Written by Robin Pogrebin for The New York Times, Art & Design
Jimmy Hedges, left, with the folk artist Jimmy Lee Sudduth, circa 1993.CreditThe Jimmy Hedges Papers and Rising Fawn Folk Art Gallery Records, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution
The art collector James R. Hedges IV has a clear memory of when his father decided to start carving wood again.“He went out to Southern Appalachia and started meeting other people who were self-taught wood carvers,” Mr. Hedges said. “His life opened up. He fell in love with folk artists — outsider artists — and started collecting their work.”
For the next 30 years, James R. Hedges III, known as Jimmy, who was born into a prominent Chattanooga family and died in 2014, traveled the American South — bringing home art; befriending artists like Joe Light and Mose Tolliver; and building a gallery on his farm in Lookout Mountain, Ga.
Now his treasure trove of more than 2,400 pieces is going to the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art, along with the records from Mr. Hedges’s gallery, which document more than 400 outsider artists.
“This just felt like a gold mine to us,” said Kate Haw, the archives’ director.
When Annette Leddy, the archives’ New York collector, went to the Hedgeses’ storage facility, she said “it was literally packed.” Outsider art has become more important and “integrated with contemporary art,” she said.
Driving his truck through back roads, Jimmy Hedges would hand-deliver pieces to collectors’ homes, stopping along the way to visit with artists and buy more work. He was an active presence at the Outsider Art Fair, folk art exhibitions and prison auctions, seeking to improve the economic condition of fellow artists and raise their profiles.
“He would drive Purvis Young to a craft fair in Birmingham or to see the High Museum in Atlanta and introduce him to curators and artists,” the younger Mr. Hedges said of his father’s relationship with the Miami outsider artist. “I found scores of letters — ‘Dear Jimmy, Thank you for giving me $50; Dear Jimmy, Thank you for buying out all the work in the studio so that I could pay for my dialysis.” “Art is an expression that every human has — whether mentally ill, indigent, imprisoned, hobbyist or folklorist,” he added. “This creative spirit is core human stuff. My dad documented this universe.
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