Feature Articles

February 2014

NC Wesleyan College in Rocky Mount, NC, Offers Documentary Photographs

NC Wesleyan College in Rocky Mount, NC, is presenting Documentary Photographs of Visionary Artists and Their Working Environments, by curators William Arnett and Everett Mayo, and photographer Ronald Sowers, on view in the Four Sisters Gallery, of the Dunn Center for the Performing Arts, through Apr. 26, 2014.

In 2013, Vollis Simpson died at 94. He was North Carolina’s most famous self-taught visionary artist and is known world-wide by visitors who have made the “pilgrimage” to his Lucama worksite to see his monumental “whirligigs”. Recently, the enlightened community of Wilson, NC, has found funding and taken pains to move and restore Simpson’s aging kinetic sculptures to a convenient public location in downtown Wilson. In fact, they have an annual “Whirligig Festival”. However, what we have lost forever in Vollis Simpson’s death is that dynamic old man’s wit and wisdom, cats and dogs, and friendly welcome at his cluttered workshop; that is why photo documentation is our window back and is American art history.

Photo documentation sometimes is the only historical record of an artist’s work. The Four Sisters Gallery is dedicated by its mission to the preservation and interpretation of self-taught visionary art and some of the gallery’s artists are long dead and have left no material trace of their life’s work. Fortunately, Vollis Simpson made his kinetic sculpture with welded steel and aluminum and we have significant quantity of his artworks establishing his visionary harnessing of wind and motion; he was also a wonderfully colorful and photogenic subject as attested in Ron Sowers photographs on view in the gallery.

Rocky Mount native William S. Boyd died in 1999. He lived in a non-descript rental house, except he carefully detailed his interior space with cryptic symbols and simulacra [objects that look like some familiar thing but are fabricated out of unexpected alternate materials]. Nothing he made had permanence; everything was taped together and highlighted with magic marker. Scotch tape was his most important working material. Scotch tape was not permanent and it made no holes in the walls of his rented house; Boyd was afraid he would lose his rental deposit or be penalized if he made his work permanent. Everything he made was cerebral and had visionary significance, from the form he designed to the colors selected. For such concern for the ephemeral, it is ironic how his obsession with green was important to him; it was the color of resurrection and eternal permanence. Boyd’s story is complex, an essay is available. All photographs were taken by famous folk art curator William Arnett in 1998.

The last group of photographs are selected from a portfolio made in 1976; it features the hand-painted signs and recurring image of a riverboat that surrounded the veterinary hovel of the hermit Pauline Meinstereiffel [a.k.a. Pauline Francis after St. Francis, patron saint of God’s animals]. Afraid she would be taxed for money that she didn’t have, afraid she would be interfered with by the state, she hand-painted warnings and visionary spiritual wisdom in signage that was ironically intended to draw attention to her hilltop solitude and mission. Meinstereiffel was a self-taught veterinarian and ministered to all sorts of animals, either born birth-defected, become sick, or suffered trap or hunting wounds; many were bed-ridden, missing legs, blind or terminal with cancer; she fed and cared for them all in her make-shift hospital…and wanted no interference from the authorities. In homage to her late father, a riverboat pilot, she painted the riverboat on the exterior of an abandoned farmhouse she owned, also a billboard that blew down as often as she stood it up. Meinstereiffel’s paranoia was valid; the state did come take her away and bulldozed her animal hospital.

For further information check our NC Institutional Gallery listings or call the galleries at 252/985-5268.


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