The Fayette Tribune, Oak Hill, W.Va.

Local News

June 10, 2013

Appalachian art collector shares work of self-taught artists with West Virginia

MORGANTOWN — She’d been a model in New York and rubbed elbows with stars at Hollywood cocktail parties.

Things seemed so artificial, and she wanted to get back to her reality. As often happens with natives of the Mountain State who live far away, she longed for the mountains and the trees.

Ramona Lampell wanted to do something for Appalachia and thought the best way would be through the art because it’s universal. She drove through the region, stopping at filling stations, grocery stores and country fairs, looking for artists who were self-taught and dynamic, whose art was powerful in spirit and soul.

She said they made her feel the way you would looking at prehistoric cave drawings.

“Cave drawings are creative and wonderful in that they depict what is going on in the lives of their creators,” she said. “Self-taught artists draw on a well of creativity that also reflects their daily lives.”

Ramona’s husband, Millard, wrote of one of the artists that he was “innocent, but nobody’s fool.”

“They just needed to create,” Ramona said. “Most of us, if we listen to what’s inside of us, we will do something creative – whether it’s writing, whether it’s drawing or whether it’s, as we say in West Virginia, whittling.”

The art’s creators were self-taught, often turning to creativity after retirement or squeezing it in around jobs and family. Their work was inspired by nature. It was funny. It was wistful. And above all, it was honest.

For decades the Lampells collected the artwork – Ramona had galleries in Beverly Hills and East Hampton – and wrote a book, “O, Appalachia,” about the artists who made the work they collected. Millard wrote the book while Ramona served as curator and editor.

Through the couple’s book the artists became known outside of their communities and though often surprised at the interest, continued to create for the joy and purpose they had always had while whittling or painting.

“It’s been a fascinating experience around how the art is received, the self-taught art that I have collected, which is just dynamic and alive and just so incredibly good,” she said.

In the last few years, Lampell has given nearly 30 pieces of her collection to West Virginia University as well as the rights to her book and an unfinished documentary on artists in Appalachia, and she has promised other pieces in her collection to the Art Museum of WVU.

Joyce Ice, director of the Art Museum of WVU, said the Lampell Collection is “known nationally as one of the outstanding collections of its genre.”

“Ramona Lampell, who was born in West Virginia, wants her collection to stay in her home state and to be available, especially to young people whose Appalachian heritage it celebrates,” Ice said. “We are grateful to be able to share some selections from this collection at Blaney House and to have such an important collection eventually come to the Art Museum of WVU.”

Through collecting art, Lampell met the artists who for decades carved animals and faces, wove baskets, and painted scenes of common, visionary and spiritual events.

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