught art

A leaping frog and flowers in a tea cup are among the 41 works of American folk art on display at Lynchburg College’s Daura Gallery through March 4, 2011.

Yearning to Breathe Free: Contemporary Self-Taught Art from the Collection of Baron & Ellin Gordon examines both the art – spiritual, whimsical, and raw – and the collectors themselves, whose passion and vision have resulted in a world-class collection. The exhibition was featured recently in The News & Advance.


Ellin Gordon will give a talk on “Reflections on Collecting Contemporary Folk Art in America” at 2 p.m. Feb. 6 in the Daura Gallery.

Contemporary American folk art, whether called outsider, naïve, visionary, intuitive, or self-taught, are labels characterizing the work of artists who generally have little or no contact with the mainstream art world or art institutions. These unique works of art depict extreme mental states, unconventional ideas, and elaborate fantasy or spiritual worlds.

Baron Gordon, a 1953 graduate of Lynchburg College, and his wife Ellin did not plan to build a collection of works by these artists when they first purchased art to furnish and decorate their home in New York. But through the years, contemporary folk art significantly dominated their acquisitions, resulting in the first major exhibition of their work, Flying Free, held at the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Center in Williamsburg, Virginia, in 1997.


To launch the exhibition opening, a lavishly decorated hearse, created by New Orleans artist Kelly Israel, was parked in front of LC’s Daura Gallery. The hearse, on loan for a few hours from its eight Lynchburg owners, is an extraordinary example of self-taught art. Mollie and Ray Snead; Doris and Jim Peery; Susan Duerson; Cissa Basten; and Edna and Denny Vaughan, generously agreed to display the vehicle during the opening reception.

In an interview with Barbara Rothermel, director of the Daura Gallery, Ellin Gordon said, “There is no question that we were drawn to twentieth-century work by the boldness and the lack of pretense. We found its vibrancy exciting, along with observing that the field was constantly evolving, stimulating.

“The collection predominately comprises American artists, although a number of the artists were born in other countries and migrated to the United States. … We try to get the best work of a particular artist.”

Three of the artists represented in the exhibition are featured in videos on the Foundation for Self-Taught American Artists’ website. Check out the video clips on Howard Finster, William Hawkins, and Purvis Young.

Virginia Landscapes: Pierre Daura Watercolorsis also opening on Jan. 19. The twenty-four watercolors comprising this exhibition demonstrate Catalan-American artist Pierre Daura’s deep involvement with the rural scene in all its aspects and the landscape itself – country roads, woodlands, and the majestic presence of Jump and House Mountains in Rockbridge County, Virginia. In summer 1934, Daura and his family moved from France to Rockbridge Baths, Va., where Daura began the first of what would be a lifelong series of oils, watercolors, and temperas depicting the Blue Ridge region of Virginia.

Learn more about Pierre Daura.