The Original Makers


Folk Art from the Cargo Collection at the BMA

More than 175 works of Southern folk art from the Birmingham Museum of Art’s permanent collection have been curated into a new exhibition entitled The Original Makers: Folk Art from the Cargo Collection. The exhibition opens on June 16.

The Original Makers explores themes that have inspired self-taught and craft artists living in the South over many decades, including scenes of daily life and work, nature, faith and religion, patriotism, and music. While highlighting the work of some of the most recognizable names in American folk art, including Leroy Almon, Nora Ezell, Sibyl Gibson, Ralph Griffin, Bessie Harvey, Shields Langdon Jones, Charlie Lucas, Rev. B.F. Perkins, Joanna Pettway, Herbert Singleton, Jimmy Lee Sudduth, Mose Tolliver, Fred Webster, Yvonne Wells, and Chuckie Williams, the exhibition also presents work by relatively unknown artists. The objects range in date from the mid-1800s through the 1990s and comprise quilts, paintings, sculpture, drawing, assemblages, and embellished found and recycled objects that are made from a variety of materials. The exhibition is drawn from a large gift of art made to the Birmingham Museum of Art by Caroline Cargo, and her late parents, Helen and Robert Cargo.

Following their passion for Alabama-made quilts and Southern folk art, Robert and Helen Cargo developed one of the leading private collections of folk art in the South. Over many decades, the couple amassed a collection of more than 1,500 quilts and 400 quilt tops, including the largest number of Alabama quilts known to be assembled in one group. In 1996, the Cargos gave over 300 quilts to the Birmingham Museum of Art.

In recognition, Art and Antiques Magazine named this gift one of its “100 Top Treasures” in 1997 and recognized the Cargo Collection as one of the most significant quilt collections in the United States. Their folk art collection began with two works by Jimmy Lee Sudduth and expanded to incorporate hundreds of works. The Cargos’ daughter Caroline began managing the large collection in the 1990s and continued her parents’ legacy in 2013 with a large gift to the Birmingham Museum of Art, thereby establishing its collection of folk art as among the foremost in the United States.

“As a new generation of Southern makers explores the joy of creating, the museum seeks to recognize and celebrate the makers who have lived in our midst, inspired by their life experiences, their faith, their communities, and the landscape around them,” says Emily Hanna, curator of Africa and the Americas at the Birmingham Museum of Art. “Because these artists followed their impulses to make, they have given us a window into their experiences and aspirations, into ways of life which continue to change, pass away, and be reborn.” •

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