By Kevin Williams
Art and the Amish are a tricky balance. Some arts are a given, like quilting. Few would argue that it is an art, but it is also very utilitarian. There's a clear use for the quilts so the craft of quilting is viewed as less craft and more necessity. Other arts like writing, painting, wood-working and poetry are also embraced by the Amish. Still, some artistic pursuits can risk veering into what some Amish would consider "frivolous." Yet, artistic outlets are also healthy, low-tech pursuits, so in that sense, as long as they don't conflict with family or work, are embraced by the Amish.
I've met several Amish painters over the years, and they've all been quite talented. One Amish woman in Pennsylvania that I met painted old saw-blades.
An Amish man I met in Indiana once, a tall, lanky man that resembles Abraham Lincoln, painted a beautiful watercolor scene of Amish Indiana for me back in the mid-90s. I commissioned the painting from him to give to my brother as a gift. He was living in Los Angeles at the time and I thought the painting would give him a comforting slice of home.
Of course there are plenty of non-Amish artists who do a superb of depicting the Amish. One of my favorite is Rhode Island artist Cheryl McNulty, I think she does a super job of capturing the Plain essence of Amish life.
Cheryl just started working on a winter scene for a calendar she has planned featuring her Amish artwork. I linked last week to the start of the painting, well she has released some new images of her progress and I like the way it is shaping up. Take a gander here!
Oh, and back to the topic of Amish artists. There is an Amish woman in New York who has six kids at home and her painting has set tongues wagging in the folk art genre. Her paintings are amazing and I'm amazed because I've had a watercolor set sitting untouched on my desk since Christmas because I can't find the time to do anything extra with two young children always demanding attention. So Anna Weaver earns my admiration.
Anna's work has become so popular that she has actually had her work featured in galleries. I, personally, think that is awesome. Some Amish, however, may (just conjecture on my part) think that is where the art begins to become something else counter to Amish values. Conformity is valued among the Amish and going into an art gallery with an exhibit could ruffle some feathers among more conservative elements of the church.