SOME OF WHAT I see in the new American Visionary Art Museum on Key Highway reminds me of The Hunter. He made his camp under the Jones Falls Expressway 15 years ago. We assumed, rightly or wrongly, that he had been turned out of a state hospital somewhere, possibly in Maryland.
We never knew his name. We called him The Hunter because he left his campsite each morning to spend the day scavenging for wire, fabric, plastic, cardboard, anything to bulk up the ramparts of his camp under the highway.
And anything he could use to make art.
Often we would see him -- a short and muscular man of about 40 years, with sharp features and eyes that made contact with no one -- as he hustled along, scavenger sack over shoulder.
We would see him at Our Daily Bread on Franklin Street, eating a meal and speaking to no one -- and making it clear he wanted to speak to no one. Or we would see him, perched on a brick wall along North Calvert Street or St. Paul, sewing something.
What he did was embroider pieces of cloth with copper wire. He made intricate designs, symmetrical and colorful, evoking something out of Eastern religion. The Hunter left his artwork perched on cardboard boxes where a passer-by could easily see it. Many people -- cops, reporters, a priest, some nuns, some city employees -- would stop under the JFX and have a look. We assumed, rightly or wrongly, that The Hunter wanted us to see his stuff.
I remembered him yesterday when I visited the AVAM because much of the artwork there has the obsessive quality we saw in The Hunter's copper wire tapestries, and because this museum presents questions we considered years ago under the highway: Is this art? And, is this art for all to see?
We were interlopers, curious and nosey. If The Hunter was mad, we wanted to see the fruits of his madness. We wanted to see what he was stitching all the time. We wanted in.
The AVAM lets us in on "outsider art." (Or maybe it brings outsider art in.) It displays works that might only be seen by those of us willing to venture under bridges. As stated in a recent Sun story, the AVAM provides a home for "fantastical things created by people who are poor, uneducated, unknown, unstable or unwanted." You're not going to see Monet.
The AVAM is fantastic, but at times I felt like a voyeur, as if the object in front of me was meant to be intensely personal, or therapeutic -- for the artist, not for me. You might feel this way a few times -- when you see a painful piece called "Tool Head," for instance -- but you'll get over it.
You won't feel you've invaded anyone's privacy by looking at Carlton Darling's wood carvings, which transport you to the Adirondacks. You'll be glad there is now a place to see such art on a regular basis.
I also liked the piece next to Darling's -- a narrative on polychromed wood by George White Jr. A small note in the piece says: "In the old hills of Kentucky these fox dogs has been running this fox all night. Now it's 9 o'clock in the morning, and Aunt Ann said: I hope they will catch him because he has eaten all of my chickens but two."
The AVAM is a celebration of the great spirits that gush out of people at times of emotional extremes -- from bliss to blues. I like that it celebrates the artist within people not trained to be artists. I like that it gives an honored place to a man named Claude Yoder; as a schoolboy in Western Maryland, he was disciplined for "wasting time drawing pictures." Now one of his sculptures is on the wall in this new, $7 million museum.
I was drawn to Paul Darmafall's contribution to the AVAM's first exhibit because I'm drawn to corners of museums; you often find gems there. Darmafall is known as the Baltimore Glass Man, and his "Poem of a Tree" is, indeed, a tree. It's green. But it's made of broken glass, you see, and if you touched this tree, you would cut your hand.
That's how it was years ago under the Jones Falls Expressway when we stopped by The Hunter's camp; we were careful to look at his art but never touch it. Maybe one day a tapestry by The Hunter will turn up on a wall in the AVAM. I'll let you know if I see it there.
Found: Pistachio sources
Let's send a big, Rex Barney-style thank-yyyooouuu out to all loyal TJI readers who called the hot line Wednesday to give up their pistachio ice cream sources for Nikki Hopkins. Nikki had written TJI for help; she couldn't find prepackaged pistachio anywhere.
Now, oodles of phone calls later, we have this: If you want prepackaged pistachio ice cream, look for it anytime at any Howard Johnson's, the University of Maryland's College Park dairy bar and Shyam Foods in Woodlawn (specializing in Indian foods); sometimes you can get it at Harold's Fruit Market near Towson. If you want the hand-dipped variety, packed in take-home containers, go to a Baskin-Robbins, Edy's or Friendly's. Nuts, Nikki! Enough!
William Donald Scrooge
If you missed William Donald Schaefer last night as Ebenezer Scrooge in WCBM-AM's dramatization of "A Christmas Carol," fear not. The show airs again Christmas Eve.