Positively Philadelphia: A Local Couple’s Amazing Art Collection

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(Jill and Sheldon  Bonovitz.  Credit: Lauren Lipton)

(Jill and Sheldon Bonovitz. Credit: Lauren Lipton)

lipton_lauren DL Lauren Lipton
Lauren Lipton, a fixture in Philadelphia journalism, is “at the...
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By Lauren Lipton

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) —  It’s an art exhibit that may be different from anything you’ve ever seen.

It’s “Great and Mighty Things: Outsider Art from the Jill and Sheldon Bonovitz Collection,” at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

And just what is “outsider” art?

“They were all self-taught,” explains Sheldon Bonovitz.  “They had no formal training.  They created their work without any exposure to galleries, museums, art books.  Bill Traylor (for example) was born a slave, and for three years of his life, when he was in his 80s, created these magical drawings.”

“Bill Traylor did what’s called ‘The Runaway Goat Cart,’ ” adds Jill Bonovitz, who is not only a collector but an artist herself.  “I’ve never seen anything like this.”

(Runaway Goat Cart, by Bill Traylor.  Image provided)

(Runaway Goat Cart, by Bill Traylor. Image provided)

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Sheldon shows us a stone sculpture.

(Angel, by William Edmondson.  Image provided)

(Angel, by William Edmondson. Image provided)

“William Edmonson was living in Nashville.  He was an unemployed janitor.  He was in his 50s.  And he was walking in a field near his home, stumbled on some limestone, and he had this vision that God told him to create funeral monuments,” he tells us.

“Another of the artists, James Castle, created the art almost from the time he was an infant,” Sheldon continues.  “He lived in rural Idaho.  He was born deaf.  His family had a general store.  He used found materials.  He had his own way of mixing his paint through things including his own saliva.”

You might look at some of the artwork and think, “Hey, my seven-year-old could do that.”  But Jill has heard that before.

“I’m sure lots of people will feel that way,” she says, “but they should ask their seven-year-old to try and do it.  It’s not as easy as it looks.”

The exhibit continues through June 9th.  The Bonovitz’s collection has been bequeathed to the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Hear Lauren Lipton’s full interview with Jill and Sheldon Bonovitz in this CBS Philly podcast (runs 12:40)…

And, for this week, that’s “Positively Philadelphia!”

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