Backyard Visionaries: Grassroots Art in the Midwest

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On the front page of the New York Times Book Review , artist Red Grooms once exclaimed that grassroots artists are so interesting I can scarcely keep them out of my dreams--visionaries who turned their visions into art on a grand scale even though they had no training in art. In this lavishly illustrated volume, the authors illuminate and celebrate these backyard visionaries and the remarkable works they've created in the Midwest.

Grassroots art (sometimes referred to as outsider art) has been variously described as eccentric, unschooled, self-taught, primitive, and raw. Such art is characterized by the use of common, unconventional, or castoff materials; hodge-podge styles; ambitious scale; whimsical expression; and a creative impulse concerned more with the artist's own pleasure than with the critical reception of the work itself.

The authors here focus on examples of grassroots art environments--which include sculptures, paintings, and assemblages--in Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri, and Oklahoma. They reveal the special character and unexpected delights of works like Samuel P. Dinsmoor's world-famous Garden of Eden; Claude Melton's quirky Nativity Rock Museum; Ed Galloway's fabulous six-story Totem Pole honoring Native Americans; and Dave Woods's idiosyncratic creations refashioned from junk that most people would haul to the dump.

Written by members of the Kansas Grassroots Art Association-the oldest organization in the country dedicated to preserving such sites-- Backyard Visionaries describes the authors' personal experiences of the artists and their work as well as the artists' cultural contexts and influences. More than 150 photographs--many in color--capture their unusual creations, and a chapter on preservation tells how we can help maintain them. All in all, this is a fascinating tribute to a group of artists that we are only just beginning to understand and appreciate.

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University Press of Kansas
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