SPACES Recap: NPS Divine Disorder Conference at The High Museum

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Divine Disorder participants gather between presentations. Photo courtesy NCPTT.

Every four years, the National Park Service's National Center for Preservation Technology and Training puts together a rare convening of folks with both a professional and personal interest in the preservation of art environments and self-taught artistic work. The second annual Divine Disorder Conference on the Preservation of Folk and Outsider Art met February 24-26, 2015, drawing ethnographers, art historians, art conservators, historic preservationists, and museum and archive professionals alike to Atlanta, Georgia's High Museum of Art.

The High, home to one of North America's great collections of folk and self-taught art (including a room dedicated to the works of beloved Georgia artist Howard Finster), was a fitting gathering space for two days of contributed papers, followed by a field-trip day to Howard Finster's Paradise Gardens in North Georgia. 

 

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SPACES Director Jo Farb Hernandez speaks at 2015 Divine Disorder. Photo courtesy NCPTT.

Presentations covered the range of discussion on conserving, preserving, documenting, and interpreting art environments and self-taught works. SPACES Executive Director Jo Farb Hernandez spoke on curatorial roles and responsibilities in working with art environments, while photographer Fred Scruton spoke about his work documenting the "personal iconography" of Niagara Falls artist Prophet Isaiah Robertson's church and home.

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A Finster piece at the High Museum of Art, Atlanta. Photo courtesy NCPTT.

Others presented updates and best practices on conserving/restoring art environments, or in building local support for the preservation of a site. This included dispatches from the preservation efforts surrounding the E.T. Wickham Stone Park in Palmyra, Tennessee, Margaret's Grocery, built by Rev. H.D. Dennis' in Vicksburg, Mississippi, and the Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park in Wilson, North Carolina.

Most notably, Terri Yoho, Director of the Kohler Foundation, a Wisconsin non-profit with a dedicated focus on the preservation of art environments, presented Kohler's current project: The multi-stage restoration of Pasaquan, St. EOM's seven acre art environment in Buena Vista, Georgia. Art conservators working on the Pasaquan project also spoke to the unique process of restoring such an expansive site, leaning on the wealth of primary documentation and local knowledge of the site to aid their work.

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Divine Disorder participants tour Finster's Paradise Gardens. Photo courtesy NCPTT.

The third day of the conference took participants up to Summerville, Georgia to see, first-hand, the renovation of Howard Finster's hallowed art environment, Paradise Gardens. The Paradise Gardens Foundation assumed leadership of the site in 2012, in partnership with Chattooga County, Ga.

Director Jordan Poole led a tour of the snow-covered Gardens, and spoke about the site's renovation process, largely supported by an Art Place America grant, but further supported by local investment in the Gardens as a key platform for economic development, cultural tourism, and public programming. 

 

Many thanks to the NPS' National Center for Preservation Technology and Training and the High Museum of Art for facilitating an important and rare gathering, with representation across the disciplinary spectrum.

Folks who could not be at the 2015 Divine Disorder conference are able to access abstracts of each presentation on the NCPTT conference website, and will soon be able to stream videos of the presentations. The next conference is tentatively sheduled for 2019. Be sure to mark your calendar now.

 

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Howard Finster's decorated car. Photo courtesy NCPTT.

 

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 A presentation by Norman Girardot at the new gallery expansion to Finster's house. Photo courtesy NCPTT.

 

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Detail at Finster's Paradise Gardens. Photo courtesy NCPTT.

 

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Participants of the 2015 Divine Disorder on the steps of Finster's home at Paradise Gardens. Photo courtesy NCPTT.

 

 

 

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