Extraordinary Folk
Festival offers unique home decor options

It's a question that has been debated since a caveman painted buffaloes on a wall: What is art? Is it Michelangelo's painting on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, or can it be a scrap of tin decorated by an untrained eye and steady hand?

According to Steve Slotin, it's both, though he prefers the latter on his walls.

"This is a question that has been asked forever. Who knows what art really is?" said Slotin, president of Slotin Folk Art Auction and producer of Folk Fest, one of the largest showcases of folk art in the world.

The annual art show, now in its 14th year, will run from Friday to Sunday in Norcross. The festival draws more than 12,000 patrons from across the country each year.

"This is the only show of its kind in the country," Slotin said. "Right here in our own backyard, we have this wealth of folk art and folk artists. So many people don't even realize, but we are so lucky to have these artists right at our fingertips."

Folk art is defined as work created by self-taught, untrained artists. The creations displayed throughout the three-day event don't exactly fit the conventional, traditional mold of home decor. These are not mass-manufactured glass vases or duplicated posters of oversized daisies. Rather, the products at Folk Fest are one-of-a-kind, out-of-the-box concepts.

It can mean anything from artist Lanier Meader's devil-shaped jug, to Mose Tolliver's painting, "Black Jesus on a Crucifix." Most images include bright colors, simple depictions and characters brimming with child-like qualities. This, Slotin said, is what gives them such a wide appeal.

"This isn't a poster you buy from Rooms to Go," he said. "This is art that gets you away from the mall. People are really starting to wake up to folk art and discover its charm. These are paintings and pottery and pieces that you can't find anywhere else."

From Georgia to Louisiana, the Southeast is a breeding ground for folk art. A majority of the work exhibited in the festival hails from this region, with pieces also coming in from more rural areas of the West, Southwest and Canada.

Traditionally, Slotin said, folk artists are uneducated people from rural areas, and most don't even consider themselves artists.

"These tend to be people who never finished school. They dropped out in eighth grade to work on the family plantation or work in the factory," Slotin said. "They never had anyone tell them how to create art. They just used the material they had available, like cardboard and sheet metal, and they painted the images that were meaningful to them. If you were to tell them they were artists, they wouldn't believe you."

Purchasing art is never a bad investment - especially with folk art, as it tends to be less expensive than more standard mediums. When shopping for folk art, it's best to buy what appeals to you. There is no right or wrong, Slotin said

"When you're starting out, just buy what you like. As you get more into it, you see the trends and learn more about what to buy," he said. "That's the thing about folk art. It's groundbreaking and underground. These are emerging artists, so it isn't the price you'd pay for a piece in a gallery somewhere. The pieces you buy here are like a 401K for your wall. One day, they will be worth a lot."