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'Uncommon Folk' art exhibit reveals uncommon skills

Oscar De Mejo, 1988, "Adam and Eve," "Noah's Arc," "Rainbow of Birds," and "The Coat of Many Colors"
Oscar De Mejo, 1988, "Adam and Eve," "Noah's Arc," "Rainbow of Birds," and "The Coat of Many Colors"
Jodie Jacobs

A new exhibit at the Milwaukee Art Museum proves that art can be fun to see and at the same time, tie into historical roots.

Milwaukee Art Museum divides "Uncommon Folk" exhibit into groups such as Animals
Jodie Jacobs

Titled “Uncommon Folk: Traditions in American Art,” the exhibit shows off MAM’s huge collection of folk and self-taught art. The only uncommon aspects of the nearly 600 objects displayed, are the high level of skill and charm. Indeed, seeing “Uncommon Folk,” at MAM Jan. 31-May 4, 2014, is akin to watching a treasures episode of Antiques Roadshow.

“These artists are a reflection of their American experiences. They are not untrained. Their skills have been handed down through their communities,” said Exhibition Curator Margaret Andera.

T o encompass the large show yet make it easier to view, the museum expanded its temporary exhibit space and Andera divided the objects into categories ranging from Animals and Advertising to Portraits and Patriotism. There are also groups of Toys, Decoys, Found Objects and Religious Art.

“The exhibit is not so much about individual pieces of art,” Andera said using the “Mona Lisa” as an example. “Items should be looked at as a group,” she explained.

The first group that accosts visitors is Advertising. It is also a clue on how to view the rest of the groups because objects are not only eye level, some are up. The fascinating Possum Trot Theater and a skillfully carved Newsboy statue are near the entrance. But don’t miss the spectacles sign hung high. It once announced the presence of an optical shop to the passing public. (Later in the exhibit, look up to see a monkey.)

Next are Toys. “The World of Work” just begs to be tried but doesn’t a toy that looks like fun belie the idea of work?

Then look for the birds and other wood carvings of Albert Zahn, classified as an American Independent. Visitors to Bailey’s Harbor in Door County, WI may have come across his works.

Move on to admire Quilts, each chosen to represent a type. Figure out the pieces in Found Objects. A schoolhouse is made of thousands of bottle caps.

Animals as sculptures and paintings have their own category. Other paintings range from a Grandma Moses farm scene to folk portraits.

In Decoys, fishing lure experts will recognize a couple by master carver Oscar Peterson. And yes, duck decoys were not forgotten.

Details: “Uncommon Folk: Traditions in American Art” runs Jan. 31 to May 4, 2014 at the Milwaukee Art Museum, 700 N. Art Museum Drive at Michigan Street and Lincoln Memorial Drive, Milwaukee, WI 53202.

For more information call 414-224-3200 or visit MAM