was a strange, funny little muddle, butnI couldn’t help recalling a visit to thenTate Gallery. Van Gogh’s sunflowernpaintings may be overpublicized andnoverpriced but they are capable ofndominating an entire gallery wall.n”Man on Scooter” was barely holdingndown a few square inches. On thenother hand, the artist wasn’t chargingnthirty-something million either. In thenrapidly escalating folk art market Tollivernis still considered a very good buy.nBut we were looking for a realnbargain and got one. Yes, an unhordednA.E. Miller for a very modest sum. It’sna squat sheet metal Uncle Sam withnthe words “Oscar Blows” on top of hisnhead. Miller has a friend Oscar whondrives into his yard and blows thenhorn — an act that’s inspired dozens ofnthese “Blow, Oscar, Blow” creations.nThat was it. Goodbye, Clayton,nGeorgia. Hello, McGlellanville, SouthnCarolina. I’m told “Oscar Blows” isnnow worth three times what we paid sonin another year we’ll have salvaged thenprice of the hotel room. Good. That’snabout as far as I want to get involved innthe business end of folk art. Andn”Oscar Blows” is about as much socialncommentary as I’m up to. In fact,nthough we were happy with him andnthe four little angels, I still feel a bitnguilty about carrying them across statenlines. This may be celebrating the ruralnSouthern experience, but my wife andnI are not directly connected to the livesnof these painters. Their community isnnot ours, nor is their adventure. Whilenthese paintings certainly didn’t dependnon this level of intimacy to succeed, Incouldn’t help thinking we were buyingn(at a cut rate) what should be a verynpersonal form of expression.nAnd that brings us to Captain JoenCumbee. I’d gotten this far in thisnessay and then set it aside for a monthnwaiting for the white heat of inspirationnto spur me to a conclusion. Nonencame, but then a friend called from thenstate museum to tell me that my oldnbuddy Captain Joe had received SouthnCarolina’s Heritage Award. Only fourn”craftsmen” are selected each year,nand far as she knew Joe was the firstnfolk artist ever to win. My museumnfriend was excited about this and so wasnI, for we both recognize that CaptainnJoe is the real thing.nMy first job out of graduate schooln(many years ago) was to work with thisnretired tugboat captain as a “ship’sncarpenter” — a i’ather exacting disciplinenJoe administered almost completelynwith a yard axe. Widowednsometime before, he’d recently remarried,nan occasion happy enough tonrenew his interest in painting, and henshowed me several works. Since I’d justnbeen studying the Surrealists for a yearnand a half and’ had a degree, I feltnqualified enough to tell him he was anvery good artist and could probablyneven make a living at it. He shruggednoff this compliment, went shrimpingnnext, and then back to running annocean-going tug. He’d made his lastntrip while well into his 70’s — a bargenload of Christmas trees to Venezuela.nA premonition told him the aging tugnwouldn’t survive another such voyage.nIt didn’t, but by then he was home forngood — puttering and drinking blackncoffee.nI’d been told to give the state a weeknto notify him of the award and then Incould go out and congratulate himnmyself Short trip. He only lives fivenmiles away, but to my shame, I haven’tnseen him in two years. At his trailer, Infind little has changed. He’s seated in anliving room piled high with clutter,nwatching TV, drinking black coffee.n”Old Billy Baldwin,” he keeps repeating.n”Where you been?” Good question.nThe walls are lined with paintings,nat least half of them his. Inremember most. The houses of hisnmake-believe seaside communitiesnshrink from the canvas in curious cubistndistortions, but the boats are alwaysnperfectly proportioned. He’s laughednmany times about his failure to makenthe transition from sea to land. Therenare only two new works, drawings inncolored pencil of a local landmark, thenDeer Head Oak. He’s drawn fromnmemory. The tree limbs climb to thensky in thick green intertwining arms.nNot limbs or even antlers. Not a livenoak. Maybe an exotic boab growing atnleast two continents away. He tells menthe first tree wasn’t right because therenwere no children playing in it. Thensecond drawing corrected that. In thencorner the TV still runs. A talk shownwhere the topic for the day is nudity innthe home. Naked parents wanderingnaround in front of naked children innsuburban America. Joe has drawnnclothes on the tree children.nI sip my coffee and congratulate himnnnon being one of the state’s Heritagenwinners. He hasn’t heard the news andnasks what it means. I say that I guess itnmeans he’s one of the best folk artistsnin South Carolina. For this year, atnleast, one of the very best. He smilesnand says “I’ll be dog gone.”nThat’s his response in total. Henhasn’t painted or even drawn innmonths. “I’m eighty-three years old,”nhe says. “My eyes don’t see. My handsndon’t go where I tell them.” But evennas he says this his thick fingers cut thenair between us — an act of pure expressionnI’ve been observing for a quarternof a century and one I assume is farnolder. Joe told me once that he’dnstarted painting on sail canvas withnwhite lead for a gesso. That puts hisncareer back to the age of sail when henwas a fourteen-year-old cabin boy on anrum-running schooner. On this visit,nthough, I ask just how long he has beennpainting. He answers, “All my life.”n”Old lady Peacock. She told me Incould draw. She meant well but Indidn’t know it then. Wouldn’t let go ofnme. I quit school just to escape old ladynPeacock.” He’s talking about thenfourth grade.nOn the TV a game show flashes on.nBlinking lights and the promise of a lifenfar away filled with chrome-plated mechanicalngarbage. We only stop tonwatch when this frenzy is occasionallyninterrupted by a stern-faced reporternannouncing the latest on Iraq’s sadlynbelated attempts to surrender. Thencaptain and I are catching up. Wendiscuss old times and new times, everything,nin fact, but art. Finally that too.nHe says, “All my grandchildren wantnto draw. My great-granddaughter drewnthis one.” He slides the paper towardnme. “Said ‘It’s a boat, granddad. It’s anboat.'”nIndeed, it is a boat. A high-bowedncraft with a narrow two-story cabin wellnforward. One round window and onensquare. Centered on the deck a squigglynmast flying a single lopsided pennant.nIt’s a bit too sketchy to identifynthe exact boat depicted, but the impulsento create is familiar enough. Andna child’s unsteady hand has printednacross the bottom, “I LOVE YOU.”nSo, that’s that. Or to quote the master,n”I’ll be dog gone.”nWilliam Baldwin writes fromnMcClellanville, South Carolina.nJULY 1991/49n