Lennie Kesl Recalls Eddy (Mr. Eddy) Gallimore Mumma

By Linda Knopf

 

 

Leonard (“Lennie”) Kesl studied at L’Atelier Fernand Lager in Paris, France in 1949 and at the University of Colorado at Boulder from 1956 to 1957.  He earned his master’s degree from Michigan State University in 1957.  After teaching in various places throughout the country, Kesl moved to Gainesville, Florida, (United States) in 1968 and taught at the University of Florida and then at Santa Fe Community College until his retirement.  He is credited with having discovered Eddy Mumma (“Mr. Eddy”).  The following musings were shared with friends during a visit to Tallahassee in June 2009.……………………

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This is a recollection of a friend I find fascinating.  Eddy Mumma went by the name, concocted by himself, of Mr. Eddy.  His paintings were, oddly enough to me, executed on both sides of the board or canvas or whatever he could find to paint on.  He produced a very substantial collection of paintings he kept in a tiny hous

 

 

 

 

 

   Mr. Eddy Mumma

e where he lived in Gainesville, Florida.  His house and my house were one mile apart.  I learned about Mumma through a student of mine who was his renter.

 

Mumma was originally from the mid-West where he had been many things.  He was maybe a junk man or a vegetable grower.  He married and came to the south, landing in Gainesville, where his married daughter lived.  After drawing lessons, Mumma’s teacher called his work “too sloppy” and that affected his interest in being in the class.  He just wanted to paint and continued on his own, resolving any internal conflicts he may have had about making art.

 

He started to produce images, hanging them on the walls of his small house; the colors were all carefully chosen for incorporation into his work.  Mumma’s paintings have an air of originality and consistency.  He made them have a similar kind of approach that consisted of faces in the middle of the rectangle with a five stroke hand coming in from each side – for both hands.  He had the ability to pump these pieces out in a swift fashion, so he constantly was hard at work. He would make eyes with a circular form with another eye or pupil in the middle. 

 

At one point in our friendship I asked, “Why, Mr. Eddy, do you always paint on both sides of the canvas?”  And he said to me, “Don’t you know?  You’ve got to paint on both sides of the canvas.”  I felt awkward and tried to give him the satisfaction that I fully understood this thing that he did.

 

I would often go to Mumma’s home, with him giving me the money for the paints he needed, would purchase paints for him and bring them to him.  He seemed to trust me and let me buy paintings by him and didn’t seem to mind that he got very little money.  It felt like I was a trusted factor in the way he continued to paint.

 

I would size boards for him and give them to him to paint on.  Mumma said, “I try to do one a day.”  The best of his work, I think anyone could see, was worked on for more than one day.  Maybe the addition of the painting on the back of a board was a souvenir that he liked to add, but the ones on the front were extravagantly painted and beautifully encrusted with pigment.  Although the faces were his favorite subject, he also produced other images.

 

Mr. Eddy had books on art including one with a Van Gogh portrait with his ear cut off.  So he knew about some of those things.  Mumma painted many subjects that were really wonderful including a number of exteriors (outside artworks) such as boats, horses, other animals, mythical creatures, and cars.  Mumma was not exclusively indebted to one image, but he kept returning to those portraits, predominantly.  A series of the portraits was clearly influenced by paintings of English kings.  You can see the robes and crowns depicted in strong color and line. 

 

In 1986, Josh Feldstein was driving by Mumma’s house and noticed a lot of activity there.  He had never met Mr. Eddy.  Mumma’s diabetes resulted in amputation of both legs, so his health was obviously impaired.  The commotion was caused by the family gathering to plan a funeral.  Learning of Mumma’s death, Feldstein inquired about purchasing the artwork that remained.  The family agreed to the sale.

Josh Feldstein should be credited with saving the paintings that Eddy Mumma produced.  They would have been discarded because Mumma’s family didn’t value them.  The family didn’t look on them as having been produced by an outsider artist who had worked on an intense level for sheer personal pleasure.

