Several times when we lived in Asheville, NC, I made the early morning drive west on I-40 to Canton, then swept southwest on Highway 74 to US 441 and finally to US 23. Passing Waynesville, Silva, Dillard, Bryson City, Clayton, and Rabun Gap, it is a beautiful drive that slowly, and briefly steeply, falls out of the higher North Carolina Mountains and into the softening topography of North Georgia. One week ago I returned to the Slotin Folk Art Auction in Buford, GA—this time with a friend and colleague from my school in Atlanta. The drive was shorter and certainly less dramatic this time.
The auction is held bi-annually in the Buford Town Hall and the listing of artists is always a who’s who the folk art world. For a fan of these artists, the scene is overwhelming—pottery, carvings, and paintings arrayed on any available wall space, as well as on tables and in cases. The gavel prices range from about $100 to close to $50,000 for a Bill Traylor masterpiece.
I had my eye on several pieces—a BF Perkins “Cherokee Love Bird” was at the top of my wish list; however, when I saw the prices for Jimmy Lee Sudduth were not out of reach, I readied my yellow bid card. I have always admired his work (NYT Obituary for Jimmy Lee Sudduth). Often painting on found wood, Sudduth mixed mud and paint to produce striking images of buildings, houses, dancers, dogs, alligators, snakes, and self-portraits. Sudduth, who also played the guitar and the harmonica, painted with his fingers, arguing that they would not wear out like brushes. I was hugely excited to make the winning bid for his 55″ portrait of himself as a young man with his guitar.
I am fascinated with some of these artists, and I am equally fascinated trying to pin down exactly why I find them so compelling. I believe it must have something to do with creativity unleashed and ungoverned combined with an ability to communicate a unique world view. I have thought a lot about something Steve Jobs said that has been repeated over and over since his passing earlier this Fall: “Here’s to the crazy ones. The rebels. The troublemakers. The ones who see things differently. While some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius.” Sudduth clearly saw “things differently” and found a way to share his view with others.
While I enjoyed the experience of the auction this year, and I am ecstatic that I now own a piece of Sudduth’s work, I missed the drive through the mountains to get there. That drive out of the mountains gave me time and distance necessary to transition from my daily life to a different frame of mind where I was fully ready to see outside of the limits of my own world view.