If one were to take a survey of working artists today, the vast majority of us would report having created art in one form or another for as long as we could remember. However a small majority no doubt got a late start. For many, painting meant waiting until the kids were grown, the bills were paid, and time became more plentiful. These people we often call "folk artists." It's unfortunate, but for many of us who presumably know something about art and can recognize a Monet at twenty paces, a Picasso from a dozen yards, and quote the rules of the Golden Mean, chapter and verse, what we know about Folk Art begins and ends with Anna Mary Robertson Moses--Grandma Moses for those even LESS well informed. And had the modern art movement not taken leave of traditional realism around the turn of the century, and found kindred spirits in the quite intuitive efforts of these backwoods visual historians, their work might well have remained cultural oddities, not even deemed to be "art," stowed away forever in the dusty attics of their great-grandchildren.
Linton Park was one such artists. He was born in 1826 in western Pennsylvania. He became a cabinetmaker. In 1863, he departed for Washington, DC to paint the Capitol--literally. That was about as close to art or painting as he would come until more than twenty years later when he began painting charming, frontier memories of flax scutching bees, corn husking bees, quilting bees, and other communal social gatherings, not for display in art galleries, but as entries in the local county fair. His "Flax Scutching Bee" from 1885 is surprisingly natural for an untrained artist. Nearly two dozen figures populate the foreground while log dwellings indicate a seemingly instinctive understanding of both linear and aerial perspective. Today, it hangs in the National Gallery of Art in Washington.
Perhaps a competitor of Park's at the county fair may have been Joseph Pickett. He was born in 1848 in New Hope, Pennsylvania. He was a carpenter by trade though his youth seems to have been consumed running off with every carnival or circus that came to town. With money from a rifle range, he married, opened a general store, and settled down in New Hope. Late in life he began to paint. Sadly, only four of his works are known to survive. Perhaps his best, from 1914-18 is "Manchester Valley." Unlike Park's work, Pickett appears to have known little and cared even less about traditional forms of perspective. Buildings are flattened against the landscape with four-story factories in the foreground painted SMALLER than two-story homes in the middle ground. Likewise, bare trees lining the stream in the foreground are depicted with the same branch-for-branch detail only again, SMALLER than those lining the horizon. A train rolls through the midst of the scene while in the background, the largest structure of all, apparently a school or courthouse, bears a bell tower and flies an American flag accurate down to the last forty-eighth star. Though compositionally crude, by even Folk Art standards, Pickett has painted a distant lingering memory, rich in content, exquisite in detail, and daring in its own way for it's flagrant disregard for the niceties of academic rules. In fact, the painting makes Grandma Moses look like an academician. Today it hangs in the Museum of Modern Art in New York.