Honors College to Host Robert Cochran Lecture on Outsider Art
Leonard Knight spent three decades on a labor of love -- building and painting "Salvation Mountain" in California's Imperial Valley desert.
A tinfoil throne, lovingly constructed to receive the risen Christ. Bottle-studded huts built to comfort the sick and dying. Barn-red banjos and guitars, handcrafted in response to God's call. Robert Cochran, professor of English and director of the Center for Arkansas and Regional Studies at the University of Arkansas, will discuss these and other works in a lecture titled "Triumph in Rags: At Play with Outsider Artists."
Cochran's lecture, part of the Honors College Mic series, will take place at 5:15 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 10, in Gearhart Hall Auditorium. All on campus and in the community are encouraged to attend.
A renowned scholar of folklore, Cochran emphasizes that outsider art differs from folk art, where techniques and traditions are passed from one generation to the next. "Outsider art is made in response to some kind of need — often some kind of injury or trauma has been dealt to these artists," Cochran said. "Their work is important to me because it is important to them. Their art plays a critical role in their lives, providing stability and purpose."
Cochran first encountered outsider art at age six or seven, on a family trip to visit his great uncle Newton Buzzerd. A veteran of World War I, Buzzerd was described as "nervous" and likely suffered from post-traumatic shock disorder. Upon arrival, Cochran was stunned to see a finely detailed miniature ship that had been painstakingly crafted by his great uncle. "Uncle Newton had been presented to me as a figure of pathos — damaged — injured. He was cared for like a child, incapable of working or having his own family," Cochran recalls. "But then I see these two ships, one finished, one in progress. They might have been the first humanly produced things I registered as simply beautiful. And here I am, 70 years later, still impressed by work like that."
Robert Cochran is a professor of English in the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences, and serves as director of the Center for Arkansas and Regional Studies at the University of Arkansas. He received his doctorate in English Literature from the University of Toronto in 1973, won a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1989, and has been awarded three Fulbright lecturing assignments (to Romania in 1985, Hungary in 1986, and Korea in 1995). He taught an American literature class in Albania in the summer of 2001.
Cochran has "refused to specialize decently," writing books on topics as remote from one another as Irish playwright Samuel Beckett and Arkansas movies. His documentary videos feature a Western Swing fiddler, a maple syrup maker and ginseng digger, and a quilter and rug maker. His favorite articles address Romanian political jokes, poet Wallace Stevens, and ballad singer Emma Dusenbury. He has written two biographies, Vance Randolph: An Ozark Life (1985) and Louise Pound: Scholar, Athlete, Feminist Pioneer (2009); and two books focused on Arkansas music, Our Own Sweet Sounds (1996) and Singing in Zion (1999).
Two other books deal with other arts — A Photographer of Note: Arkansas Artist Geleve Grice (2003) and Come Walk With Me: The Art of Dorris Curtis (2004). Most recently, Cochran co-authored Lights! Camera! Arkansas!: From Broncho Billy to Billy Bob Thornton (2015) with his spouse, Suzanne McCray, and currently serves as editor of the "Arkansas Character" series published by the University of Arkansas Press, writing introductions for Kelly Mulhollan's True Faith, True Light: The Devotional Art of Ed Stilley (2015) and An Arkansas Florilegium: The Atlas of Botanist Edwin Smith Illustrated by Naturalist Kent Bonar (2017).
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