History of the Collection
Tarble Arts Center Folk Arts Collection and Archives
Eastern Illinois University began to actively collect examples of Illinois folk arts in 1976 through the College of Fine Arts. The impetus and basis for the Folk Arts Collection came from three surveys of east-central and southeastern Illinois folk artists, conducted between 1976 and 1985, and funded by the National Endowment for the Arts. Funding to purchase contemporary Illinois folk art was made possible through two grants from the Charles E. Merrill Trust, based on the survey information.
The Folk Arts Collection, survey data, and archival materials have been housed in the Tarble Arts Center since its opening in 1982. The collection has been added to through gifts and grants, and works by Illinois artists continue to be sought for the collection, especially contemporary works from artists living in east-central and southeastern Illinois.
Sub-collections include the Ferd Metten Collection (carvings and assemblages), the Buzzard Textile Collection, Famous Black American Dolls by I. Roberta Bell, the First Lady Doll Collection by Leta C. Whitacre, and the Burl Ives Cane Collection. Notable artists represented in the collection include Jennie Cell (paintings), Cora Meek (embriodered quilts and rugs), Lee Godie (drawing), and Arthur Walker (carvings and assemblages).
In selecting works for the collection, the definition of the term “folk arts” used is: an object created by a non-academically trained artist that connotes some form of individual expression, and that also represents the shared aesthetic traditions of an ethnic or religious group, family, community or geographic area. Usually such art is passed transgenerationally (parent to child, or master to apprentice), and often comes from a craft tradition, rather than a fine arts tradition.
Many works illustrate traditions carried from peoples of the Upland South and Yankee North who settled in eastern and southern Illinois. From the Upland Southern tradition are woven rag rugs, bi-lobed baskets, and bent-stick furniture. From the Yankee tradition are hooked rugs, baskets done on crossed-hoop frames, fish decoys, and apple-head dolls. Also in the collection is a scale replica of an 1820s log tavern, similar to the type found along the National Road which at one time ended in Vandalia, Illinois, and brought travelers to the area from the North and South. There is little to demonstrate ethnic diversity in the Folk Arts Collection, except for some carvings by the Ferd Metten which reflect his German Catholic roots, examples of Pysansky (Ukranian egg decorating), and some Northern European bobbin lace. The Amish from the area are represented by quilts, leather work, and blacksmithing, and documented through a self-contained free-standing photo-panel exhibit, The Amish of Illinois. Nearly all of the objects in the Folk Arts Collection speak to the traditions and values of the rural Midwest.
Contemporary Works on Paper
Excluding folk arts, most of the Tarble Arts Center collection holdings are works on paper by 20th and 21st century American artists, primarily from the Midwest, including original prints, watercolors, drawings, and mixed media works. Some noted artists include: Alice Baber, Leonard Baskin, Lawrence Calcagno, William Stanley Hayter, Jasper Johns, James McGarrell, and Claus Oldenberg. Sub-collections, suites, and series include: Plucked Chicken Press Subscription Series I and II, color lithographs; The Farm intaglio suite by Jamie Wyeth; Cityscapes suite of Photo-Realist screen prints ( John Baeder, Charles Bell, Arne Besser, Tom Blackwell, Fran Bull, Hilo Chen, H. N. Han, Ron Kleemann, Noel Mahaffey, and C. J. Yao); A Midwest Portfolio by Fred Jones, block and color screen prints; intaglio figure studies by Herbert Fink; A Salute to Art History collotypes by Mel Ramos. Some of the Illinois artists represented include: Peter Bodner, James Butler, Ruth Duckworth, David Driesbach, Richard Hunt, and Ed Shay. Watercolors and drawings by Illinois artists are acquired through purchase awards for a biennial competitive exhibition, Drawing/Watercolor: Illinois.
The American Scene/Regionalist holdings consists primarily of prints, and the grouping is broad, in some cases relying more on art historical associations than on the imagery itself. Essentially, these works can be grouped into two categories: those that were purchased from Associated American Artists (AAA) in the late 1940s and early 1950s, and those that were produced through Federal “New Deal” art projects of the 1930s and ‘40s.
Artists represented: Thomas Hart Benton, Federico Castellon, Aga Cheffetz, Howard Cook, John Steuart Curry, Adolf Dehn, William Gropper, Rockwell Kent, Julian Levi, Luigi Lucioni, Samuel Margolies, Fletcher Martin, Paul Sample, Raphael Soyer, Stow Wengenroth, Grant Wood. “New Deal” artists represented: Briggs Dyer (PWAP), Ann Michalov (WAP/FAP), Cornelius Sampson (PWAP), Paul Stoddard (PWAP), Charles Turzak (PWAP), John R. Winters (WPA).
For more information about the holdings of the Tarble Arts Center, or policies concerning access for study or loans to qualifying institutions, contact the Tarble Arts Center at (217) 581-2787 or e-mail