Hampden man's art part of 'Storytelling' exhibit at AVAM

Allen Hicks, Hampden resident, community activist and one-time political candidate, now can claim the title of artist.

Although he's been painting gourds, sculpting discarded trees and turning trash into artistic treasures for years, two of his pieces have been selected for the new American Visionary Art Museum exhibit, "The Art of Storytelling: Lies, Enchantment, Humor, Truth." The exhibit opened at the Federal Hill museum Oct. 6 and will continue until Sept. 1, 2013.

It was AVAM, in fact, that led Hicks to create his first art piece. He was visiting the museum with his son, Joe, who was about 7, and as they looked at a display of benches with an animal motif, his son said, "Dad, you can do that."

Fast forward 18 years, his work is now on display in that same museum. To see his works, "He Done Me Wrong," and "Madman or Genius," head up to the second floor and go past the embroidered tapestries by Holocaust survivor Esther Krinitz.

His sculpture of a head with a knife plunged into it, "He Done Me Wrong," recalls a true incident Hicks experienced in a bar.

Above it appears to be a Baltimore City seal — but it's really one of a series of seals with humorous labels. This one says "Baltimore City • Madman or Genius," and it is often attached to his white truck.

In addition, there's a photo of his metal LOVE sculpture made out of old election signs that he has erected on his back fence, the site of a lot of his artwork. "I had to replace them three times," he said at a preview for the media held Oct. 3. "Because people 'loved' them."

Hicks works, usually in his backyard, whenever he has time. His pieces hang from trees, are attached to the fence and are on display in his front garden and inside his rowhouse. "I'm not a trained artist. I've never been to art school," he said.

At the encouragement of friends who had seen his work, Hicks sent a CD to Rebecca Hoffberger, who heads AVAM. "She contacted me and came to take a look," he said. With the "Storytelling" exhibition in mind, she selected his head and knife sculpture, and the truck seal.

This is the first time any of his work has appeared in a museum, although he has shown his work at Mud and Metal on the Avenue, in Hampden, and in galleries in West Virginia and North Carolina.

Hicks is one of some 40 self-taught artists from all over the United States included in the exhibition that looks at all the ways of telling stories. In fact, one of the exhibitors is Frank Warren, creator of the Post Secret project that has produced five best-selling books based on the postcards revealing a secret that have been sent to him since 2004.

American Visionary Art Museum is located at 800 Key Highway, in Baltimore. For more information on the exhibit, go to http://www.avam.org or call 410-244-1900.

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