One of an extended family of well known, and collected folk art carvers from rural Kentucky, Jim Lewis joined his brothers and cousins, including Junior Lewis and Tim Lewis. The work of Minnie Adkins, and the late Garland Adkins, highly regarded regional folk artists, inspired Jim Lewis to begin carving. He had worked as a heavy equipment operator before working exclusively on his art, working in basswood, as well as maple for his canes. We attended events including the sorghum festival and the annual “Day in the Country.” We purchased several of Jim Lewis’s canes and other sculptural work, including this early mermaid. Collectors of this genre of work recognize the importance of seminal work such as this mermaid. Early work, we feel is most inspired, most original. These pieces are signed and dated 1993 and 1994. His more recent work is sold at regional galleries. His work has been displayed ” nationally and internationally” including the Museum of American Folk Art and is sometimes available at the gallery at the Kentucky Folk Art Center in Morehead, Kentucky.
This figural painted wood carving by the artist Jack Phelps, was originally discovered in the late 80s at an antique dealer who specialized in folk art at their shop in Lebanon, Ohio. Lebanon is a small town that touts dozens of independent dealers and antique malls specializing in collectibles whether glass ware, furniture, house wares, ….
Although we have attempted over the years to discover something, anything about the artist who inscribed his signature and “Jamestown, KY” on the bottom of the base of this piece; we are as yet unsuccessful. Our best guess is that this carving was for, or of, a lodge member of a fraternal society.
Given the patina and primitive carving on this piece we believe it to be from the 40’s to 50’s.
Our collection of carved and painted Baule figures from Mali, Ivory Coast from the mid- twentieth century, have been offered to us over the past 25 years by long and well known acquaintances of ours. One, a picker, and the other an ex-pat from Mali, Ivory Coast, West Africa. While I have no doubt, the picker is fueling one of his artistic obsessions by selling some of the pieces he would have other wise kept, Ali was sending much of his profits home to his extended family.
The Baule believe that each person has a mate of the opposite sex in the otherworld, also known as blolo. The blolo is that place where the Baule people arrive, depart, and return. Representations of the ideal partner are carved in detail including stature and physique to define and portray specific desired signs of beauty, status, age, character. The statue embodies their ideal and provides a physical symbol for offerings and ritual.
Our collection includes several genres of carved figural images, each type has its own meaning as a whole and specifically to the original owner. The significance of the figures can be complex, the figures are only truly relevant to the person who commissioned it. If the person is no longer living, the piece has no function. Or, the reason for the commission may have been temporal in nature, for instance during illness, or following crisis. Even a superficial understanding of these concepts allows one to realize how figures become available as art to collectors interested in the work not only because of the mythology but the individuality, beauty, and spirit conveyed and represented in each statue, particularly the Colonial figures, by skilled and patient carvers.