Weirdness in Georgia: Floria Yancey, Folk Artist
By Jim Miles
The South has produced a unique cultural phenomenon known as folk art. Usually produced by older, rural and untutored individuals, they suddenly start picking up trash: a discarded bicycle wheel, waste ends of lumber, or scrap metal-and transform them into vibrant but primitive pieces of art. This urge becomes a passion, until their homes and property are filled with a bizarre and captivating realm of colorful whirligigs, giant Coca-Cola bottles, and brightly painted signs stating personal religious messages. Today even the most highfaluting art snobs venture into the rural countryside to lavish praise on these country geniuses, and art dealers arrive with trucks to purchase all they can to sell at a considerable markup.
Unfortunately, many of our rural artists are aging, and a number of significant talents have died over the past several decades, including Howard Finster and his Coke bottles and R.A. Miller and his Lord Love You whirligigs. Those European Masters have nothing on our folk artists.
My personal favorite folk artist is Floria Yancey-three of her works hang in my home. Born in Geneva, Alabama, in 1951 Floria was one of fourteen children born to sharecropper parents who moved to Stewart County when she was six. To make a living the family farmed cotton, cut wood for pulp mills, and grew their own vegetables, corn, and sugar cane.
Floria was nicknamed "Moony" by other children because she was different, preferring to explore the woods with dogs and a cat instead of playing. She married, raised two children, and after retiring as a seamstress became a self-taught folk artist in order to express her dreams and visions. Floria draws considerable inspiration for her art from her childhood, and utilizes paint on wood, tin, and other found materials. An ordained minister, Yancey operates the Southern Folk Art Gallery and Church on U.S. 520 in Brooklyn, in the southwestern part of the state a short distance south of Columbus. There she creates and sells her work. As they say, you can't miss the establishment; the yard is dominated by a growing number of large works-figures of Jesus and Satan as an evil serpent that proclaim her religious ideas-and whirligigs. She is best known for her unique cats, dubbed cubbees.
Jim Miles is the author of two "Weird Georgia" books and nine books about the Civil War. See Jim's books.