Clarksville, TN – While visiting Austin, Texas, in 2013, Karen Parr-Moody came across a painting by the renowned folk artist Jimmy Lee Sudduth. The dusty image was of a girl in a swimsuit, and it evoked strong childhood memories for Parr-Moody.
“I really identified with going to my grandfather’s fishing camp every weekend on the Tennessee River,” she said. “It’s rustic and beautiful down there. The ‘Bikini Girl’ just reminded me of growing up and being a little girl.”
Parr-Moody bought the painting. She’s been collecting folk art since 1993, when her parents bought her one of the celebrated angel pieces by Howard Finster.
The Sudduth work added another impressive name to her private collection, but earlier this month, she decided to part with the piece by donating it to Austin Peay State University.
“What motivated me is when the Crouches gave that big collection to the University,” she said. “I thought what they did was so amazing, so I wanted to do something like that.”
In 2012, Ned and Jacqueline Crouch donated a collection of 42 folk art carvings, paintings and drawings to Austin Peay. It joined the University’s already impressive folk art collection. For years, APSU has been the home of several statues by the noted self-taught Tennessee artist E.T. Wickham and paintings by William Shackelford.
In 2010, the collection received a major boost when Dr. Joe Trahern donated three sculptures – “The Critter,” “The Eagle” and “The Lady with Two Pocketbooks” – by William Edmondson, the first African-American to have a solo show of his work at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City in 1937.
The Sudduth painting, “Bikini Girl,” will now join that collection. His work has been exhibited in the Museum of American Folk Art in New York and at the Smithsonian Institute. A 1997 article in the New York Times referred to his art as “pictures of improbable chalky luminosity and understated bliss.” Susan Mitchell Crawley, the associate curator of folk art at the High Museum in Atlanta, told the New York Times in 2007 that “his paintings sell for anywhere from several hundred dollars to $5,000.”
Moody donated the piece to APSU in honor of her two-year-old daughter, Stella. Stella has been visiting art galleries since she was three-weeks-old, and Parr-Moody sees her gift as potentially instilling two passions in her daughter.
The Sudduth painting also will help make APSU a destination for folk art aficionados.
“It further enhances our collection,” Michael Dickins, APSU gallery director, said. “The more we can collect, the more we can showcase it. Clarksville really has an excellent opportunity to become a good location for folk art.”