Art exhibit showcases paintings, perseverance

Not everyone fits neatly into the canon of art history.

How exactly does Jimmy Lee Sudduth, for example, a self-taught folk artist who drew in the dirt as a child in Fayette, Alabama, fit into a world of Wyeth and Rembrandt?

Where does one put Mose Tolliver, a man crippled in a furniture factory accident who took to painting on salvaged materials and found objects?

While not exactly the MET, the second-story walls of McInnis seem as good a place as any to display these underground artists.

Sudduth and Tolliver join 12 other outsider artists being displayed in McInnis this fall. The exhibit, the first of three scheduled this year from the Robert Cargo Folk Art Gallery in Paoli, highlights the work of self-taught folk artists.

They are a cadre of misfits who have not only lived on the margins of society, but also on the periphery of an industry in which the right school or a famous teacher can make or break a career.

Caroline Cargo, the exhibit director in Paoli, said that outsider art runs in a similar vein to the art of people with mental illnesses and the homeless. Such artists, she said, never create for commercial purposes, but for catharsis and because the urge to create is similar to a divine calling.

“That urge that just can’t be turned off,” Cargo said. “They create things with such power and such raw energy. [And] it’s for their own satisfaction.”

Cargo said that artists such as the ones in her exhibit are frequently astounded to see their work hanging on the walls of exhibits and galleries, and she is thrilled by the opportunity to display them at Eastern.

“It’s really exciting for me to have things hanging locally,” she said. “It’s great to have something in our own back yard.”

The Robert Cargo Gallery moved to a large Paoli house in 2004 after a 20-year stint in Alabama. It is a home not just for Caroline Cargo personally, but also a rotating display of “self-taught, visionary and outsider artists of the South, African-American quilts [and] Haitian spirit flags,” according to their website.

An invitation from Betsy Morgan brought the display to Eastern. And Nancy Hartsock, whose office affords her a daily view of the artwork, is glad it came.

Hartsock recently took a course on the art of the homeless at the Campolo School for Social Change, and was excited to discover the exhibit one day as she entered McInnis.

“It gives people who would normally not be heard, a voice,” Hartsock said. “It reminds me of ‘the least of these.’ These people have been pushed down, pushed down, and yet that creative spark is still in them. It’s a message to me to look at things with different eyes.”

The Robert Cargo Folk Art Gallery is located on Darby Road in Paoli.

Hours are by appointment only, weekdays or weekends To contact the gallery, call 610-240-9528 or email

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