The Accidental Collectors
Claudia DeMonte and Ed McGowin

For the past 25 years my husband, Ed McGowin, and I have driven thousands of miles around the backroads of the United States, particularly in the American South, in our desire to meet Outsider Artists. We did not start out to collect. Rather as artists we were particularly interested in the creative process as it related to Outsiders,
and in meeting the makers of these wonderful images, which we feel are extraordinary examples of the expression of the human spirit. This group of works is not a survey of Outsider Art but the result of a personal quest to understand art-making.

With few exceptions we have met most artists whose work we collect. In general, these untrained artists are extremely prolific and repeat themes such as religion, erotic fantasies, mechanical toys, and every day life. In some cases, it is the obsessive repetition of a technique that is demonstrated by the artist. Consistency in the point of departure is a common denominator. A large percentage of the artists come to their vision later in life, that is, when they have the time to create after their primary career. They use materials easily available to them and in the most inventive way: dirt mixed with sugar to paint with, political campaign buttons, diet soda pull-tabs. Their standards are their own due to not being aware of, or interested in, being a part of a specific context. We have been amazed to find that some of the artists who live in the same region are totally unaware of the work of the other artists from the same place. Further, it would seem, they are not really interested in the work of others. They are not, like contemporary trained artists, part of an art world. They are outsiders, but in a world of their own. 

All the work we purchased came directly from the artists. In very few instances we traded with friends for works. Our collection is totally personal. We bought what spoke to us and what we could afford. We always paid the price asked for by the artist and never negotiated. If we could not afford it we just did not buy it. Unlike work made for the High Art context where sophistication can sometimes pass for originality, in the art of the Untrained Artists, there is no way to cheat or to disguise what is not original and honest.  

Although a portion of this work toured museums in Scandinavia and Europe in the early 1990s and that individual works have been shown in numerous exhibits, Japan is the first place where our 115-piece collection has been cataloged and shown in its entirety and a full color catalogue produced. We have regularly written and lectured on the topic at various institutions worldwide, including the Mitaka City Museum, Japan, the New School for Social Research, New York City, and the State University of New York - College at Old Westbury, etc.


James Harold Jennings

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Bill Traylor

Howard Finster

Large Eyed Head
James "Son Ford" Thomas