January 20, 2016

Art Trekkers – Outsider Art

AAC's Art Trekkers working on their Bottle Houses
AAC’s Art Trekkers working on their Grandma Prisbrey-inspired Bottle Houses

We’re back again with our globetrotting student artists! This time our students took a pit stop to explore the outside world, the outsider artist world that is.

In our last blog post, we detailed six of the nine artists who inspired the projects for our Fall Art Trekkers class. This time we’re taking a look at Outsider Artists and how our students were inspired by them.

In the Art Trekkers class our students discovered Outsider Artists Tressa “Grandma” Prisbrey, Raymond Isidore and James Castle.

Ok, but what the heck is outsider art anyway? Well, let me tell you…

Outsider Art was coined by art critic Roger Cardinal in 1972. It incorporated artists who were self-taught and not formally trained in an arts institution. These artists used unconventional materials and weren’t established in the art world, but have become well-known and important to contemporary art.

Inspired yet? No? Then keep reading.


Artist Inspiration: Tressa “Grandma” Prisbrey (Simi Valley, CA)
Bottle Village building with recycled glass bottles for walls
Bottle Village building with recycled glass bottles for walls

Tressa Prisbrey, known as Grandma Prisbrey got her start later in life. In 1956, at the age of 60, Prisebrey started building a “village” comprised of shrines, walkways, sculptures, and buildings all made from recycled and discarded materials. Bottle Village as it has become known to be, is now a historical landmark and in 1996 was listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Back in the classroom students read the book Bottle Houses: The Creative Work of Grandma Prisbrey, inspired by Prisbrey’s Bottle Village. Students took this inspiration and created their very own Bottle Houses. Throughout the lesson they were encouraged to use a wide-range of materials just like the artist they learned about.

Cardboard houses were built and covered with a very thin layer of acrylic paint, then embellished with paper bits resembling mosaic tiles. Discarded and recyclable materials as well as found objects were also used to decorate these miniature homes and buildings. Similarly, Raymond Isidore used the same technique 17 years earlier.


Artist Inspiration: Raymond Isidore (Chartres, France)
Raymond Isidore's La Maison Picassiette
Raymond Isidore’s La Maison Picassiette

Born in Chartes, France to a family of modest means, Isidore got his start when he stumbled upon some broken pieces of crockery. These little bits of crockery peaked his interest and thus became a thirty year venture with mosaic art.

Like Prisbrey, Isidore produced buildings decorated with glass, crockery and discarded materials. This combination showcased brilliant textures and colors. In 1983, shortly after Isidore’s death, his home La Maison de Picassiette was honored as a national Historical Monument and remains open to the public.

AAC’s Art Trekkers traveled from California to France to learn about found objects and mosaics, then back to the U.S. in Idaho, to discover an artist who not only used found materials, but also made his own pigments, inks, and tools.


Artist Inspiration: James Castle (Garden Valley, Idaho)
James Castle, Untitled
James Castle, Untitled Duck

James Castle grew up in a small town in rural Idaho. He was born profoundly deaf and despite his lack of formal education, he taught himself to make art, often depicting imagery and scenes from his rural life.

Castle used found materials such as paper from packaging, old mail, and food containers. He also made the materials he needed, using soot and spit for ink and found or fashioned objects for drawing tools. Talk about creativity!

In 2013, the Smithsonian American Art Museum purchased several of Castle’s works, bringing together one of the largest collections of his art.

In the classroom students were inspired by Castle’s enchanting cardboard birds, and had a chance to make their own cardboard animals. Using only paper, cardboard, twine, glue, crayons and colored pencils students created a bevy of animals.


Not only do our students have fun creating artwork, they also learn about contemporary art and artists. Here are some of the new concepts learned in our Art Trekkers class last fall: outsider art, self-taught, traditional arts establishment, traditional materials, mosaic, found objects, symbols, the ordinary, arte povera, mosaic objects, large-scale.


Outsider Art Fair
Outsider Art Fair

Are you inspired to build a house decked out in glass? Or make art tools out of found objects? Or do you need more? If so, you can always visit the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland.  Or take a trip to New York where they host the Outsider Art Fair  every year, featuring outsider artists from all over the country.

OK, so now that you know about Outsider Art, it’s time to learn something new! Check out our winter classes where our students will be learning about different artists and techniques.
Classes are still open for registration for children ages 2 and up, and will start January 26th! Space is limited, so sign up now!

Additional Reminder: AAC’s annual Spring Break Escape is also open for registration. Classes meet daily during the week of March 21-25, to coincide with Arlington County Public Schools Spring Break, and feature supervised lunch and aftercare for students enrolled in all-day classes.

snowflakeIn the face of Winter Storm Jonas, we wanted to also remind our readers of our severe weather policy. AAC follows the Arlington County Public School weather emergency guidelines when determining when classes and public activities are cancelled. If inclement weather is in the forecast, please be sure to check the APS Emergency Announcements website for updates. We will also post an update on our website to ensure the best possible communication about changing conditions.

An Adventure of Being

Extended to February 11, 2024

Smith & Meyer Galleries
Featured Artists: Vincent Cy Chen, Nicki Cherry, Jeremy Olson, and Stephanie J. Williams

An Adventure of Being explores blurred boundaries, physical breakdown, and states of in-between-ness. The painting, sculpture, and installations included in the exhibition incorporate materials and forms that bring to mind living beings.

2024 Art Classes for Kids, Teens, and Adults!

Register now! Classes begin January 21!

Whether you are giving the gift of creativity this year to a friend or family member, or you plan to set a new year’s resolution to get back into creating, sign up today to secure your spot in one of MoCA’s wonderful programs! From drawing and painting to ceramics and mixed media, you are sure to find an inspiring art class.

Zaq Landsberg: Reclining Liberty

August 5, 2023 - July 28, 2024

Front Lawn
MoCA Arlington and Arlington Public Art are thrilled to co-sponsor the installation of Zaq Landsberg’s celebrated Reclining Liberty on the Museum’s front lawn.

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