First published: Winter 2023/24
Former museum director Roger Manley tells of how a fateful encounter with artist Annie Hooper led to his lifelong involvement in outsider art
Life often takes one in directions that were never quite intended. Sometimes what seem like minor decisions can change your life forever. In my case, when I started college, I thought I was going to major in biology, envisioning becoming an entomologist running around rainforests. But, when I got my grades at the end of my first semester, it was clear that I was not going to be a scientist. Rather than going straight home to face my father with my dismal report, I decided to go camping on North Carolina’s Outer Banks, a long string of sandy islands off the coast that on the map looks distant and disconnected from the rest of the state.
Hooper’s sun porch, photo: Roger Manley
My roommate Cliff and I set off hitchhiking. It was winter, there was hardly any traffic, and it was raining. Hours passed between vehicles, and the few we saw seemed to speed up to pass the two drenched, unshaven drifters by the road. When at last a truck picked us up, I asked the driver what there was to do in a place as forlorn as this. His suggestions of beachcombing or climbing a local lighthouse did not appeal, but then he said, “Well, I suppose you could go by and see my granny. She does these sort of wood carved things.” Christmas was a few days away, and I still didn’t have gifts for my family. Maybe I could buy some duck decoys, bookends or ashtrays from this guy’s grandmother.
Hooper in her laundry room, photo: Roger Manley
A tiny, white-haired woman in a velveteen house robe opened the door, introduced herself as Annie Hooper and ushered us inside. As my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I realised that hundreds of faces were looking back at me. Everywhere I turned were waist-high driftwood and concrete figures, painted gold, purple, cobalt-blue. They were grouped to create scenes from the Bible, each contained within a string of tinsel, and identified by scriptural messages scrawled on Styrofoam meat trays. The floor was so packed with angels, sheep and ancient Israelites that there was scarcely space to step, and only the narrowest pathways to get from room to room.
by ROGER MANLEY
This is an article extract; read the full article in Raw Vision #117.