Art Is In the Eye of the Beholder

By: qwerty53

Mar 16 2009

Category: art, Art as a Statement, Folk Artist, Mary Proctor, original art, painting, Uncategorized

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Focal Length:18mm
Shutter:1/0 sec
Camera:NIKON D70

Along the roadside during a recent trip to the Tallahassee, Fl area, I was delighted and excited to come upon the American Folk Art Museum and Gallery—the self-proclaimed title of Missionary Mary Proctor’s working studio and gallery.

After wending our way through several larger-than-lifesize ‘story-portraits’ oil-painted on metal with themes such as “Grandmas Are More Valuable Than Silver or Gold” in which the grandma’s dresses are composed of silverware and golded-ware and “There Lives a Child Within Me” in which broken glass and mirrors, buttons, pebbles, toy cars, Pec dispensers, old toys, figurines, dolls and doorknobs form the dress of the exuberant girl-child, we were deep within the labyrinth of a 14-year collection and my head was spinning around trying to take it all in!

I wanted to take photos, but found no one to ask permission of until finally Miss Mary herself appeared with a paintbrush in hand. She had just put the finishing touches on one of her latest books – covers and pages made from plywood and held together by wire, each painted telling a story with the characters heavily embellished with buttons. Now I love buttons, too. I have quite a few squirreled away, just because they are wonderful little objects, so I decided right off I would like to own a book.

“How much?” I ask, knowing if I buy something I will feel better about all the photos I have been sneaking! I hear her answer as $25, so I am all about picking one out, when Michael asks, “how much?” Whoops, that was $125, which is not possible, even when Mary offers it at $75.

Mary is quick to tell you she has work hanging in the Smithsonian and she proceeds to tour me all around. Inside an adjacent house are 44 doors – each a portrait of a US president. She has just recently completed Obama. Now I understand the sign out front which reads (as I recall)  “Presidential Portrait Set – $20,000.”

Well, I am happy to hear that the Smithsonian has her work and preserved inside a building, because I realize that all the outside stuff is subject to semi-tropical weather 365 days a year and it may, in some future time, be unearthed as just a mass of paint-flaked metal. In fact, if the people of Tallahassee have their way, that may be not-so-far-off in the future.

“People call it a junkyard, but an artist has to create,” says Mary.

So I was rather amused after posting my few photos (because there is no way to really get a good angle within the labyrinth) at

to find one viewer had written that “calling this stuff art is like trying to put a bonnet on a warthog!” The few others who have cared to comment concur!

I am willing to agree that this is no Howard Finster on view here, but I do have a great appreciation for a woman who just goes on doing her thing, no matter what the critics say. And Mary has raised and helped support her three children alongside this endeavor. It can’t be easy to daily invite folks into your ‘sanctuary’ not knowing just what will come out of their mouths; whether they are supporters or detractors.

That very situation is what all artists must be prepared for when sharing their creations. After all, you’ve heard the statistics—Van Gogh sold only one painting in his lifetime. I have a hankering to go help Mary tidy up her space, but then it would not be the stranger-than-average museum excursion. Say what you may, but you really need to experience this little roadside attraction to properly appreciate it.

Take an online tour at:

I chose a small metal plaque with a figure cut from an old Queen’s cookie tin that reminds me to “Stay Sweet” — something that my own grandmother admonished on a regular basis. I guess “sweet” can also be in the eye of the beholder!


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