At our then Vergennes Pop-up Gallery, on March 15, 2018, BigTown hosted a conversation with Gregg Blasdel, collector and authority on outsider art. This conversation was hosted in conjunction with the mixed-media exhibition by Rick Skogsberg - CAN'T LOSE SHOES.
| noun | gam·brel | \ ˈgam-brəl \
a stick or iron for suspending slaughtered animals
Having been born in Wichita, Kansas (1941) and growing up in Belle Plaine, Kansas, Gregg Blasdel attended the University of Kansas. There he graduated in 1964 with a BFA in Fine Arts. A year later he enrolled in the graduate program at Cornell University, ultimately earning a MFA in Fine Arts. While at Cornell, Blasdel wrote a thesis on American Grassroots Artists. After graduate school, Blasdel relocated to NYC where he worked for the Whitney Museum of American Art in their Art Resources Center youth education program. In 1975 Blasdel moved to Vermont and began a collaboration on a book project and traveling exhibition, featuring the work of Clarence Schmidt, a Woodstock, NY self-taught artist.
In 1977, with the assistance of a National Endowment on the Arts grant, Blasdel traveled throughout the United States, documenting the work of self-taught environmental artists.
Blasdel's first experience with a self-taught artist was in his hometown of Belle Plaine. One block from his house, David Rousseau had built a small, fanciful, colored concrete village above a goldfish pond, complete with ramps and roadways surrounding it. Years later, while at the University of Kansas, a fellow student shared a story of a larger concrete environment called the Garden of Eden in western Kansas. After an enlightening visit to the Garden of Eden, Blasdel became increasingly interested in artists who were working outside of academic and cultural institutions, yet were making the same kinds of decisions regarding their work as Blasdel was making with his own work. This was the beginning of a 50 (or more) year odyssey that has taken Blasdel to almost every state in the US in search of visionary self-taught artists. To this day, he continues to travel and document the work of self-taught artists.
Ironically, Blasdel did not collect objects during his many years of travel and has only started collecting much later after having moved to Vermont. Blasdel always felt that removing a piece of art from an environment destroys the context of the work and that it should remain in the framework of its original environment.