Collectors are Born, not Made

In Bruce Chatwin’s novel entitled “What Am I Doing Here?", he poses an existential question we should all ask ourselves.  My answer came in Amsterdam in 1992.  I felt that it might not be an accident that we are in a certain place at a certain time.  My déjà vu experiences date back to the swamps of Southeast Texas, the same swamps which inspired and are depicted by contemporary artist John Alexander.  We’re talking East Texas, the culmination of the pine belt which runs from New Jersey to Texas and the last breeding ground of the Ivory Billed woodpecker.

If you pretend you’re a child wandering in those woods, alone, you will learn the difference between nature and the classroom.  For here is the true church which Gothic cathedrals can only imitate and the dramatic landscapes of the unconscious.  Southern folk art is no different because it is bred and spread by the pantheism of the southern pine and African-American spiritualism.  Together with those odd looking bottle trees whipping past car windows and old white share-cropper houses one’ envisions the lurking spirits of post-war reconstruction and the burnt out smell of an attic.


The Deep South is a haunted, hot, and picayune scarecrow of its former self.  Always on the defensive, this environment seems a contrast to the internal atmosphere of late Victorianism and tainted wealth.  Our house full of exotic art but there was always a cool spiritual place where one could hunker down like a wounded animal.  Ivory tusk sentries stood in the corner guarding the animal trophies which stared down upon us and there was some talk about Uncle Hill’s forays in the Congo and the Amazon. I loved sticking my head into the brandy cabinet, taking a deep breath, and staring woozily at the faded world map on the wall with voodoo pins indicating world travels.  These interiors of my childhood formed an incubator and flamed the world of imagination which is now illustrated my collection.

I gave up the white picket fence and kids for a bit of education and travel.  I began my journey with a quick trip down the east coast of Mexico to Belize then to the rainforests of the Northwest to study Creative Writing.  A lucky detour routed me to African studies of which I have never grown tired and for recreation there was always mountain climbing.  As I descended upon the University of Washington became mesmerized by art and literature. Fast forward to the University of Texas where I studied philosophy and specialized in Russian Avant-Garde Art soon to travel with a delegation to the Soviet Union.  In St. Petersburg and Moscow I met with art critics about the time the George Costankis Collection came out of hiding. The thrill of holding a Malevich in my hand I then reduced the world to form and energy.  Libraries became my home studying Haitian Art and slashing through German Expressionism.  But there was something in the Russian peasant forms and crafts which eventually led me to an appreciation of folk art. A sort of hybridization took place between Haitian art, Russian avant-garde, and the early experiences of the Deep South where bottle hung on trees.  By the time I reached the Corcoran in Washington I encountered the exhibition “Black Folk Art in America”. Although Georgetown University was a bit of a catwalk, the Jesuits had put together a great esoteric library not to mention the paths I wore between museums.  Hanging out with the international set led me to encounter Haitian art and it wasn’t long before I was on a jet to Port au Prince spending Christmas Eve at a Vodou ceremony in Cap Haitian.  A local guide introduced himself calmly by saying, “I knew you were coming”.
So this is what me what led to the collecting of folk art? I believe that true collectors are born, not made.  Basically an aesthete, I am one who loves art, not to acquire material and commercial items, but aesthetic objects. It is a cathartic process which embraces one’s soul, a sort of internal decorating; to surround oneself with art is an expression of the psyche and qualifies one’s life.  Man has been creating and collecting art for eons from primitive caves drawings to the hieroglyphics and archeological objects of Egypt to the stunning murals of Pompeii and Herculium. And whereas something as simple as souvenir speaks of the acquisitive nature in man there is a difference between a tourist and a traveler- the latter prepares his research and careful acquisition while the other is just stockpiling.  Although the Victorians brought back curios from their latest colonial acquisition, it had the benefit of influencing a whole new generation of art.  Like a child collecting seashells along the beach such objects become talisman marking a journey as they represent touchstones of our inner being.  So with a background in the arts and a few extra dollars this was enough to send me on an aesthetic journey.

My first exhibitions were “Baltimore Bohemians” and “Folk Heroes” concentrating on the beat generation of the 1950’s and African American Folk Art.  In 1992 I established Cognoscenti, Inc. and opened The Folk Art Gallery in Baltimore.  I went on to curate nearly twenty exhibitions  during which time I continued to traveling through the Deep South and internationally, never abusing but acquiring folk related material.  There was competition, but I tried to keep a focus on acquiring what my eye and intuition told me. Now I wish to share some of those treasures with an art audience via the launching of a new website called featuring The Richard M. Edson Collection of Contemporary Folk & Outsider Art. There will also be a blog linked  to the website.
Richard Edson
Urbanna 2011