Sheldon to show folk artist’s works

MIDDLEBURY — The Henry Sheldon Museum of Vermont History of Middlebury presents the exhibit “The Curious Cousins of Vermont Outsider Artist Gayleen Aiken” from March 15 to May 21. Gayleen Aiken (1934-2005) is recognized as an idiosyncratic 20th-century folk and outsider artist by the American Folk Art Museum in New York City, the Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, Md., and the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum in Williamsburg, Va., and the American Art Museum of the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. The Henry Sheldon Museum presents a concentrated portion of her prolific artistic output devoted to her imaginary Raimbilli family cousins.
As a small child in Barre, Aiken created a family of fictional cousins, with the last name of Raimbilli. She invented such first names for her cousins as Leoallani, Scampi, Chioldio, and Bimbaum. Aiken told stories and envisioned hobbies for each one. The cousins are illustrated in oil and mixed-media paintings and drawings, many with descriptive writings penned on the bottom or in a corner of the canvas. Aiken also created life-sized cardboard cutouts of the cousins, colorfully painted and attired. The cutout cousins — which number 24, each individually named by Aiken, have rarely been seen together, and are a highlight of the exhibit.
Equally important to her are the settings in which she chose to include the cousins — musicals, meals, fields, and Barre’s granite sheds. The exhibit shows over a dozen of Aiken’s drawings and paintings, with fine renditions of vernacular architecture of Barre. The art in the exhibit is on loan from Grass Roots Art and Community Effort (G.R.A.C.E.) in Hardwick, and a private collection.
Her work has been subject of articles in Smithsonian and The New York Times, a 1997 fictional biography “Moonlight and Music: The Enchanted World of Gayleen Aiken” by Rachel Klein, and the 1984 documentary film “Gayleen” by Jay Craven. The film features her multiple creative talents. As a musician, she played the harmonica, xylophone, drums, piano and organ, and she sang. Her paintings and writings create a pretend music camp.
A February 2013 art review in The New York Times says this: “Carefully detailed and quirkily annotated pencil and crayon drawings of musical instruments, rural homes in zooming perspective and the inner workings of a granite gravestone company, whose raw material comes from nearby quarries, exude infectious curiosity about the world around her. There is much commotion in her works.”
Jay Craven will present a gallery talk about the film and Aiken in early May. Other guest speakers will be scheduled on Wednesdays at noon during the run of the show. Refer to the Sheldon’s website, www.henrysheldonmuseum.org, for details.

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