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American Folk Art A Regional Reference Kristin G. Congdon and Kara Kelley Hallmark © VOLUME 1 194 | Southeast Region Artists ‘Theresa Buchanan. Here, Gibson underwent cataract surgery that restored her vision, enabling her to paint ‘again. Her daughter described Gibson's room at the nursing home as a space transformed into an art studio and observed how painting gave her mother the spirit of a young woman. Gibson died in Dunedin, Florida, on January 2, 1995. Even though much of her work was left behind each time she moved, an impressive collection of work isavailable for the public to enjoy. More than 300 paint- ings can be viewed online, in numerous books, and in museums, including the Birmingham Museum of Art in Birmingham, Alabama; the Fayette Art Museum, in Fayette, Alabama; the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts in Montgomery, Alabama; the American Folk Art Museum in New York City; the New Orleans Museum of Art in New Orleans, Louisiana; and the House of Blues and the Mennello Museum of American Art in Orlando, Florida. Bibliography Buchanan, Theresa. Letter to Kara Kelley Hallmark, March 14, 2000. . Gibson, Sybil. “In Her Own Words.” Sybil Gibson Web site. Accessed August 11, 2008. http://www ‘sybilgibson.com/treesl.htm. Hallmark, Kara Kelley, ed. Written by the Green Room Group. Affirmations: Artists Speak. Orlando: Florida Folklore Society, 2000. Hood, John, “More than a Pretty Face: The Art of Sybil Gibson.” Folk Art Magazine 23, no. 4 (Winter 1998-1999). Kemp, Kathy, and Boyer. Revelations: Ala- bbama’s Visionary Folk Artists. Birmingham, AL: Crane Hill Publishers, 1994, Rosenak, Chuck, and Jan Rosenak. Contemporary American Folk Art: A Collector's Guide. New York: Abbeville Press, 1996, Sellen, Betty-Carol, with Cynthia J. Johanson. Self Taught, Outsider, and Folk Art: A Guide to American Artists, Locations and Resources. Jefferson, NC: McFarland and Company, 2000. Sybil Gibson Web site. Accessed July 29, 2008. http:// www.sybilgibson.com. Yelen, Alice R. Passionate Visions of the American South. Jackson: University of Mississippi, 1993. Charles Gillam Sr. (b. ca, 1945) New Orleans Painter, Carver, and Environment Artist Artist Charles Gillam is perhaps best known for his collaborative work with artist Dr. Charles Smith, ‘creating the Folk Art Zone at Algiers Point, a historic riverside community on the Mississippi River in New Orleans. When Dr. Smith, who was already an accom- hed artist, returned to his hometown to reconnect with his roots, Gillam became involved in Smith's vision to spread folk art from Algiers Point and along Interstate 55 all the way to Chicago, Illinois. Gillam’s home has become the Algiers Folk Art Zone, where art, music, food, black history, and basketball combine to provide the children and adults of New Orleans with ‘unique cultural experience. Charles Gillam Sr. was born sometime after 1945 and was one of eight children living in rural central Louisiana, near Alexandria. When he was five years old, the family took up residence in the Ninth Ward neighborhood of New Orleans. Music, particularly blues music and the songs of Robert Johnson, was an integral part of his life growing up. Music was every- where, and he even sang gospel in church on Sunday. Economic hardships made life difficult for the family. Gillam often fought with his father, who worked as a ‘manual laborer for 21 years on the New Orleans river- front. His father was a harsh man who told Gillam to leave the house when he was only 16 years old after a dispute. From that point on, Gillam lived indepen- dently from his family. Asa teenager, Gillam and his brother shined shoes in the French Quarter of New Orleans. To eam extra money, Gillam would take apart old appliances and use the copper to fashion bracelets that he sold to tour- ists. The French Quarter is populated with many artists who exhibit their work around the squares and plazas, mainly for the tourist trade. While working as a shoe shiner, Gillam often saw the artists at work and won ‘dered what it would be like to be one of them. When he was in his early teens, Gillam asked around the artist ‘crowd for spare brushes and paint, He took the supplies home and began to paint. He was soon absorbed in the process. Friends from the neighborhood purchased his carly work, prompting Gillam to continue painting. He was especially drawn to a sculptor, Johnny Cash, who showed him the basics of sculpting with plaster of paris, He also crossed paths with Willie White, a painter who ‘was an important early influence on Gillam. A few years after Gillam had left home and was living with friends in a rented apartment, the three young men got the idea to join the U.S. Army. Gillam ‘was the only one who passed the entrance tests, and he was deployed to Vietnam. During his tour of duty, he learned that his father was terminally ill and he left to be by his father’s side. Upon his retur from Vietnam, Gillam and his father reconciled. Shortly afterward, Gillam’s father died in his arms. Gillam was often crit- ical of his father's life, but he leamed to appreciate the struggles his father had faced as an uneducated man. His father lived from paycheck to paycheck, and when he died, he only had 14 cents in his pocket. Unable to face the army after his father’s death, Gillam went absent without leave and was given a dishonorable discharge. Some 20 years later, the army upgraded his discharge to honorable. After the death of his father and a dishonorable discharge, Gillam had several marriages, spent some time in the Black Panthers, and then a few years as a Rastafarian. By the time he was in his forties, he set- tled down and married Susan, who is also an artist. ‘They had two children, a daughter, Mary, who is an actress, and a son, Tyrus, who is striving to become an artist. During this time, Gillam began to focus on art production and starting working with found objects. Charles Gillam. Buffalo Soldiers (n.d... Wood carvings. (© Charles Gillam Jr. Image courtesy of FocalArt Gallery) Southeast Region Artists | 195 He painted, carved, and constructed brightly colored pieces celebrating the blues, jazz, and street life. Gil- lam became a full-time artist in 1994, He approached an art dealer atthe well-known Bar- rister’s Gallery in New Orleans. When he showed the dealer his paintings, the dealer asked if he could carve. Gillam replied that he could and was commissioned to do a bust of Charlie Patton, the first great Delta blues- ‘man. The finished sculpture was well received. Gillam was then inspired to make many more “blues heads.” During one gallery exhibition, it was suggested that he stack the heads into a totem. Gillam remarked that he had originally carved them as a totem pole but did not think anyone would have any interest in buying a pole, so he cut them apart. He gained considerable atten- tion for his work and started to display several histori~ figures in the front yard. His work is stylistically charming, typically finished with a brightly painted surface, and often includes text Other works include a painted chair titled Tribute to Marva Wright. Here, Gillam pays tribute to the musician with a detailed composition on the seat of the chair depicting a parade of dancers, presumably mov- ing to the sound of a Wright tune. The rounded back of the chair is adored with painted piano keys, giving the artwork a finishing frame. Another work is constructed of an old wooden door on which relief carvings and bright paint again pay homage to musical legends. ‘One day in 2000, Dr. Charles Smith, a disabled Vietnam veteran and a prominent folk artistin Chicago, \was visiting Algiers Point, where he was bor and had 196 | Southeast Region Artists lived as a child. Smith was a visionary who dreamed of building a monument to African American experi- ences, and he began his work in 1986 in the yard of his small home in Aurora, Illinois. Smith says God told hhim to use art as a means to give his message, just ‘as God had given Dr. King the Gandhi strategy. The ‘memorial is now called the African American Heritage “Museum and Black Veterans Archives. Smith saw how Gillam had used his art and environment to push out the crackheads and other bad elements in his neigh- borhood and immediately recognized a kindred spirit. Gillam at first saw just another customer but then real- ized that he was meeting another artist. ‘Smith had a huge influence on Gillam and his work. He shared information with Gillam about artistic envi- ronments that were being created all over the coun- try. Smith also persuaded Gillam to use more durable ‘materials for the outdoor sculptures in order to ensure ‘longer life span for his work. He taught Gillam about the art environment he had created and his vision for a larger, connected art environment. Together, they cre- ated the Algiers Folk Art Zone at Gillam’s residence. Modeled on Smith's work in Aurora, the Algiers Folk Art Zone is a multi-experiential art and cultural edu- cational experience, designed primarily for commu- nity use. When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, the main building lost its roof, but luckily little else was damaged Today, Gillam and other artists are hard at work restoring and expanding the Algiers Folk Art Zone on LeBouef Street. He is represented by Barrister’s Gal- lery in New Orleans and Primitive Kool Art in San Diego, California; many of his works are featured in House of Blues locations throughout the world. Bibliography Berry, Jason. “The Outsiders: For Charles Smith and Charles Gillam, the Winding Path of Folk Art Starts in Algiers Point.” Gambit Weekly (New ‘Orleans, LA), May 27, 2003. “Charles Gillam.” Primitive Kool. Accessed February 9, 2011. http://primitivekoolart.com/pages/gillam html. Gautreaux, Chanell. “Interview with Charles Gil- lam." Data Newsweekly (New Orleans, LA), September 4, 1999. .. - Sellen, Betty-Carol, with Cynthia J. Johanson. Self Taught, Outsider, and Folk Art: A Guide to ‘American Artists, Locations and Resources. Jefferson, NC: McFarland and Company, 2000. José Gonzalez (b. 1918) Puerto Rican Hammock Weaver Known as “EI Hamaquero Mayor” (The Great ‘Hammock Weaver) on the island of Puerto Rico, José Gonzdlez carries on the traditional technique of weav- ing hammocks with contemporary materials. The woven hammock, which dates back hundreds of years to the ‘Taino people. a pre-Columbian culture on the island of Boriqueén (now known as Puerto Rico), was considered to be the poor man’s bed. The hammock was noted as something unusual and of great interest by Christopher Columbus, who wrote in his diary on October 17, 1492, ‘about the “hanging beds.” They were inexpensive and simple to make, and they also kept sleeping people off the wet ground and out of harm’s way from wildlife. Gonzélez was born in 1918. Because he grew up in a weaving family, he was only seven years old when he started learning the traditional Taino method of pre- paring the material for weaving. His mother and father taught him how to extract fibers from the maguey plant, which had been used for hundreds of years. The ‘multistep process is arduous and includes scraping the ‘pulp from the maguey fibers then washing, drying, and finally dyeing the fibers with hues made from natural ‘materials. He worked in this method exclusively for ‘many years. ‘When he met and married Dofia Juana Pérez in 1943, he developed a friendship with her father, a highly acclaimed hammock weaver. By the late 1940s, Gonzélez’s father-in-law began to experiment with cotton threads, abandoning the traditional fibers made from maguey. Weavers young and old began deserting the laborious process that was required for ‘working with the maguey plant in favor of the acces- sibility of cotton. However, Gonzalez felt responsible for preserving the ancient tradition of weaving with ‘maguey fibers and continued to demonstrate the pro- cess and teach interested students. His hammocks are