For some time I have been working on a memoir of my relationship with eccentric, Alabama folk artist and mystic, Juanita Rogers. Many have credited me with "discovering" Juanita’s enormous talent, and until her death in 1985, I represented and promoted her work from its humble origins to its eventual placement in the great museums of Paris, London, and Lauzanne, Switzerland.
Juanita was black, poor and uneducated, and lived a primitive existence in a two-room shack in the rural fields of Alabama. I now have almost completed the manuscript about our relationship, one that transcends reality in many instances. I am looking for an agent to represent my project and to locate a production company interested in the story.
I first met Juanita in the summer of 1980, and although I was from a prominent southern family, I was drawn to her strange and primitive ways. As our friendship developed, I learned more about Juanita's past, and her powerful work: clay sculptures with a voodoo-like quality. Most of the people who knew her thought Juanita was crazy. Her own family burned all her house belongings immediately after she died, except for the works that I collected and now own.
Sitting on her barn-wood porch with her tomcat "Brenda" and her dog "Wolf," Juanita would regularly tell me her tales. She suspiciously denounced her common birth place and insisted instead that she came from "Indian where the black mud swallows up the cars." She claims she was "found by the Baron" when she was small, then swept away on "a carnival freight train to a Catholic mission" where nuns instructed her, she said, how to make what I knew to be her art - the bone-embedded "funny brick", as she called it.
At first, I took Juanita's stories literally then later through much speculation and a tremendous amount of research, developed some possible interpretations of them. Being an artist myself, I was overwhelmed by the crumbling clay sculptures that she made. They were embedded with teeth and Spanish moss, graveyard dirt, and cow bones and other "power objects" she gathered from her cow pasture. I slowly devoted myself to their preservation, as well as the documentation of her strange stories.
As the years passed, mulling all this over, I came to realize that the reader needed to know something about me. Why I was drawn to Juanita, and what gave me the incredible sense of obligation I felt for her and the preservation of her work. I wanted her to know that what she was doing was important --that she was important. Here I was the privileged only child of wealthy parents, who chose to turn my back on my heritage and lead another lifestyle entirely. My self-imposed journey was a search for a truth I sensed more than knew to be "absolute truth." To find out what was "real", landed me amidst a host of motley characters and boyfriends. All this set the stage for my meeting of Juanita, creating the tension and explaining reasons for my attraction to her. It was my preparation. Through our friendship we both exchanged gifts of the spirit -- self-worth, recognition, the strength of will, and human kindness. She died in 1984 of complications resulting from either what was a cancerous tumor or a calcified fetus and since then I have felt overcome by the urge to tell this story.
There are many plots, one of which is a sub-story about five stones. As a child, Juanita was given what she called "thunderballs". These five "magic" stones weave in and out of her story. I believe that the stones are linked to the ancient amulets integral to the religious beliefs in tribes of West Africa--- stones that were referred to by the Ashanti as "thunderstones". Numbers of these pigeon egg-sized "thunderstones" were brought to America on slaveships, and there is speculation that some were excavated (200 years later) from an African burial ground discovered in Manhattan, in Wall Street's financial district (see enclosed documentation). Juanita's "five magic stones" could be related to the Manhattan burial amulets. They could be some of the very stones that ended up in the hands of Juanita Rogers, who used them, as she said, "to make the mud grow" into monstrous "Ram Men" and "Headless Jungle Women." Intrigue, magic, and triumph of the human spirit describe this Southern rooted adventure. The story is laden with shades of a Carlos Castenada book mingled with the carnival romance of "Brazil".
"...and so it is said that if you wander out and it is near sundown, and if perhaps you are a little bit lost and tired, if you are lucky, a Bone Woman may take a liking to you and show you something, something of the soul" (from Women Who Run With Wolves)
I am an artist raised in the conservative South, the owner of a Folk Art Gallery specializing in "Outsider" and Self-Taught artists from the Deep South. I have been interested in the phenomenon of folk art for over 25 years and over the years have sold work to museums across the country and in Europe, as well as to private collectors such as: Mary Steenburgen, Ted Danson, Michael Stipe, Malcom McDowell, James Belushi, and the House of Blues. Folk Art has reached frenzied popularity in the '90s, demanding high prices and prompting numerous exhibits, television specials, and news articles.
If you are interested in this story, please write or call, and a more detailed synopsis with sample chapters, photographs, and/or a complete manuscript.
2714 Coliseum Street
New Orleans, LA 70130
Tel# (504) 897-1172
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