Sunday, March 15, 2009

Rev. B. F Perkins

Today, looking at my Friday/Saturday mail, I read a beautifully illustrated folk art auction catalog. On the front is a painting of a bedspread I have been lucky enough to see in person.

I knew the artist, a preacher named B. F. Perkins, who lived in Bankston, Alabama. I first visited with a friend and her then-mother-in-law on a cold, rainy January day at least 20 years ago. The sight of his property was enough to bring all of us cheer and some spiritual warmth, if not physical.

His compound of buildings and sculptures consisted of a church called Hartline on the right, with a hand-painted clock reading 10:00; to the left, a clapboard building serving as a church hall; between them, a red-white-and-blue concrete-block-and-painted-gourd recreation of the tomb of Jesus (complete with opening); behind it, three life-sized crosses representing the site of the crufixion; and further up, on the left and at the top of the hill, Rev. Perkins' house -- a fantastic ramshackle two-storied building on which he had painted stars and stripes and flags in red, white, and blue.

We knocked on his door and waited, not knowing what to expect. He greeted us warmly and welcome us inside. What we saw defies description. Every surface, from floor to ceiling, furniture included, had been turned into art: yellow-gold Statues of Liberty; American flags; Biblical quotations and warnings and other texts; hearts for Hartline; crosses; globes; red, white, and blue stripes; paintings and signs with patriotic and religious messages. Everything was decorated. Rev. Perkins was painting his kitchen when we arrived -- appliances and cabinets and floors.

He showed us the entire house, which except for his art, was dark until we reached the treacherously perched cupola-like second floor, where his paintings on stretched canvas covered the walls. He escorted us to the balcony and pointed out the garden where he had planted gourd vines for his painted birdhouses, his workshed, the site of his "tombstone" in the front (he had been denied a church he helped to found).

As I sit at this computer now, blogging, through my study door I see four of the five paintings he created. When I select a book from my bookcase, I see two of his gourds. When I sit on my couch and watch the birds and deer outside my front window, I see a large unfinished painting I bought from him three months after meeting him (by which time his house had been stripped almost bare by galleries). Every object reminds me of his warmth and vitality.

The urge to create is, I think, the most ennobling of human urges, and knowing Rev. Perkins has ennobled my life and does so every time I see his work.

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