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Saints and Haints captures spirits of folklore
Art by Tom Wisenhunt will be on display through Jan. 28 at Gainesville State College's Roy C. Moore Art Gallery.
OAKWOOD Folk art, or "outsider" art, is created by artists who haven’t been formally trained. That’s why Alabama artist Ted Whisenhunt is no outsider.

Whisenhunt, whose exhibit "Saints and Haints" opens today at Gainesville State College, said he is the "one man art department" at Judson College in Marion, Ala., where he has been a professor for 10 years.

He teaches painting, sculpture, drawing and photography at the small school, making him ineligible for the title of "outsider artist."

But his work echoes the superstitious folk art found in the area where he lives.

It’s outsider art, refined. And it’s a little creepy.

Whisenhunt’s work, crafted of wood, paint and found objects, depicts "haints," or ghosts, as skeletal figures, and "saints," people who have died.

"The idea is to kind of explore the duality of these two figures, the saints or dead people that are supposed to be positive figures and the haints are these kind of negative forces, and they’re also kind of mischievous," Whisenhunt said.

"He’s very much inspired by folk art and the spiritual aspects of it," said John Amoss, an art professor at GSC.

Amoss said he chose Whisenhunt for the exhibit because "I was drawn by the imagery. The gallery should show a variety of different types of influences, and I really haven’t had anyone that was influenced by local or folk work."

He said entering Whisenhunt’s exhibit is like entering a different environment.

"He has ghost traps and things like that that he has both invented and reenacted in the gallery," he said.

Much of it is simply based on folktales, Whisenhunt said.

"I wouldn’t say I believe I can catch a ghost in a bottle, so it’s mostly folklore that I’m kind of playing on," he said.

Whisenhunt’s folk art inspiration comes from the "culture and superstitions" of the black belt area of Alabama, known for its rich black soil.

Like the outsider artists who influence him, he uses hardware store-bought materials, not art materials, to create his work.

"I’ve always been attracted ... to bright colors and simplicity," Whisenhunt said.

Whisenhunt’s work will be available for sale by request at the opening reception for "Saints and Haints" at noon on Jan. 17.