"Vision Seekers" By Jason Berry excerpt on Mose Tolliver and Anton Haardt

Excerpt  from an Article in  New Orlean's Gambit Magazine:


Anton Haardt felt a magnetic pull to the pink "dinosaur birds" and strange shapings of fruits, animals and human bodies that Mose Tolliver, working on scrap wood, was selling in his yard.

"Mose Tolliver used to hang his paintings in a tree outside his home in Montgomery, Ala., pricing them at one or two dollars a piece," writes Anton Haardt in Mose T. From A to Z: The Folk Art of Mose Tolliver, a forthcoming biography, lushly illustrated, by the woman whose eponymous Magazine Street gallery has perhaps the city's most extensive inventory of high-quality works by black Southern folk artists. The daughter of a wealthy Montgomery real estate agent, Anton Haardt earned a bachelor's degree in fine arts from the San Francisco Art Institute and was starting her own career as a painter in 1969 when she saw Tolliver's paintings outside his house. Tolliver had been crippled several years earlier in an accident on the job at a Montgomery furniture store when a crate of marble fell from a fork lift, crushing his left ankle and destroying the muscles and tendons in his legs. Forced to use a wheelchair and crutches, he threw himself into painting "to keep [my] head together," he said later.

Haardt began buying pictures from Tolliver. "Mose didn't have much in his bank account," she says. He would sell paintings to her for $10 each. She would drive to New Orleans and sell them to Russell Gaspardi, who had a gallery in the Quarter, for $20 each. "Gaspari would sell them for $75 a piece," she says. "I'd give all the money from the sales to Mose, and he would give me two paintings in return."

Tolliver's imagination had a vivid erotic streak in his bulbous female figures, which would hardly have endeared him to Sister Gertrude. He also generated a stream of self-portraits -- a man with walking sticks, and heads that resemble animist masks.
. "Mose and I became very close friends," continues Haardt. "I was also doing a lot of traveling back then. I didn't want him to lose anything on my account." Others, including Gaspardi, began making trips to Montgomery to buy art from Mose T at his home.

The friendship that blossomed between Anton Haardt, a daughter of Alabama's upper crust, and Mose Tolliver, a black man in a wheel chair barely scraping by, typifies the way in which many self-taught painters found their way into the art market. Haardt kept buying and selling his works as an agent on a non-exclusive basis. "I love Mose. I wanted to help him," she says.

In 1982, Haardt arranged for Tolliver to show his works in Washington, D.C., at the prestigious Corcoran Museum of Art's landmark exhibit Black Folk Art in America, 1930-1980.

"Before we left Alabama I had made a bet with Mose that if we bought ten of his paintings to Washington, I could sell them for a lot more money than he could ever imagine," she writes. "I aimed to sell them for one hundred dollars each, a lot of money in 1982, and certainly more than their usual selling price. After the opening, I was accompanied to my hotel room by several prominent folk-art collectors who were interested in buying Mose's paintings. Within minutes I had sold all of Mose's pictures and had one thousand dollars cash in my hand. For me, delivering those earnings to Mose was the pinnacle of our trip."

Over time, as Haardt bought more paintings from Tolliver, she held on to many of them. "I probably have 400 pieces by Mose," she says. She also purchased dozens of works by Jimmy Lee Sudduth, a rural artist whose figurative paintings, using red-brown Alabama mud, radiate a warm lyricism.

The other artist whose work Haardt championed, the late Juanita Rodgers, lived outside of Montgomery in a shack in an open field. For years, Rodgers made sculptures out of mud. Haardt befriended her as well, spending long stretches watching her work and interviewing her about her obsession with mud sculptures. Haardt is completing a book about Rodgers, whose works she has preserved in storage since Rodgers' death.

ANTON HAARDT'S ESSAY on Juanita Rodgers appears in the massive 2000 book Souls Grown Deep: African American Vernacular Art. At $100 a copy, Souls Grown Deep was the brainchild of William Arnett, a pioneering folk art dealer in Atlanta, and his son Paul Arnett. The Arnetts produced a second volume of Souls Grown Deep in 2001 with financial support from Jane Fonda, who settled in Atlanta after her divorce from CNN founder Ted Turner.