Don and Kathy Herron, Massillon, Ohio
Purchased by Akron Art Museum, April 21, 1989
2007 - 2011: "Opening exhibition, Haslinger galleries" 7/7/07 - 12/11/11, Akron Art Museum
1999: "The Art of the Outsider" 4/13/99 - 6/27/99, Massillon Museum, Massillon, Ohio
1997 - 1998: "A 75th Anniversary Celebration of the Collection" 11/15/97 - 1/11/98, Akron Art Museum
1993 - 1994: "On Nudity: The Body in Art" 10/16/93 - 4/24/94, Akron Art Museum
1991 - 1992: "Focus on the Collection: A 70th Anniversary Celebration" 11/3/91 - 1/5/92, Akron Art Museum
1990 - 1991: "Focus on the Figure" 12/1/90 - 6/23/91, Akron Art Museum
1989 - 1990: "New Traditions / Non-Traditions: Contemporary Folk Art in Ohio" 12/2/89 - 1/26/90, The Riffe Gallery, Organized by the Columbus Museum of Art, Columbus, Ohio
1988: "Folk Art from Akron Collections" 1/9/88 - 4/3/88, Akron Art Museum
carved in proper left of base "E Reed 1977 AD"
Ernest (“Popeye”) Reed
Female Nude, 1977
Collection of the Akron Art Museum
Unlike many visionary or self-trained artists who feel called by God to make art, Popeye Reed was driven to create for reasons more practical than religious. Reed, who was born and lived in the Appalachian hill country of south central Ohio, was a versatile and prolific carver with a flair for self-promotion. After his work was discovered by the art world in the late 1960s, he enjoyed a fairly lucrative career.
Robust female figures were a favorite subject of Reed’s, as were American Indians, animals, birds, and mythological figures. (The museum also owns a small sculpture by Reed titled Harpy.) The voluptuous subject of Female Nude may represent Eve, a hapless player in man’s fall from grace. This assumption is supported by the presence of a four-legged reptile ascending the wall next to her. The Bible casts a serpent in the role of Eve’s seducer, but the ancient term for serpent suggests a number of creatures, including crocodiles or spiders. Genesis 3:14 indicates that before the Fall, the serpent had legs. Although here Reed appears to have chosen a literal reading of his subject, he is also known to have interpreted his sources freely.
Reed began whittling at an early age but did not start to carve seriously until the early 1960s, when he began to produce wooden pipes and trinkets to sell alongside the road. By the late 1960s he had progressed to using sandstone, flint, and limestone quarried from the land near his home. To shape the stone he used pocketknives, chisels, and mallets, supplemented by more idiosyncratic devices such as stag horn to incise fine lines. As he became increasingly productive in later years he advanced to more modern tools, as incisions from a power drill visible in the hollow between the left breast and arm of the museum’s figure clearly indicate. 1 For Female Nude Reed chose sandstone, a sturdy yet porous material that is more yielding than most stone and earthier in feeling than the marble traditionally used by generations of academically trained sculptors. Reed added water to the stone as he worked to make it even more pliable. 2
Solid and stoic, Reed’s Female Nude reveals neither emotion nor age. Her blunt, nonspecific features range in likeness from vaguely Assyrian to decidedly polyethnic. While the figure’s proportions are odd—long arms, chunky toes and fingers—she is stately and primitive. Nonetheless she projects a sense of motion as her body recoils from the serpent. Reed claimed that although he “tease[d] women, he really love[d] them.”3 An erotic sensibility is revealed in his treatment of the figure’s sexual characteristics: while some areas are roughly carved, the nipples are delicately shaped and smooth. Likewise the pubic area is almost anatomically correct in detail; with deftly incised hair, it is the work’s most richly patterned area.
The purposefully unfinished areas of the Female Nude, rather than detracting from the composition, strengthen Reed’s self-proclaimed identity as a follower of the “grand tradition” in art. Statuary shaped from a solid mass and left partially unfinished has its antecedent in the work of Michelangelo, an artist whom Reed studied and admired. Like Michelangelo’s unfinished works, this is roughly chiseled with varying degrees of finish applied to certain areas. Though some might view such works as simply incomplete, others see them as clear, emotional statements—the equivalent of speaking volumes with few words. Emerging from the stone that serves as both backdrop and support, Reed’s unadorned, straightforward figure communicates, in a simple yet powerful way, the biblical account of our origins and our primal connection to the earth.
- Jeffrey Grove, 2001
1. Information on Reed’s technique is largely drawn from Rosenak and Rosenak, 255.
2. This technique was reported by Kerry Schuss, art therapist and folk art dealer, who observed Reed at work. See Meridean Hutton, “Dialogues with Stone: William Edmondson, Ernest ‘Popeye’ Reed and Ted Ludwiczak,” Folk Art (spring 1996): 51.
3. Sandy Theis, “Popeye Reed: Having Fun as a Self-taught Sculptor,” Chillicothe (Ohio) Gazette, June 2, 1981, 7.
Barrett, Didi. Muffled Voices: Folk Artists in Contemporary America. New York: Museum of American Folk Art at the Paine Webber Art Gallery, 1986.
Ricco, Roger, and Frank Maresca. American Primitive: Discoveries in Folk Sculpture. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1988, 263.
Rosenak, Chuck, and Jan Rosenak. Museum of American Folk Art Encyclopedia of Twentieth-Century American Folk Art and Artists. New York: Abbeville, 1990.