 

My 60 paintings by Mumma were “picked by me” which I prize immensely, paying very little for them because he knew I wanted them for my private collection.  Mumma was nice to let me select them.  I think he almost felt that I would care for them with a great deal of consideration, which I always have.  I would purchase frames and would even put wires on the back to hang them even though I have no room to hang the many pictures that I own.

One large image was stored on Mumma’s front porch.  It was not “immensely successful” and wasn’t protected from the weather.  My friend Hector Puig and I took it off the stretcher – discovering two large faces painted in acrylic on the back of the canvas.  Then we turned it around and re-stretched it to show the best side. 

 

The smaller he got, physically, the larger Mumma’s art got, scale-wise.  Even working from his wheelchair, Mumma was able to execute great paintings.  I was always thinking about arranging a show for him in Gainesville or elsewhere, but he didn’t want a show; he just wanted the pictures on his wall.  Even with the loss of both legs he was able to paint right to the end of his life.

 

One time I said, “Eddy, I’d like to teach you a little bit about color.”  I was teaching a color theory class at the college where I worked.  I thought it would be good for him to know about colors and how they might serve him.  Mumma seemed to have a natural knack for use of color that really was wonderfully intuitive.  So I went through the color wheel and analogous colors and which colors were light or dark or warm or cool.  We went through it all.  

 

And then I said, “Now I’m going to give you a little test.  We’ll test colors.”  So I asked, “What is green?”  And Mr. Eddy said, “Green is warm.”  “What is red?”  “Red is cold or cool.”  “What is yellow?”  “Well, yellow is another cool color.”  And we went through several other colors and I eventually told him, “Mr. Eddy, you have an A in color and you should continue to work as you always have with that recognition.” 

 

One of the pieces had just really good color – you would have to use the word spectacular.  This image was hanging on his wall and he gave it to me in trade for a frame.  When I took it down I found the painting was done on a framed cardboard backing with the glass hanging toward the wall, protecting another image.  The lesson here is it doesn’t matter where the painting ends up as long as it’s successful as a painting.

 

A friend of mine in the Cleveland Museum once said that on the back of a Van Gogh painting was a raincoat pocket, showing that he would use anything as a canvas.  Isn’t it interesting that Mumma used the cardboard backing on a framed piece of art?  Van Gogh painted on the back of a raincoat, leaving a pocket to prove it.

 

I salute and admire the diversity of Mr. Eddy’s portfolio as well as the similarity of all of his paintings.  The House of Blues clubs in New Orleans and in Florida display Eddy Mummas as part of their décor.  Those pieces were acquired through the Feldsteins by a collector who also supported Thornton Dial.  This correlation between blues music and Eddy’s work seems natural and has exposed Mumma to a larger public.

 

Some of the images I have from Eddy Mumma are highly encrusted in pigment so you know that he continued to work on them.  But the idea of how he was fascinated with the application of pigment is quite obviously connected to the fact that he wanted to give the paintings an application of paint in the Eddy Mumma-style and was not so threatened by his former teacher that it impeded his continued painting.  Mr. Eddy used images derived from personal soul searching.

 

Eddy Mumma was awfully nice to me.  Any time I’d go to see Eddy, he’d welcome me in.  If he didn’t, he would be under the weather with his condition.  He knew that the collection that I had amassed would be honestly looked up to.

 

I salute Eddy Mumma for his sameness in images.  You could never forge a Mumma because he was so unique in discovering the things he did.  Even without a signature, his work is distinctive. 

 

He didn’t paint a whole lot of nudes.  In the dozen or so that he did, Mr. Eddy was more interested in that formal figure with the bulging eyes and the hands that went up to the chest of the figure.  The manner in which he did nudes would be worth a separate study.  He did like to do some boats, some cars, some images that were kind of off-beat but were still made in a manner that would give him credibility and stand out as unique in any art gallery.

