Journey Into Outsider Art

Brad Goins Thursday, August 3, 2017 Comments Off on Journey Into Outsider Art

A few years ago, the Historic 1911 City Hall in Lake Charles hosted an outstanding exhibit of outsider and folk art. Now, Lafayette is taking up the cause.

Lisa and Henry Ford

“Spiritual Journeys: Homemade Art From The Becky And Wyatt Collins Collection” will run through Aug. 12 at the Hilliard University Art Museum at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette (at 710 East St., Mary Boulevard).

The Collins live in a home in New Iberia where they house more than 2,000 works of outsider art. The Collins have worked hard to assemble this collection, spending 20 years travelling “all across the south, from remote farms and juke joints, to festivals and auctions,” says show curator Gus Kopriva.

The show is described as “an encyclopedic survey of vernacular Southern art.” Kopriva describes featured artists with such terms as “self-taught,” “outsider,” “contemporary,” “folk” and “visionary.”

If you’re not 100 percent sure what outsider art is, I can tell you it has a lot in common with the “art brut” movement that developed in Europe in the 20th century and still goes on. The movement was spearheaded by French artist Jean Dubuffet, who tried to paint as he felt children did. You can easily see dozens of his paintings by Googling “Dubuffet” on Google Images.

The many outsider artists exhibited in the “Spiritual Journeys” exhibit in Lafayette include Howard Finster, Tom “Deacon Man” Steck, Reverend Herman Hayes, Mr. Imagination and Prophet Royal Robertson.

The exhibit will be accompanied by a catalogue that includes several essays about the art, including one by Bradley Sumrall of the Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans.

Along with the accompanying publication, four documentary films about the art will be screened at the museum: James “Son Ford” Thomas: Artist (2015), MAKE (2011), God’s Architects (2008) and Made in Mississippi: Black Folk Arts and Crafts (1975).

Those who like can have a docent lead them through a guided tour on Fridays and Saturdays at 2 pm. (The museum is closed on Sundays and Mondays.)

The exhibit is supported by the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. Need to know more? Visit

New Opportunity For Seniors

Seniors in the Lake Area can volunteer for a new mentoring program being developed at the Simon Youth Academy. Seniors will have a chance to mentor students who are struggling with the many challenges of high school that have nothing to do with academics.

More than 100 high school students go to the academy. Betty Washington, director of Special Services for Calcasieu Schools, says these are students who don’t flourish in the public school system because of a variety of issues: “parenting, pregnancy, anxiety, some other mental health condition, or they just can’t handle the rigors of a school campus.” Many are in troubling situations outside the classroom and could use an elder’s guidance. They’re accustomed to turning to their teachers for help. But some seniors have had much longer experiences with people in similar situations.

“That group of adults (seniors), they have already lived,” said Washington. “They’ve already experienced some of the problems that our children face. So they can guide [students] and direct them and give them that advice that they need so they don’t make the mistakes that others have made.”

Adults 55 and older are eligible to serve as mentors. Those who mentor earn a stipend of $11 an hour. They mentor 10-20 hours a week. To register as a mentor, call Joann D’Aleo at 646-931-2331. To learn more about Simon Youth Academy, visit

Say Anything

Louisiana Republican Congressman Clay Higgins ran as the tough, law-and-order candidate who would make sure you kept your guns. (Of course, in Louisiana, there’s not a snowball’s chance in hell that anyone is going to try to take away your guns. But you know what I mean.)

One of Higgins’ more colorful statements during the campaign was about Muslim terrorists: “Hunt them, identify them and kill them. Kill them all. For the sake of all that is good and righteous. Kill them all.” Now there’s a guy using 23 words and 8 of the words — more than a third — are from the phrase “Kill them all.” That’s a guy you might think was wound pretty tight.

He won the election decisively.

Higgins got in just a leetle beet of trouble the other day when he shot a 5-minute-long video of himself meditating aloud as he walked through the former gas chamber on the grounds of the Auschwitz death camp.

Among the musings recorded by Higgins in his amble through the killing grounds was his idea that the Holocaust “is why Homeland Security must be squared away; why our military must be invincible.”

Some people might think that sort of thing is just a smidge inappropriate for the site of a liquidation camp. And indeed, Auschwitz officials scolded Higgins for the deed, pointing out that the gas chamber is not a stage or a forum for the voicing of political stands.

They also emphasized that signs requesting silence are posted throughout the former death camp. The signs read: “You are in a building where the SS murdered thousands of people. Please maintain silence here: Remember their suffering and show respect for their memory.”

