Rescued Art

Kids' CircleCol Adcock spent a lifetime in the schools. Her mother, Ruth, was a wonderful painter and Col used Ruth’s original art as teaching tools in her classroom. The subjects of the paintings are all children, so Col must have taught young kids in the early grades, maybe 3rd or 4th. She gave her life to the school systems, moving from public to private Catholic schools. Then she graduated to administrative levels.

Ruth’s original paintings are unschooled, odd in that her daughter used them as teaching tools. By unschooled, I mean naïve, uncomplicated and very direct. Her works have a real strong presence. On the wall, they feel like a living being is looking out from the frame. This experience of presence is what often comes through in unschooled painting. The technique is sometimes less than mature, but the learning of technique often dims the artist’s ability to let presence shine.

Col’s house was a common one on the west side of Bay City, Michigan. Two-story clapboard very well maintained and painted every 10 years. The layout was regular with quite small rooms, common in working class homes where not much money had to house several people. Col must have been weak and sick for a while near the end, because the original living room had been made into a sleeping space so Col wouldn’t have to manage the stairs every night. Many of the pickers weren’t paying attention to the art. They were distracted by wondering why they had to go through a bedroom in order to get to the front stairs to go to the second floor.

I went to the estate sale on the first day and was attracted to Ruth’s work immediately. But, the unschooled quality hid them from most pickers’ eyes. They were looking either for very old antique-appeal art or for famous artists. A guy on the estate sale staff saw me holding up the painting “Kid’s Circle” to see it better in the natural light of the window. (These gabled second floor bedrooms are often shadowy under the peaked ceilings.) He offered: “The family took most of the Picassos.” Meaning the family took the good art. They probably thought Grandma Ruth’s stuff was too simple. He then said: “I don’t like her people paintings much.”

With the pickers looking around and past “Kid’s Circle” and the estate staff apologizing for it, I knew I could come back on the discount day and find it still on the Col’s upstairs bedroom wall. And it was. A bold color of diverse kids, happy and present in their schoolroom dance. I was happy too, seeing with this picker’s own eyes and rescuing this painting for others to see as well.