The Saint Louis Art Museum has an exhibit on display now through mid-September called, “Self-Taught Genius: Treasures from the American Folk Art Museum.” Defined as “art of the everyday,” folk art can take shape in a variety of ways and it often reflects a sense of place.
Mitch Huett, the owner of Cherokee Street's Panorama Folk Art and Antiques, joined host Don Marsh in studio Monday to discuss the genre of folk art and its relationship to St. Louis.
What is folk art?
“The umbrella of being self-taught is what mainly distinguishes it from being fine art,” said Huett. “What their creations come out looking like is not what you’d see from a trained artist.”
Folk art can be created using any number of materials and can take virtually any form. Quilts, sculptures, paintings, drawings, and hand-formed paper mache are only a few examples of the shape these kinds of projects can take.
Most folk artists, Huett explained, choose to create art for themselves. Their goal is not usually to appeal to a mass audience. This is why folk art is often tied to the personal stories and histories of the people who create it, and this form of expression tends to be driven by painful experiences in the artists’ past.
“A lot of that creation comes from pain, bad situations economically…things that have happened to these people and they express themselves in any way they can,” said Huett.
He rejects the idea that folk art is “uniquely American,” believing instead that the genre belongs to self-taught artists worldwide. Although Huett feels that folk art is historically underappreciated, he sees it gaining in popularity both in the United States and in other countries, including Japan.
“People are really responding to the rawness, the directness of it, sometimes the naivety of it,” he said.
The Panorama Folk Art and Antiques shop on Cherokee Street has been in business for 26 years and both
displays and sells work created by folk artists in St. Louis and other areas of the country, including Huett himself.
“My paintings tend to be color-saturated and simple and direct,” he said. “I try to paint on found wood because I find that when you work with objects that already had a life, it just brings a little more soul and a little more energy to it.”
While some people may be confused by the objects created under the umbrella of the folk art tradition, Huett is excited by the ambiguity of unusual pieces.
“There’s a lot of mystery, which is, in my opinion, one of the best things about art,” he said.
The risk of not being understood is one folk art is willing to take, and maybe that’s part of what makes it so special.
Check out Huett’s gallery here, and be sure to visit the “Self-Taught Genius: Treasures from the American Folk Art Museum” exhibit at the Saint Louis Art Museum.
St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary Edwards, Alex Heuer and Kelly Moffitt give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.