Art: Primitive

2 minute read

To attract rural art lovers to the Missouri State Fair in Sedalia last week, fair officials held a contest for amateur painters, got Austin Faricy, professor of esthetics at Stephens College (for women) in Columbia, to judge it. Professor Faricy took one look at the entries, gave first prize to a barnyard scene called Farm Life, painted on a piece of muslin in oils and aluminum shellac.

Creator of this startling masterpiece turned out to be a Missouri Negress, Flora Cornell Lewis. Born in Kansas, 36-year-old Mrs. Lewis has been painting since she was six, has never studied. Farm Life was done in a battered farmhouse near the little town of Marshall, Mo., where she lives with her husband, Dr. Percy Lewis, a Negro veterinary surgeon.

Painted as if from an elevation (see cut) with little sky and no perspective, the prize picture showed a log cabin, a Negro couple in a buggy, a hunter and his dog, children drinking at a well, cats, chickens, livestock, a plow and a manure pile. Said Professor Faricy to complaining artists as he took his leave: “It is the finest piece of primitive art I have ever seen. If any riots start, you know where to find me.” No riots followed, but Missouri fairgoers stood in line to gape at Mrs. Lewis’ work, stared at the painting that took second prize: a reclining nude by one Robert Graham.

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