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Russell Childers, Boy with Shoes

Russell Childers, Boy with Shoes (1968-70), wood [Hallie Ford Museum of Art, Salem OR, Jul 30-Oct 23] Photo courtesy of Willamette University

Russell Childers: Oregon Outsider

Hallie Ford Museum of Art
Salem OR – Jul 30-Oct 23, 2016

Russell Childers, Aunt Day

Russell Childers, Aunt Day (c. 1970), wood [Hallie Ford Museum of Art, Salem OR, Jul 30-Oct 23] Photo courtesy of Willamette University

Russell Childers, The Wee Mother and Boy

Russell Childers, The Wee Mother and Boy (1971), wood [Hallie Ford Museum of Art, Salem OR, Jul 30-Oct 23] Photo courtesy of Willamette University

Russell Childers was a self-taught woodcarver whose work began gaining recognition in the region during the 1970s. The artist (1915-1998) was born in a small community in Central Oregon and was unable to hear or speak as a child. At the age of 10, a Wasco County judge ruled that Childers be removed from his family’s care against their wishes and institutionalized. Childers spent close to 40 years living at a state institution for the developmentally disabled in Salem, Oregon where he taught himself to carve wood. After seeing an article about woodcarving in Life magazine around 1940, he began his first carvings. Ultimately it was Childers’ talent and dedication to a daily carving practice that prompted his release to Willamette Valley Rehabilitation Center where he lived the rest of his life as a productive artist.

Childers’ work is largely figurative, depicting family and friends, historical themes and animals, like dogs, which were his subject matter throughout his life. Several of Childers’ most compelling sculptures are autobiographical in nature, drawing from childhood memories when he still lived with his family. A detailed sculpture of a boy sitting on the ground next to his shoes surrounded by delicate leaves conjures something fundamentally human, yet deeply personal within a seemingly simplistic scene.

The most significant exhibition of Childers’ carvings took place in 1977 at the University of Oregon’s Museum of Art, travelling to 18 additional venues over two years. In 1984 Childers’ work was also included in the travelling group show Pioneers in Paradise: Folk and Outsider Artists of the West Coast, which was the first time Childers’ artwork was placed in the context of other self-taught artists.

Allyn Cantor


 Sun, Sep 18, 2016