High Adventure in Old Fort

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We had one of those cold, rainy, dreary days in the middle of this week, so I closed the store and set off on an adventure. Good friends and antique explorers, John Ellery and Elizabeth Jones have been on the prowl as usual and have pointed my way towards some folk art treasure troves. Just recently they introduced me to a wonderful center for art which serves the adult mentally handicapped community in Morganton. There I found some amazing art which I brought back to the shop. More recently they discovered the outsider art of some homeless men living in the woods outside Old Fort.

Two friends who are artists and love folk art as much as I do, Suzy Miles and Sheila Martin joined me on the trek to Old Fort where we were ran through the downpour and slogged through muddy puddles on the search for treasure. We struck gold in an unlikely spot, a bait and tackle shop. We were greeted by Big Eddie who embraced us with his warmth. Eddie guided us among the shelves stocked with strange stuff that is used to lure fish, reels, beef jerky, and baseball caps, and stands crammed with assorted fishing rods to point out the art he has collected from his brother and his brother’s buddies who make the art in the woods.

Eddie served as docent extraordinaire of his collection, discussing materials, techniques, and special features of the art. He took such pleasure in showing us the work that it increased our collectors’ desire to acquire the work. The three of us squealed with delight as he showed us the objects made by these men: a large turtle, a flounder, a snake, a huge catfish, sharks, assorted masks, and an array of large, colorful fish.

When we begged him to sell us some of these objects, he refused. This is his collection and he loves and cares for each of these works of art, and they are not for sale. He explained that the men do not come out in the rain, and even if they did, the work would be damaged by the wet. Much of it is made with paper mache, ground walnut shells, and flour and water, so rain is certainly a danger. Eddie said he would speak with the men on our behalf and try to arrange a meeting so we can negotiate with them about buying their work. I can’t wait!

Eddie directed us to an interesting shop a few doors down where he said his good friend might have a few pieces to sell. He spoke highly of this woman, calling her a Doowop. We asked what that meant and he said she was Italian, Polish, German, and Portuguese, and spoke many languages, and that made her a Doowop. Live and learn.

We braved the downpour and found our way in a shop that made me check for emergency exits. The lights were dim and the shelves were overstocked with stuff: old stuffed animals, dolls without arms, assorted mugs, Tupperware without lids, dusty pots and pans, carnival souvenirs, half-burned candles, old clothes, baskets, Barbies with wild hair, and canned food. All that was missing was a smelly litter box, but without that, I was on high alert for mice.

The owner was in the back and proved to be a friendly and accommodating woman who pointed us in the general direction for some of the folk art we were searching. Her young assistant dug through the piles of stuff and unearthed several pieces which we snapped up. The owner, whose name I have forgotten, is another friend of these artists, and she told us that she is helping them get on their feet after a fire destroyed what little they had. The money from our purchases would go directly to them.

I managed to wrestle a few pieces away from my friends, but look forward to getting more of this whimsical work directly from the artists.