Visions of Paradise

We are video streaming a remarkable series of films by Irving Saraf and Allie Light. The “Visions of Paradise” series includes Possum Trot: The Life and Work of Calvin Black, 1903-1972; Angel That Stands By Me: the Paintings of Minnie Evans; Hundred and Two Mature: The Art of Harry Lieberman; Grandma’s Bottle Village: The Art of Tressa Prisbrey; The Monument of Chief Rolling Mountain Thunder.

Like many of the documentary films on Folkstreams, an artist is the centerpiece of the film. Through the interview or examination of the artist’s work and life I have discovered one can learn many things about life itself. The films are also useful to anyone who wants to become an artist or understand better the personality and motivations of an artist. For the budding artist, the interviews and examination of the artist’s works show how art arises from or becomes a part of the artist’s life. I would recommend any beginning filmmaker watch these wonderfully constructed films.

I cannot recommend Possum Trot and Grandma’s Bottle Village more highly. Both films explore the striking creations of eccentric individuals. Possum Trot explores the mechanical doll creations of an enigmatic man who made his living from a roadside attraction out in the desert. In a Disneyland on acid, we visit a strange reformulation of the theme park animatronic figures, handmade, individual and low tech compared to the scientific, sterile and high tech displays of the theme park. One example of the artistic power of these creations is the merry-go-round.
When facing the revolving sets of dolls, you see a doll’s face and then a mirror reflecting yours. There is something ineffable and profound about this.

What do you do when you have a collection of 17,000 pencils? You build a house for them. When Tressa Prisbrey found out how much it would cost to purchase cement blocks to house her collection, she decided to go to the dump. Here she found the ‘one million and fifteen’ bottles that make up her village of buildings constructed entirely of discarded bottles. As she says “nobody in their right mind would build a place like this, especially not an old woman.” Long before recycling became cool, the “crazy lady” was busy constructing one building after another out of bottles. From inside the ethereal, stained glass like walls, light cascades through the mult-colored bottles. More than just practical, one can find hints of post-modern whimsy in her works, such as the blue bottles, literally, for her “flower garden” in the front of the house in Grandma’s Bottle Village.

Hundred and Two Mature gives us insight into the nature of an artist. By coming to art late in life, it makes the process of transformation more visible than it would for someone who exhibited artistic ability at a younger age.

Chief Rolling Mountain Thunder, being an outcast with “no place to be” always wanted to build a place where people could find the spirits along with food and a place to sleep. About his art he says, “when I complete a job, … I like to look at it for a while, then I never see it again.” He hope his efforts would to “bring together the wisdom of the old and the enthusiasm of the young.” This film examines the beauty and meaning of his art, and I invite you to see how well building his monumental home he succeeds in sharing that spirit with others.

These films also let us examine how each artist looks for answers to questions such as how do we deal with the tragedy of life: coping with aging, death and the weightlessness of our self constrained by the material nature of existence.

Theresa Segreti, Director of Design and Education at the American Visionary Art Museum described this series of favorite visionary arts films as “a great treasure” and went on to say “How happy we are here at The Visionary that such care was taken with our favorite films and made accessible to so many. It’s a great resource. Great job and thank you.” We are thankful for the opportunity to stream these wonderful films.

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