By Christine Snyder

This week’s featured American Folk Artist is Steve Ashby, a farmer turned artist who spent his entire life in rural Delaplane, Virginia.  Born in 1904, Ashby didn’t begin his art career until after his wife’s death in1960.  His agrarian lifestyle amongst animals and farming influenced his work.  He was also inspired by black culture and his experience growing up as the son of an emancipated enslaved person.  His primary passion involved creating sculptures from found materials, including wood, paint, hair, broken toys, and photographs.  He aimed to represent black, working class culture with a side of humor and occasional salaciousness.  As with most conceptual art, the initial observation doesn’t reveal the full meaning.  For example, in his piece titled Dancing Couple, the title and distant view portray a couple in a romantic embrace.  However, upon closer observation, the man appears to be overbearing while the woman appears to be in a defensive stance.  Perhaps he was trying to encourage others to view all situations with a more critical eye before developing their own theories.  

Sadly, Steve Ashby’s work was not widely appreciated outside of Delaplane until after his death in 1980.  Fortunately, his work was finally recognized and honored at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, in 1982 with its inclusion in the show, Black Folk Art in America.  I’m so glad Steve Ashby’s work was recognized and that I got to learn about him and share his story with the FAM community!      


Dancing Couple, 1973



Group of Three Figures and a Gramophone, 1970



Man Playing Drums, 1973



Woman in Pink Skirt and Standing Man, 1973

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