“Do You Know Him,” Sister Gertrude Morgan, ca. 1970, oil on canvas. Courtesy Louisiana State Museum.

On exhibit: ‘Soul of the South’ at Capitol Park Museum

Passionate. It’s the word Louisiana State Museum historian Joyce Miller uses to describe contemporary self-taught artists. True, she says, they may be aware of the marketplace for their creations, but their main motivations lie in other areas.

“They are generally driven to create by other forces: the need to express themselves, inspire others or save souls, for example,” Miller says. “The artists’ lack of formal training in color theory, composition, form and other academic conventions leads to a spontaneity and inventiveness that many viewers find appealing.”

That passion prompted New Orleans collectors Dr. Kurt Gitter and Alice Rae Yelen to amass a significant treasury of self-taught works during the 1980s and ’90s. In 1998, the couple donated more than 100 of these paintings, sculptures and mixed-media works to the Louisiana State Museum. And a new exhibit at Baton Rouge’s Capitol Park Museum, part of the Louisiana State Museum system, highlights more than 70 of those colorful creations.

Works by 41 artists including Louisianans Clementine Hunter and Sister Gertrude Morgan are included in the exhibit, along with pieces by nationally recognized names such as Mose Tolliver, Bill Traylor and Howard Finster. Striking three-dimensional selections include J.P. Scott’s wooden replica of a ferry boat and Ralph Griffin’s driftwood sculpture “The King of Dogs.”

“Outsider, folk, naïve, primitive and visionary are just a few of the terms scholars and collectors have suggested for this art over the years, but none of them adequately describes the work Gitter and Yelen collected,” Miller says. “Moreover, some of these terms had the unfortunate effect of marginalizing and exoticizing the artists and their work. I think many visitors will be surprised by how rooted in their communities many of these artists were.”

While exploring the space, visitors can also view a film on self-taught art produced by the New Orleans Museum of Art, and young visitors can use scrap materials to create their own miniature masterpieces. The exhibition, which opened September 27, will be on display through June 2019.