Marcia Weber wasn’t supposed to be a gallery owner. Her plan was to teach.
But while working at the Montgomery Museum of Art, that plan went by the wayside.
“His vocabulary, his Southern accent, was a little difficult for some of the curators there at the time,” she said. “I was very lucky that I got to go and meet Mose and spend a good bit of time with him.”
At a post-show reception, first lady Nancy Reagan let it slip that she had acquired two of Tolliver’s paintings for the private quarters of the White House. A flood of fan mail followed, along with requests to purchase his work. Weber stepped in, continuing to visit Tolliver at his home to help him read and answer mail. (Tolliver couldn’t read.)
“I would write on the bottom of the letter what he would tell me to write and send it back to the people and then they would send money to Mose,” she recalled. “In essence, I began to help him, really just as a friend.”
Working with Tolliver helped Weber remove her “fine art glasses,” which opened her to the world of self-taught art. It’s a large field, made up of many parts. One is “outsider art,” which is often created by people who live outside of societal norms for reasons ranging from reclusiveness to mental illness. Another is “visionary art,” where an artist may have visions, largely religious in nature, and then create renditions of those visions. And then there’s Weber’s specialty, contemporary folk art.
“We, here in Alabama, are lucky to have the cream of the crop of the painters in this particular field,” she said.
That includes Tolliver, Jimmie Lee Sudduth, Charlie Lucas, Woodie Long, Howard Finster and Bill Traylor, whom Weber considers to be Alabama’s most important self-taught artist. The Smithsonian is planning a major retrospective of Traylor’s work in 2018. For Weber, focusing on self-taught art was not a decision. It just happened.
“I was really drawn to it. I loved the color. I loved their use of composition. It was not contrived. It was very fresh,” she said. “And there was something about academically trained art, at that time, that was beginning to bore me.”
So, she began collecting, traveling in and around Alabama and then branching out to other parts of the country. Soon, all of the fine art in her home was replaced by self-taught art. Eventually, Weber started toying with the idea of opening a gallery.
Marcia Weber Art Objects was established in 1991. The gallery now carries more than 2,000 pieces and is the largest of its kind in Alabama.
Self-taught art was not always seen as viable and valuable, and a lot of it has been lost along the way because of that. Also, many of the artists have died, particularly over the past decade or so.
In the beginning, Weber was primarily tasked with selling art to help her clients keep their utility bills paid. Now, she’s more concerned with preservation.
“I’m busy trying to save the masterpieces that come my way,” she said. “I’m so blessed to have an opportunity to not only know these artists, but to try to save the very best of what they create. And to hopefully get it into the hands of those who realize what this is and who will always save it.”
Weber hosts her annual Holiday Open House at the gallery today, Dec. 7, from 2 p.m. until 8 p.m. There will be cheese straws. The public is welcome. On view now: “American Self-Taught Masters” and “Saints and Sinners – Latin American Folk Art.”
Republished with permission from the Alabama NewsCenter.