I first discovered Maria Prymachenko’s art while searching online for dumpling paintings about ten years ago.
Her “Dumplings on the Shelf” immediately caught my eye with its bright yellow background, orange crockery, and – what is that – a woman lying on top of the stove?!
Not something you’d see every day. Of course I had to learn more about one of Ukraine’s most celebrated folk artists. I instantly fell in love with her vibrant colors, precise symmetrical patterns, pretty floral motifs, fantastical beasts, joyous scenes of country life, imaginative details, and of course, the intriguing stories in some of her pictures.
Prymachenko (1908-1997) was born to a peasant family in the village of Bolotnya (about 19 miles from Chernobyl), where she would spend most of her life. Her family taught her a variety of traditional Ukrainian crafts, including embroidery and pysanky (decorating Easter eggs). She also liked to draw and paint.
Once, as a young girl, I was tending a gaggle of geese. When I got with them to a sandy beach, on the bank of the river, after crossing a field dotted with wild flowers, I began to draw real and imaginary flowers with a stick on the sand… Later, I decided to paint the walls of my house using natural pigments. After that I’ve never stopped drawing and painting.
I’ve always been fascinated by what compels creatives to make art, especially those who are self taught and persist despite overwhelming odds.
Take Clementine Hunter (pronounced Clementeen), one of the South’s most celebrated folk artists. Though she never learned to read or write, and didn’t begin painting until her 50s, she managed to produce between 5,000 – 10,000 paintings, all while working as a cook and housekeeper at Melrose Plantation in Louisiana.
She is known for her unique and vibrant ‘visual diary’ of rural plantation life in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, an insider’s view of the African American perspective. Not only a pivotal figure in folk art, she’s also remembered as an important social and cultural historian.
Clementine (née Clémence) was born into a French Creole family at Hidden Hill Plantation near Cloutierville in Natchitoches Parish, Louisiana, around Christmas 1886. A descendant of slaves, she was the eldest of seven children.
The happy childlike paintings of Canadian folk artist Maud Lewis belie the many adversities and challenges she faced throughout her life.
Looking at her peaceful scenes of winding country lanes, sleepy boat harbors, and charming cats amongst tulips and blossom-laden branches, it’s hard to imagine she lived most of her life in a cramped one-room house with no running water or electricity, barely able to hold a paint brush with her gnarly, arthritic hands.
Born in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia in 1901, Maud Dowley was a solitary child, uncomfortable around others because of her differences. She was smaller than most, and because of birth defects, had hunched shoulders, almost no chin, and painfully deformed hands. Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis further reduced her mobility. Teased mercilessly by the other kids, she dropped out of school at age 14.
l. In celebration of Women’s History Month, here are a few portraits by the one and only Joan Baez, who turned 80 in January. I didn’t realize she was such an accomplished painter till I began following her on FB last year — initially for the music videos she posted as the pandemic raged on. It was wonderful seeing her singing in her kitchen!
Then she began sharing pieces from her first solo exhibition, “Mischief Makers,” featuring “risk-taking visionaries who have brought about social change through nonviolent action.”
Her debut album in 1960 was basically my introduction to folk music and activism. I shouldn’t be surprised, but I always marvel at multi-talented creatives who thrive on a cross fertilization of genres.
In addition to Joan, musicians I admire who also paint include Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, Tony Bennett, Joni Mitchell, David Bowie, Patti Smith, Grace Slick, Ronnie Wood, Ringo Starr, Cat Stevens, Miles Davis, and John Mellencamp.
See more Mischief Makers as well as portraits of Friends and Icons at Joan Baez Art. I like all the little backstories for each painting. You can also purchase prints or catalogs there.
It’s always a good day when I stumble upon a new-to-me artist to love. More often than not, the artist in question turns out to be from the UK.
Anna Pugh was born in 1938 and hails from Kent, “the Garden of England.” An esteemed British folk artist, her work shows her deep affinity with plants and animals, both a central part of her life growing up as the daughter of a veterinarian and a devoted gardener.
I love the stories she tells in her paintings, whether a scene of the countryside or coast. Her finely detailed and beautifully textured depictions of flora and fauna and the changing seasons are infused with an element of whimsy and the surreal. Alongside a dog or chicken one might find the occasional unicorn. Who would not be charmed with titles like “Hang Gliding in Heels” or “Bugs Do Pilates”?