Our Tallahassee Journey
Recently, I drove five hours from my Florida home to visit two Tallahassee folk art artists: OL Samuels and Mary Proctor. They are both exceptional artists that Main Street Gallery has represented for many years. The main purpose of my trip was to pick up art work for the upcoming exhibit at the gallery: Rabbits, Rabbits, Rabbits. Both artists had agreed several months earlier to create some special bunny pieces for our show. OL and Mary are two of the twenty-three artists who are featured in this spring event (Rabbits, Rabbits, Rabbits opened on May 14 and runs through June 14).
My first stop was OL’s house which he shares with his wife, Gladys. Inside waited the fabulous Easter Bunny (see Exhibitions for a full photo). My first thought was that OL had created one of his best personality pieces. He had also finished a beautiful owl which I had seen several months earlier in the raw stage and had purchased from him. It is always interesting and a little scary to see if the creature which started as one thing will stay that way. As OL works, he says the wood tells him what it wants to be. In this case, it was a relief to see that the owl apparently wanted to remain an owl!
OL was also working on some staffs. One I particularly liked wasn’t quite finished, so I made arrangements to visit him again the next day. It was late when I left his house and gratefully checked into my hotel for the night.
In the morning, I saw Mary Proctor in the mall space she had recently rented. For at least 15 years, I have visited her in her junkyard, but now, she has moved out and into a Tallahassee mall retail store. I would dare say few mall visitors have ever come across an enterprise like Mary’s. It is a microcosm of her junkyard, filled to the brim with her flamboyant artwork and that of a few other artists. Astonished shoppers brave enough to venture inside, follow narrow paths at the end of which sits the irrepressible Mary amidst her paints and junk and art. This time she had several wonderful rabbit pieces for me and a few other artworks I admired that weren’t quite finished. But, not to worry she told me, she would complete them and deliver them to OL’s house in a short while.
Off I went across town to see OL again. He was almost finished with the piece I had wanted and I sat and watched him dot the goat staff. He uses paint to make the dots and though he is color blind, he has an uncanny ability to pick the right colors. As I watched, and listened, OL talked about his life, his work, and God. Gladys and I joked about how much OL loves to talk. She told me that sometimes she goes to sleep listening to him talk and when she wakes up in the morning, he is still talking!
Hours later, Mary still had not arrived and I began to get anxious about getting on the road. I took pictures of OL posing with his art and he helped me pack my new treasures into the van. Some of it was still wet with glitter paint and had to be propped so as not to be ruined. When Mary finally arrived, I was delighted with the art she had brought, but not thrilled that it too was wet. How to get it all in my car?
I was reminded of something a former gallery partner said on one of our buying trips. It was stifling Alabama heat in August, and as we stood sweating and swatting mosquitoes in a folk artist’s yard filled with art and junk, she asked, “Can’t we just sell something that comes on the UPS truck?” I laughed, but the thing is, we really couldn’t. The special pieces that are so wonderful and make it all worthwhile, have to be selected and often have to be ferreted out from under a shed or pulled from a stack of stuff piled in the corner. But besides that, there is no substitute for the priceless experiences, which go along with knowing these extraordinarily talented and unusual people.