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Milwaukee Art Museum acquires Lanford Wilson Collection of self-taught art
Clyde Jones, Untitled (Dog), n.d. Wood, nails, and cockle shells, 22 x 16 x 36 in. (55.88 x 40.64 x 91.44 cm). Milwaukee Art Museum, The Lanford Wilson Collection. Image credit: John R. Glembin.
MILWAUKEE, WIS .- The Milwaukee Art Museum announced its acquisition of the Lanford Wilson Collection, comprised of 179 works by untrained creators such as William Hawkins, Eddie Arning, and Joseph Yoakum. The gift of the Wilson Collection significantly builds on the Museum’s strengths in the field of folk and self-taught art, and solidifies it as the leading institution in North America for work by untrained creators.

Lanford Wilson (1937–2011), the Pulitzer Prize–winning playwright of Burn This!, Talley’s Folly, and Fifth of July, began collecting self-taught art while in Louisiana for the filming of friend Robert Harling’s screenplay Steel Magnolias. While on location, Wilson attended an exhibition of work by Clementine Hunter and purchased one of her works. This inspired a love affair with folk and self-taught art that would peak in the coming years; at its height, Wilson’s collection had over 300 works.

“It is a testament to the reputation of the Milwaukee Art Museum that the Wilson estate chose this institution as the beneficiary of this Collection,” said Daniel Keegan, director of the Milwaukee Art Museum. “The Wilson Collection expands and diversifies our permanent collection with artists such as Harry Lieberman and Gregory van Maanen, while enhancing our other folk, self-taught, and so-called outsider holdings, including the Michael and Julie Hall Collection, the Richard and Erna Flagg Collection, and the Anthony Petullo Collection.”

While he was primarily interested in paintings and works on paper, Wilson eventually developed a taste for self-taught sculpture and decorative arts, areas in which the Museum was looking to expand its holdings. Among the highlights in the Wilson Collection are six sculptures by Earnest “Popeye” Reed, as well as works by Felipe Archuleta.

The collection also includes several works of decorative folk art, including two painted game boards and two distinctive pieces of furniture: a grid-painted table by Zebedee “Z.B.” Armstrong and a two-tiered, thread-spool table by an unknown artist.

“There is no question that the Wilson Collection solidifies the Milwaukee Art Museum as North America’s leading institution for work by untrained creators,” said Keegan. “We are grateful to the Wilson estate for this generous gift, and we look forward to showcasing these extraordinary works.”

An exhibition of the Wilson Collection is planned in the near future.



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