Full disclosure: I am an enthusiastic fan of folk art. I love how it addresses the need of ordinary people to express themselves, to create and represent the world around them. It is an enthusiasm I share with local folk art collector James Joyce, whose home is decorated with folk art.
“I like its simplicity, its honesty,” he says. “It resonates with me.”
Words, as well as images, are Joyce’s forte, which he used to great advantage in the corporate communications business he and his wife Terry Sweitzer ran prior to his retirement. They continue to serve him well as the Dunvegan correspondent for the Glengarry News and on his blog https://www.dunvegan-times.ca/.
The couple has accumulated more than 40 pieces of museum-quality folk art over the years. All are displayed in the many rooms of their log house, with its board and batten addition.
Folk art is generally defined as works that are handmade – usually from fairly simple elements. The artists may be formally trained, but are often self-taught. The work can be decorative or useful, traditional or individual, wacky or grim, as in Joyce’s piece of a man butchering a pig.
The couple first caught the folk art bug when Sweitzer met Claude Lamontagne, a Québecois bird carver at the Lachute Flea Market. They ended up purchasing many of his bird pieces. While keeping some, they also featured his work in the shop, Bird On a Wire, they had set up in their barn. It sold bird feed, feeders and accessories.
Additional pieces came from the Maritimes, long a hotbed of the folk art movement.
“Part of the appeal of folk art was that it was affordable back then, before it became highly collectable,” Joyce says.
Although the market has increased in value, folk art is still affordable relative to fine art.
Another part of the attraction of folk art for Joyce is the opportunity to meet and form relationships with some of the artists. One of his favourite artists is Leo Naugler, a carver from Camperdown Nova Scotia, who has created several of the pieces Joyce and Sweitzer own, including a Whimsical Rooster and Two Seagulls. Ron Stephens’ rusted metal work Moose is another favourite, as is Nova Scotian Peter Rafuse’s Red Fish and White Tail Deer. Rafuse and his wife Lisa are both deaf and work together, with Peter doing the carving and Lisa, the painting.
Collecting comes naturally to Joyce and Sweitzer. Their home is filled with antiques, art and collectibles. For years, Joyce collected Coca-Cola memorabilia, amassing a number of interesting finds until the two decided they no longer wanted to live in an advertisement.
The couple still occasionally add to their collection, stopping at flea markets, craft sales and roadside stands. On a recent Apples and Art tour, Joyce dropped in on Glengarry artist Sylvie Juteau, who uses a plasma metal cutter in her work. Joyce bought a carved waste paper basket.
Joyce sums up the appeal of all folk art when he says, “I just wish I could do it.”