helpful, friendly. These words show up repeatedly in Marvin
As if they are on a
continuous loop through his brain, Richardson paints the words in a
colorful scrawl on paper scraps, matte board - anything that can hold
the power of the message.
They are from the
Boy Scout Law, words that mean a lot to Richardson, 73, who was a
scout as a boy, and later an active volunteer.
Richardson is about
as proud of the words as he is of his art show coming up on Friday.
His friend Chris Garner arranged the event. Garner asked Richardson
what he'd like to call it:
"The Really Big Art
Shew," Richardson said.
Richardson about nine years ago when Richardson brought him some of
his Boy Scout awards to be framed.
"I just thought he
was a real neat guy they were allowing to help with the Boy Scouts,"
said Garner, 44, owner of Garner Picture Framing Co. at 632 S.
Perkins. "He's like a walking Rorschach test. He says the first thing
that comes in his mind and it's usually real happy. He always has nice
things to say. He's a real positive, happy individual."
discovered Richardson, who is mentally challenged, was a talented
"outsider" artist. "Outsider art is usually work that is not
originally meant for sale. It's usually work done by someone untrained
who has little or no influences other than their memory, their
spirituality, their demons. It usually comes from within."
Garner is presenting
a show of more than 60 of Richardson's paintings from 6 to 8:30 p.m.
Friday at the frame shop. The show will include Boy Scout Law and Boy
Scout Oath paintings as well as florals, landscapes and abstracts.
"We're going to make
some Scout Oath T-shirts," Garner said. "We're going to have a lot of
fun. He'll be so excited. It's going to be his big day."
Nancy Cheairs, noted
Memphis artist, plans to be there. She's particularly fond of
Richardson's flower paintings.
"The flowers are
very dreamlike and impressionistic and the colors are sort of muted
and ethereal," she said.
Garner learned bits
and pieces of Richardson's life during each of his visits to the shop.
"He knew my grandfather, who was fire chief at the downtown fire
station," he said. "He used to ride on my grandfather's shoulders
going down the pole."
On a whim, Garner
asked Richardson if he ever painted. "And sure enough Marvin had been
painting on and off for years. He started to bring me these really
great, loose paintings."
Garner gave him
leftover framing materials. "This business is rife with scraps. I gave
him matte board, paper."
a few days later with a stack of paintings. "It's almost like if I
give him 40 pieces of matte board he wants to go finish them all by
the next time he sees me. Seriously, in a week he can do 20."
His paintings of the
words to the Boy Scout Law and Oath particularly struck Garner. "One
is so blurred you can't make out any of the words. And the other one I
like so much is 18 by 24. He ran out of room to put the last three:
'Clean,' 'Brave' and 'Reverent.' "
Richardson cut out a
smaller board and added the three words. "When you frame or display
it, you have to add it on."
On a recent
Wednesday, Richardson bustled into the store with a new painting he
finished at 2:30 that morning. "I've got a real pretty one," said
Richardson, a stocky man in thick glasses with salt-and-pepper hair
parted to stand straight up on one side. "This is the most unusual
When told it looked
like a piece of stained glass, Richardson said, "That's what I was
thinking. I'm glad you come up with that."
learned about color from his father, a printing pressman. As a child
Richardson "messed around with crayons" and finger-painted, but he
wasn't really interested in art.
He and his sister,
Marianne Levey, lived with their parents in a big wooden house on
Linden. "Mother had paintings that were really paintings. They were
better than these. Flowers and things."
Sometimes other kids
would pick on him. "I was a big, heavy, clumsy kid. I had a face as
big as a football. They would tease me."
He began standing up
for himself. "I would go into a rage, grab one by his feet and pick
him upside down. 'Vengeance is mine,' sayeth the Lord. 'I will repay.'
But it takes Him a long time to repay."
was "gentle and patient. He was 6-foot-1, 250 pounds of Army sergeant.
And he loved those scouts."
When Richardson was
12, his dad took him to a Boy Scout meeting. "He said, 'Come on, let's
go down and see what they're doing.' "
Richardson fell in
love with scouting, which he calls "the best adventure of life."
Richardson became a scout, his father took him on a surprise trip.
"I'd already seen Sergeant York in 1941. But this was not Gary Cooper
I went to see. It was the real Alvin York."
They visited York at
his home in Pall Mall, Tenn. York met them in his Army uniform. "I had
on my scout suit with the broad-brimmed hat." York, whom Richardson
described as "the gentlest person," coached him in target shooting.
"He said, 'Whatever you're doing, don't be in a hurry.' "
from Memphis Technical High School on Feb. 10, 1951. "I took a big,
deep breath. Finally made it. With straight Bs, As and Cs."
He got a job with
the post office, where he worked as mail handler and dispatcher for 25
years until he retired.
For the Boy Scouts,
he worked in various capacities, including assistant scoutmaster. He
often drew posters for meetings.
After his parents
died, Richardson continued to live in the big house on Linden. He
married a woman who lived across the street. "But you couldn't call it
a marriage. She was in and out of Tennessee Psychiatric Hospital."
It was difficult
when she was at home. "She had a bad habit of wanting to pull the
plug out after we'd put food in the freezer. She would pull it out
and she would cut it. But thank goodness, she cut it after she pulled
Family members were
against the marriage. "They said, 'Marvin, we tried to tell you not
to marry her, but you loved her so much that you wanted to help her.'
Richardson and his
wife separated, and she later died at Shelby County Hospital.
Richardson sold the family house and moved to Wesley Highland Towers
near University of Memphis.
Another resident saw
Richardson drawing an elephant and told him about an art teacher.
Richardson took some lessons. "Learn your main colors and you got it
made. That's all there is to it."
Some of Richardson's
Boy Scout awards hang above his drawing board in a corner of his
efficiency apartment. He paints in tempera because it's not as messy
as oil. He gives his paintings to friends, donates some to the Boy
Scouts, keeps the ones he doesn't like.
The Scout Law, which
he constantly paints, is important to Richardson, who still assists
the Boy Scouts. "Trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous,
kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, reverent - I think
I've lived every one of them. I've had enough time."
The Art Exhibit: Garner Picture
Framing Co., 632 S. Perkins Road
than 60 paintings by Marvin Richardson
combines his first loves, painting and the Boy Scouts, in such a way
that it is earning him recognition as a folk artist late in life.
Frame shop owner Chris Garner (background) has set up a show of his
Richardson works in
the small space in his efficiency apartment near the University of
Memphis. He paints in tempera because it's not as messy as oil.
The words of the Boy
Scout Law - "A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly,
courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, reverent"
- find expression over and over in Richardson's paintings.
Some untitled pieces
are inspired by nature, designs or the city surroundings. "The flowers
are very dreamlike and impressionistic," said artist Nancy Cheairs.
Richardson makes use of his color chart for decisions in painting.
Friend Chris Garner is helping place Richardson's "outsider" art
before the public.
Copyright 2003 The
Commercial Appeal, Memphis, TN
Record Number: 0FDBD675516AE75C