Dewey Blocksma: Art With Soul

Blocksma may be drawn to the simplicity of folk and outsider art, but he can’t really be a folk artist himself. He was asked to show pieces at the New York Outsider Art Show for seven consecutive years, but last year was not asked back, the organizers citing "too much education."

Indeed, by definition, American folk artists have very little formal tutelage. "They live in rural areas, have never been in a museum, and they begin to make art after a traumatic event – the wife dies, something falls on their legs," Blockmsa says. They’re like the man from Alabama who paints with mud and molasses, or Texas inmates who dissolve M&M’s dye with water. Blocksma’s own art defies category.

"Dewey does what he does," says Sally Viskochil, who owns Omena’s heralded Tamarack Craftsmen Gallery with her husband David Viskochil and has known Blocksma since he became an artist in 1980. "And the world either gets or doesn’t get it."

"What he does he executes with a doctor’s precision and sense of proportion, you can’t deny that," David says. "There’s so much beauty in his work, and what I love is the totality of it. It’s not just a bunch of stuff put together. It’s not about nothing."

"Though Dewey is there intellectually when he works, he still lets things happen," David says. "There’s an honesty to it." But the people who don’t see the honesty in Blocksma’s work find it offensive, and some respond to it with outrage.

Dewey Blocksma is in a canoe in late January 1999, traveling down an ice-rimmed Boardman River. He’s trying to get a sense of the essence of a river he’s been commissioned to capture in a sculpture. Blocksma’s proposal: a giant Earth Mother portage sculpture he’ll call "River Goddess," with an aluminum body and shoulders made from an actual aluminum canoe, plus a wind machine made of different river creatures in motion.

Some Traverse City residents are not amused when the green tarp covering the sculpture comes off to unveil his vision at the August ’99 dedication. Letters to the city commissioners and to the Traverse City Record-Eagle pour in, some supportive, many snarky.

"Dewey doesn’t live in Traverse City and have to drive by the ‘work of art’ every day," wrote one resident. "I’m thinking of cleaning out my garage and creating a sculpture myself."

"This was the first public art for Traverse City and they weren’t ready for it," says David Viskochil. "They said ‘it’s offensive, crude, my 5-year-old can do that.’"

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