This past weekend my husband and I joined friends visiting from the West Coast in Washington D.C. for an extended weekend of art galleries and museums...oh, and food and wine, of course.
One of the most remarkable artists I discovered was Ray Materson. His pieces were displayed at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore which specializes in the display of 'outsider art' ('intuitive art', 'raw art' or 'art brut').
"Prison Musician" (2.75 x 2.75 inches)
Prison Musician for scale
Ray Masterson was born in Milford, Connecticut in 1954 and grew up in the Midwest. He earned a G.E.D. and attended Thomas Jefferson College as a drama and philosophy major, but was plagued by a serious drug problem. To support his habit, he committed a string of robberies with a shoplifted toy gun; he was eventually arrested and sentenced to 15 years in a Connecticut penitentiary.
To keep sane, Materson taught himself how to embroider, using unraveled socks for thread and a sewing needle given to him by a prison guard. He stitched miniature tapestries depicting scenes from prison life, childhood memories, or idyllic fantasy worlds and traded them to other inmates for cigarettes.
Measuring 2 3/4" x 2 3/4", each piece required approximately 1,200 stitches per square inch and 40-50 hours to complete.
Since is release from prison in 1995, Materson has worked as a teacher, counselor, program director and motivational speaker. In 2002, Materson, with help from his former wife, Melanie, he wrote his autobiography, "Sins and Needles: A Story of Spiritual Mending". The next year, he became the first artist to receive the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Innovators Combating Substance Abuse Award.
The four of us were very moved by his art work....and his incredible story! Really, really wonderful!!