A couple of weeks ago, we went to the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore for the first time. The museum features "outsider" art—art made, primarily, by people without formal training but with an intense need to create something unique or beautiful or visionary.
There were many things I loved at the museum, especially: the mesmerizing, kaleidoscopic paintings of Eugene Von Bruenchenhein, a baker who made paintings on his kitchen table after-hours (one of his paintings is shown above); the memoir paintings of Russian prince Andrew Romanoff, made entirely on shrinky dinks; and tiny paintings and sculptures selected from Richard McMahon's ongoing mini museum project.
But the exhibit that gave me the most pause was a block of bizarre crocheted pieces in the middle of the floor—a headpiece that looked like it was made for an alien, a striped, rainbow-colored coat, and more neutral-colored hats, all done with incredibly precise needlework. The plaque next to them said they were done by Deborah Berger, an autistic woman who was a knitting prodigy. Berger lived in New Orleans and worked as an artist's model by day, then came home and knitted nonstop for hours. After Berger died, her family threw out all her pieces, but someone from a New Orleans arts council rescued some of them.
Unlike the other artists I've described in this post, I cannot find a picture or even a description of Berger on the Internet. As far as I know, the most visible trace of her existence is on that block of wood in a museum in Baltimore. AVAM doesn't allow photos indoors, so I cannot show you what they look like (which is why Von Bruenchenhein's painting is shown above).
When she sat alone in her apartment, knitting furiously, was this her intention? Is a museum the ultimate destination, the best possible place for her work? Yes, probably, but still there's something a little lonely about it. One wishes that one of her subdued hats would grace the head of a distant cousin or great niece, that her family had wished to keep some part of Aunt Deborah's weird and wonderful art for themselves.
After I wrote this post, AVAM sent a short biography of Berger and photos of her work. See addendum post for September 17, 2010.