CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. – In a small storage room in the basement of Austin Peay State University’s Harned Hall, Marilyn Monroe is making things a bit awkward for President John F. Kennedy and his wife Jackie. First off, the president and first lady are dressed formally, while Marilyn has opted to wear a red polka dot bikini. Then there’s that big smile of hers, which seems to mock the uncomfortable expression on Jackie’s face.
The players in this little scene of domestic unease are actually elaborately carved wood sculptures, and they’re part of a stunning new collection of folk art at APSU. Ned and Jacqueline Crouch donated the Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe statues – along with some 42 other folk art carvings, paintings and drawings – to the University last fall.
“Always generous to Austin Peay and the Department of Art, the Crouches have gone a step farther,” Dr. Dixie Webb, dean of the APSU College of Arts and Letters, said. “They have given the University a significant part of their life's work collecting regional folk art.”
On April 16, these unique pieces will be displayed in the campus’ Mabel Larson gallery as part of the new exhibit, “Unfolding Visions: The Ned and Jacqueline Crouch Collection of Outsider Art.” There will be a public reception for the exhibit from 5 to 7 p.m. on April 18, and the show will run through Dec. 15, 2013.
“They gave us an incredible collection of folk art,” Paul Collins, APSU assistant professor of art and the exhibit’s curator, said. “This is going to be a long-term exhibition, and the whole gallery will be displayed with the Crouch collection. But we’re also going to place the collection with some of our existing pieces.”
The Crouch gift will join an already impressive folk art collection at APSU. For years, the University has been the home of several statues by the noted self-taught Tennessee artist E.T. Wickham and paintings by William Shackelford. In 2010, the collection received a major boost when Dr. Joe Trahern donated three sculptures - “The Critter,” “The Eagle” and “The Lady with Two Pocketbooks” – by William Edmondson, the first African-American to have a solo show of his work at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City in 1937. Many of those pieces will also be included in this exhibit.
"The Crouch Folk Art Collection, coupled with the Trahern gifts of the Edmondson sculptures, lays the foundation for what can be one of the most important regional representations of folk art in the country,” Christopher Burawa, director of the APSU Center of Excellence for the Creative Arts, said. “But more importantly, the Crouches' focus on our regional artists makes it an ideal educational collection. It reflects Ned's and Jacqueline's vision of understanding how artifacts relate to larger, interrelated stories, histories and fields."
The collection, along with the statues of the Kennedys and Marilyn Monroe, is currently being catalogued and photographed in that storage beneath Harned Hall. That’s where Collins is working with two student curators – Amber Kearns and Alex Poppendorf – to plan the upcoming exhibit.
“These students are helping me plan and execute this exhibition,” Collins said. “They’re doing everything from menial labor to planning out placement of the pieces to writing text and doing research on the different pieces.”
This is a large responsibility since the Crouches hope their gift catches the attention of their fellow folk art collectors around the country. If the pieces are received and displayed well by APSU, they see the University getting more gifts and developing into a major institution for the study of southern culture.
“We have big plans for the collection,” Burawa said. “We want to make it part of a unique educational program that will engage our students and the community.”
For more information on the upcoming exhibit or APSU’s folk art collection, contact the APSU Center of Excellence for the Creative Arts at 931-221-7876.
Photo cutline: Two folk art sculptures that are part of the Crouch Folk Art Collection. (Photo by Beth Liggett/APSU)