 

To me, Eddy Mumma was truly an outside artist among history’s many artists who exhibit their uniqueness as painters.  Sunday painters, primitive painters, outsider painters all fit into this continuum.  In my thinking, Mumma had a very strong drive to make painting his cup of tea.  Not for fame or fortune.  He had that brush in his hand and was able to continue to put down these images, in many cases on both sides of the panel. 

 

I also felt the surfaces that he used made it advantageous that he was able to paint with acrylic - because oil would have needed to be placed on a ground.  What Eddy painted didn’t need to be on much of a ground since acrylic rests well on any surface and can be watered down. 

 

Mumma was not a one shot kind of image maker, but one who was able to produce a diversified portfolio of images.  In an excruciating way, Mr. Eddy delved into his psyche to come up with more than the heads that seem to be what most people use to identify him.  Other painted subjects certainly have the mark of Eddy Mumma on them.

 

With the precious time that he had, Mumma should be saluted for his value as an original outsider artist who lived with a real desire and love for painting in every moment he had on this earth.

More Eddy Mumma Images …………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

 

Eddy Mumma's daughter, Carroll Mumma Gunsaulies, recorded details of her father’s life as part of their family’s genealogy.  Eddy was born in Milton, Ohio on July 14, 1908.  After finishing eighth grade, he "rode the rails."  Eddy became a hobo, traveling the country and picking up whatever jobs a particular locality had to offer.  When he married in 1936, he and his wife eventually settled on a small farm near Springfield, Ohio.  Then Eddy and Thelma moved to another house in Springfield.  They bought a farm in about 1942.  He and Thelma had no previous farm experience, but learned by listening to the experienced farmers.  They raised primarily hay and corn and sold milk from the cows on the farm.  They moved to a second farm in 1946 which was much larger with two houses.  Thelma's mother, Stella Huebner, lived on the property as well.  They raised hay and corn and registered Angus Cattle Stock for breeding.  As a hobby, the family collected antiques.  They also managed some rental properties.  Mumma continued farming for a while after his wife's death.  He moved to Gainesville, Florida, in 1967 to be closer to his daughter.  He bought two small houses there, living in one and renting out the other.  In 1969 Mumma's daughter, Carroll, suggested that her father "get out of the house and take an art lesson."  The class did not work out because the "instructor accused his pupil of being artistically sloppy," but from that day on, Mumma painted feverishly, filling every wall of his small home with his work.  He sold very few paintings during his lifetime, even though he needed money desperately.  "They belong here, where I can see them," he repeatedly declared.  He died in Gainesville on October 7, 1986 and was buried in Springfield, Ohio.  (Please refer to http://www.mumma.org/databases/mumma/mumma-photo.html for more biographical information.)

 

After his death, a number of Eddy Mumma’s images were organized for loan to a museum show in Orlando, but the museum’s emphasis on primitive art changed before the display could be mounted.  Pieces by Mumma are housed in the Mennello Museum of American Art and will be on exhibit through September 2009 as part of “Florida Folk.”  Mumma is cited in several recognized folk art reference books including the Museum of American Folk Art Encyclopedia of Twentieth Century American Folk Art and Artists.  His paintings have sold at Slotin Folk Art Auctions over the last few years.  Images produced by Mumma can be seen on southernfolkartmagazine.com’s web site. 

 

 

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Bibliography:

"Museum of American Folk Art Encyclopedia of Twentieth Century American Folk Art and Artists" by Chuck and Jan Rosenak, Abbeville Press, New York, 1990.

"20th Century American Folk, Self Taught, and Outsider Art" by Betty-Carol Sellen, Cynthia J. Johnson, Neal-Schuman Publishers, New York, 1993.

"Contemporary American Folk Art - A Collector's Guide" by Chuck and Jan Rosenak, Abbeville Press, 1996.

"American Self-Taught Art: An Illustrated Analysis of 20th Century Artists and Trends with 1,319 Capsule Biographies" by Florence Laffal and Julius Laffal, 2003.

 

“Extraordinary Interpretations.  Florida’s Self-Taught Artists” by Gary Monroe, The University Press of Florida, 2003.