Once Becky and Wyatt Collins started collecting folk art, it didn’t take them long to assemble a major collection - 300 pieces accumulated in four years is quite a haul. “And we don’t count the little bitty pieces,” says Wyatt. “We may have 25 little birds scattered around, but we don’t count them.” The couple went from nothing to 90 nearly overnight. “We visited two friends, Burnell Lemoine and Ed Dubuisson,” Becky explains. “They both had folk art collections. We both liked folk art, and Wyatt decided he could do it too, so we took off.”
That was in 2003. Since then, they’ve filled every room in their home in New Iberia from floor to ceiling with primitively carved sculpture, paintings telling complex stories, highly imaginative animals, dolls, and religious items painted in bright colors by hands with no formal art training.
Wyatt is the organized one who meets artists, studies auction catalogues and thinks about how to deepen his collection. Becky just jumps in. “I’m the one who shows up and plunders thorough obscure boxes of stuff,” she says. “I collect from my heart, while Wyatt collects from his head.”
The collection, with a focus on Acadiana artists, will go on display at the Acadiana Center for the Arts in a show called From Inside Our Hearts: Outsider Art, on Jan. 12. “Outsider Art,” according to Wyatt, is the museum term used to differentiate contemporary folk art from early American folk art.
“What I like about it,” says Wyatt, “is that you take people who are not only totally uneducated about art, they are often just plain uneducated, but who have a desire to create. It’s amazing the things that are created.” The subject matter is usually tied to religion and everyday life or sometimes expresses what Becky calls “downharded” crazy. “It speaks from the heart,” adds Becky. “The art reflects the values and life experiences of the artist. Creativity is listening to your soul. It’s our inner inner spirit.”