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On the Road with Contributing Editor Gina Smith - American Visionary Art Museum, Baltimore MD

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By Gina M. Smith, Lilly*s of London*ish

      “Road Trip,” my sweetie proclaimed after I had a particularly grueling morning on what was supposed to be a vacation day. “You’re not gonna believe this place,” he promised.  And then delivered. I’d still be at the American Visionary Art Museum, 800 Key Highway, Baltimore, MD 21230 if he hadn’t dragged me out at closing time.

      So what’s this got to do with Vintage Indie? If you like the cast-off, the odd neglected item, the long ago favorite, in short, “vintage,” then you’ll love art made out of all things vintage.

      The artists at the Visionary Museum (AVAM for short) not only like this same stuff; they use it in their art, they sell it in the gift shop, they live and breathe vintage bits and bobs. The museum is proclaimed the “official national museum for self-taught, intuitive artistry.”

      ‘Visionary’ or outsider artists do not consider themselves part of an art movement. They often use unusual materials and tools to make their art and create just for the simple reason that they “need” to create.

      The current AVAM exhibit, through Sept. 6, is “The Marriage of Art, Science and Philosophy.” If that sounds too egg-heady for you and yours, consider some of the exhibits: life-sized robots made from sprinkler heads and radiators, a tiny diorama of hundreds of busy monkeys carved out of peach pits, a more-than-life-sized and anatomically-correct Big Foot made from multi-colored electrical wire.

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      Lest you think I am poking fun at any of the art- far from it! I was enthralled and amazed. It felt like I was among kindred spirits. The spirit of one of my recent Art & Soul teachers, Anne Grgich (www.annegrgich.com), was certainly there. In fact, when I got home I wrote to ask if she is familiar with AVAM and learned she had exhibited there in 2002-2003. The exhibit was titled “High On Life,” and you can read more about that here:  . As a related side note, Anne was also the cover story in issue 22 of Raw Vision, an outsider and contemporary folk art journal/magazine sold at the museum. I was able to pick up issue 66 and can’t stop drooling over it.

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      AVAM is an excellent road trip for families with children. Kids will love what they think are wacky exhibits while mom and dad will appreciate the deeper meanings. And if one or both of you is into vintage, recycling, science fiction or more, you’ll need the entire 10 a.m. to 6 p. m. Tuesday through Sunday to see everything. I could have spent a good two hours in the gift shop alone.  It’s not called Sideshow for nothing. The variety of kitsch, original art, toys and memorabilia from the 70s and 80s, and the large selection of art books are all outstanding.

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      There’s plenty of open space at AVAM for restless kids. Besides the full-sized mosaic-covered bus outside, there’s the wildflower garden (which can also be rented for weddings), the sculpture plaza and tall sculpture barn (yes, it’s really a barn- with barn-sized art). There’s also the Giant Whirligig, Baltimore’s 55-foot wind-powered outdoor landmark, created by 76-year-old mechanic, farmer and visionary artist Vollis Simpson. It is free to see in central plaza.

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      An adjacent building, the Jim Rouse Visionary Center, pays tribute to social and urban activist the late Jim Rouse, founder of the nearby community of Columbia, MD, and a major developer in the Baltimore area. The three levels include The Hall of Social Visionaries, Visionary Village and The Center for Visionary Thought and Expression.

      The current exhibit (Art, Science and Philosophy) in the main building is dedicated to the late Sir Arthur C. Clarke, whose short story was the basis for 2001: A Space Odyssey, the movie he co-wrote with Stanley Kubrick. That alone should give those of us old enough to remember a vision for what to expect there. But in addition to sci-fi fantasies, (un) expect to find intricate patchwork quilts by Michigan artist Ms. Chris Roberts-Antieau, paintings on tar paper by former biochemist Mr. Tres Taylor, intricate carvings on the tips of pencil leads by Dalton Ghetti and 30-foot rolls of crayon drawings by 112-year-old (and counting) Frank Calloway.

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      Still, my favorite exhibit is the life-sized robots by DeVon Smith in the Rouse center. If you are enamored of doorknobs, sprinkler heads, coils, watering cans and bed knobs and broomsticks, you’ll want to take them home, or at least hug them. It’s Found-Object Art at its best. (A good use of vintage parts for smaller robots can be found on Etsy here:  and here.

      More open space abounds around AVAM on Federal Hill where free movies are shown at 9 pm on Thursday nights through mid-August. The film selections are inspired by the current exhibit. Schedule: July 2 Raiders of the Lost Ark • July 9: Dr. Strangelove • July 16: The Time Machine • July 23: Sleeper • July 30: Dr. No • August 6: The King & I • August 13: Ghostbusters. The museum is open and free between 5 and 9 pm on movie nights. Rain location is inside the museum.

      For more information on this or any AVAM activities and exhibits you can contact the museum at 1-410-244-1900 or www.avam.org. Now, go figure out how to make art with all the vintage goodies you’ve been hoarding.

Featurebutton_06 - Contributing Editor Gina Smith aka Lilly*s of London*ish, started making jewelry about six years ago and has since tied this in with a love of vintage finds, Blythe, crochet and altered art in her etsy shop. Growing up in an antiquing family gives her a background and appreciation for all things vintage, especially dinnerware, jewelry and Americana advertising prints and products

{All contributed content Gina Smith © Lilly*s of London*ish}

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