folk arts - art gallery
FOLK ARTS are traditional art forms handed down from generation to generation
IN PRISONófrom cellie to cellie
FOLK ARTS are specific to a particular culture.
IN PRISONóthe culture is life behind bars influenced by "ethnic origins".
FOLK ARTS are crafted of materials indigenous to the place from which they spring.
IN PRISON - where resources are slim to none, inmates create with soap,
cigarette wrappers, toilet paper, pebbles, toothpicks, pop cans, white bread, and much more!
Paper weaving is a craft practiced not only in prison and other institutions but also as hobo art, and at childrenís summer camp. Prisonser use cigarette wrappers, potato chip bags etc. - any kind of paper that works. Convicts weave paper to make frames, cup holders, jewelry boxes, scrap books, crosses, miniature churches and houses. One Hispanic inmate calls it ďtejidoĒ or netting, and says it reminds him of the fishing nets in the village where he grew up. ďMaybe itís my Indian heritage, being close to nature, or maybe Iím just behind the times.Ē
Ernesto Gonzales, Top Ramen Baby Shoes
"Eagle Brand Potato Chips are no longer available in this prison. Maybe they still have them on the streets. It had a beach scene on the front, so you had yer tan from the sand, yer blue and white from the water with the waves, and a big red and white beach umbrella. I saved them for four months to do a jewelry box and a CO comes sweeping through and says you canít have this and he tossed them."
Leland Dodd Kools Purse
is not permitted in some institutions, tolerated
in others, and is widespread in either case. Carvers use state-issued
soap or have their favorite brands sent in by friends or family.
Carving tools vary - popsicle sticks, plastic forks, paper clips,
pencils, square bread ties, big staples, and fingernails grown long,
originally to measure out cocaine or heroin.
There is a story that goes around every jail about a guy who carves a gun out of soap, paints it realistically, and escapes. In Take the Money and Run, prisoner Woody Allenís soap gun fooled one guard but as he neared the gate to freedom, the rains came and the gun turned into soapy lather. Not too threatening.
Molina "No One Cares" Ivory soap
Molina depicts an escape which ended badly. One convict hangs from the razor wire, still inside the wall, his severed hand in a pool of blood. His companion made it over but lies dead from his fall on the sidewalk. Passersby proceed, oblivious to the tragedy - Molinaís metaphor for the publicís cold indifference to the plight of prisoners.
T. R. "Franklin County House of Correction" soap, q-tips, acrylics
" I passed a manís cell one day who was praying
and it stayed on my mind. Here Iím showing a cage, a person isnít
supposed to be like that. When people see it then they could learn
not to get in trouble so they wonít have to go through this."
A poster hangs on the wall opposite the cell door - "Do
not pray for an easy life, pray to be a strong person."
Toilet Paper sculpture. Prison toilet paper is the coarse cheap kind, malleable when wet, hard and durable when dried. One toilet paper artist, paroled to a half-way house, discovered that the relatively luxurious toilet paper available on the streets was too weak for his sculptures. He contacted an aquaintance on the prison staff to get the name of the institutionís supplier.
Keith Dwy "Self-portrait" toilet paper, crayons
Dominic Vincenzo "Released by Death" toilet paper, acrylics
Released by Death is stamped on an inmateís final papers when the prison sends out his dead body. This old con secured his own release by overdosing on drugs. He goes out, at ease, listening to music on his walkman.
Handkerchief art, or " Pano Arte", traditionally a Hispanic prisonersí folk art is now part of the whole prison culture. Most institutions offer the handkerchiefs for sale in the commissary and tacitly sanction the art. The panos are light weight, easy to mail home and a transportable, allowable means of beautifying a prison cell. They are collected in great numbers by convict patrons. The Smithsonian Museum has a pano collection, recognizing the uniqueness of this art form.
Anonymous Letís Stay Together colored pencils
Envelope art is made in the same spirit of giving as pano arte. The prisoner sends a splash of color to the family, friend, or lover, and the recipient sees immediately how the prisoner is feeling. The profession of envelope decoration is a thriving one. Inmates can decorate an envelope for themselves or they might hire a professional for a custom design.
Anonymous Envelopes mixed media