I have a thing for eccentrics, outsiders, oddballs, etc. There’s something very brave about taking your own peculiar vision of the world and putting it out there for all to see. I included folk art environments in 101 Places You Gotta See Before You’re 12! because I think it’s great for kids to see people who follow their creative bliss, whatever that may be, and because so often, folk art environments are created from stuff that others consider to be junk (a great lesson in reusing, and recycling!).
While writing for my undergrad college newspaper, I took a trip up to see renowned folk artist/preacher Howard Finster’s Paradise Gardens in teeny, tiny Summerville/Pennville, Georgia and was lucky enough to interview Finster himself. That sort of started my ongoing interest, and while researching the book, I found out about places like the Watts Towers (see Bonnie Boatwright’s post on her visit there), Orange Show in Houston and the Land of Evermor in Baraboo, Wisconsin (Travels with Children has a great post of a family visit there, with great pics). On a sidenote, Wisconsin–hands down–appears to the have the highest concentration of creative eccentrics in the US: does anyone have an explanation for that?
Recently, I came across Magic Gardens in Philadelphia, the creation of Isaiah Zager, who started the project as a way to revitalize his South Philadelphia neighborhood. It’s now operated as a nonprofit with frequent workshops and events, including mosaic-making classes for kids. There’s also Tyree Guyton’s recent and growing Heidelberg Project in Detroit, which is transforming a run-down street into an art project (named after the street). (On another sidenote: Detroit seems to be the place for a lot of cutting-edge stuff going on these days).
One of my favorite writers for children E.L Koningsburg has a book that explores the idea of outsider artists: The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place. It’s about a girl who comes to the defense of her eccentric uncles who have built a series of junk art clock towers in their backyard, much to the chagrin of the neighbors.
If you’re interested in folk art or outsider art places, there are a few great sites you have to see, starting with Detour Art, UCM Museum, Insiders Out, Interesting Ideas, and Narrow Larry, who has a map of folk art environments in the US.
And speaking of maps, I just found the most incredible site for odd or unusual places: Atlas Obscura. I could spend days there. I already knew about a lot of the places, but there are some that I’m sure will factor into future travels. Also by part of the same team is Curious Expeditions. One of the most recent posts is about insect art. What kids doesn’t love that?