The reader is left with one of two inescapable conclusions: either Higgins chose not to read the signs or he chose to ignore them.

Higgins is what’s known as a Trumpist. He even took time to praise Trump during the Auschwitz selfie, saying Trump “does get a lot of help from his friends.”

Half the people are terrified of Trumpists. The other half repeatedly put Trumpists into office. At first, it sounds like a really bad situation. But I have a weird gut feeling that somehow it’s going to end up making America great again.

I was pleased to see that Higgins wound up apologizing for his Auschwitz selfie and pulling the video from social media. It’s hopeful to think that a few of our new elected officials do eventually learn how to be politicians. I don’t ask that they learn to be considerate or wise. I just ask that they learn to be politicians.

These days, it’s a big thing to campaign for office on the grounds that one is an outsider. In what other field would a person try to rise to a position of power on the grounds that he’s an absolute outsider who has no experience in the field?

“Coach! I’d really like to be on the football team!”

“Great! How fast can you run down this field?”

“I don’t know. I’ve never been on a field.”

Proli, Count de Leon And Lion Of Judah

How well I remember those boring history lessons I had in junior high. “OK, class. For the 10,000th time: what route did Balboa take when he explored the new world?”

It’s so much more fun to have a Brad history lesson. Let’s have one now.

The United States has always been a very religious country. It was even more religious than it is now back in the 19th century, when the First and Second Great Awakenings swept through the country.

These pervasive religious movements spawned a number of unorthodox religious groups — the sorts of groups that today are called “cults.” I don’t like the term “cults” — not just because it’s derogatory, but also because it’s so general it doesn’t mean anything. So, I just call these odd groups groups.

Louisiana had more than its share of them. One of the most interesting was the Harmonists. And the Harmonists were interesting for the same reason all these groups are interesting: their leader was an absolute loon; a bona fide freakazoid. And hundreds of people followed him without question, just as my dog follows crazy ole me wherever I go when we take a walk.

Before we look at the nut basket that gave the Louisiana Harmonists their special charm, let’s get a little back story on the group.

The Harmonists were originally a group that splintered off from the Lutherans in Germany. They moved from that country to Pennsylvania in 1831. Some years later, they were joined by an immensely wealthy German immigrant who would eventually become their fearless leader.

One of the things that made him kooky was that he kept changing his name. He went from Bernhard Müller to Maximilian Bernhard Ludwig to the Archduke Maximilian von Este. When he started calling himself Proli, he also announced he was the Messiah and the Lion of Judah and the Count de Leon.

He probably wasn’t the first fearless leader who said he would usher in a “new world order” that would mark the beginning of the Millennium promised in Revelation. Proli told his followers that God had revealed to him that Christ would make his return in North America. All his followers had to do was wait.

The Count de Leon led his flock to the latitude of Jerusalem in 1834. When they reached that latitude, they found themselves in a place in Louisiana called Grand Ecore, which was on the Red River. But an epidemic of yellow fever broke out and the faithful started dying. Sadly, one of the faithful who died was Proli.

Did the death of their messiah and the Lion of Judah cause Proli’s group to disband? Of course not. In 1835, they moved north into Claiborne Parish, on the grounds that it might be a healthier place. This final home of the colony lay a few miles north of present-day Minden.

No doubt, the group held a few more meetings and spent some more time waiting for the end of the world. But, with the loss of the great eccentric Proli, what was the point?

If you want to learn a lot more about Proli and his band of dupes, read the story “Germantown Utopian Colony” on the web site of Know Louisiana: The Digital Encyclopedia of Louisiana and Home of Louisiana Cultural Vistas (

So Much For The Capital Of Secret Vices And Excess

“What have construction crews found under Bourbon Street? So far, dirt.” — Times-Picayune, July 5

Top News Headline In This Or Any Other Year, Past Or Future

“Oreo releases Dunkin’ Donut Mocha cookies” — KPLC-TV, July 5

The News 

— “‘4.44’ is JAY-Z’s explosive response to ‘Lemonade’ — No. 4 headline in USA Today, June 30

— “Games of Thrones: How They Make the Greatest Show on Earth” — Time magazine cover story. A special double issue was devoted to this story; the dates of the magazines were July 10 and 17.

This Really Happened

“The Case Against Summer Vacation” — Cover story, Time magazine, 2010

“WHO KILLED SUMMER VACATION?” — Cover story, Time magazine, 2015

The cover continuity editor at Time magazine has one wicked easy job.

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