Visual Arts

CLEAN, SOBER AND STANGE

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One of the most enthusiastic collectors of Sallie Lou's work is John Ground, a professor of ceramics in the Fine Arts Department at Millersville State College in Millersville, Pennsylvania. Ground, who also has a distinguished collection of traditional contemporary Mexican pottery that former ASU Art Museum director Rudy Turk was interested in having donated to his museum's extensive ceramics collection, stumbled over Sallie Lou's work at the Pennsylvania flea market where Andrew was selling. Ground now has more than 30 of Sallie Lou's works.

"It was only after Andrew moved to Cottonwood and I visited him there that he came clean with the fact that he was Sallie Lou and that she really didn't exist," says Ground. "Up until then, he had me believing that Sallie Lou was a real person, part black and part Indian, with this very involved life story, and that she had done the paintings I had collected. I even have a painting of Sallie Lou's grandparents. "I would go to the flea market and talk to Andrew, telling him I would really like to meet her. But he would always tell me that he was her agent and that she really didn't like to meet people. And then she moved to Cottonwood.

"Knowing the real story now," Ground speculates, "I wonder whether there might have been a real Sallie Lou type of figure in his past, and whether something very dramatic might have happened to her.

"In any event, I feel there is more than one person inside of Andrew, and Sallie Lou is one of those people. If you see my collection of paintings, you get a greater appreciation for this. It is hard to believe that just one person did all of the paintings, since they are stylistically and contentwise so different.

"At one point," Ground says, "Andrew was taking an art class back in Pennsylvania as himself. What Andrew was painting in that class and what Sallie Lou was painting were two different things. Andrew was painting very traditional Eastern scenes in an almost childlike style and more toned-down palette, while Sallie Lou's things were wild.

"The religious imagery in Sallie Lou's work has a very serious quality. For example, I have a piece that has a black, crucified Christ as the central figure, but the Christ figure has puppet strings attached to it. I have always suspected that, in reality, Andrew was heavily involved in the civil rights movement in the Sixties, but who knows?"
@rule:
@body:Whether Andrew believes he is actually Sallie Lou or whether he harbors multiple personalities are questions that, while intriguing, really don't need to be addressed. In many ways, all artists are multiple personalities, mere unconscious conduits for their creations, which are, for the most part, separate and apart from their true selves.

What we do know about Andrew is that he is a recovering alcoholic. He will proudly tell you he has been clean and sober for almost 19 years; he still attends Alcoholics Anonymous meetings with churchlike regularity. He was born in the Thirties in eastern Pennsylvania of German, English and Pennsylvania Dutch stock, and claims that his great-great-grandmother was Daniel Boone's sister. He doesn't want to reveal the exact place he's from back East, but says, "It's between Harrisburg and Philadelphia."

One of several children of a prominent physician and his nurse wife, Andrew grew up in middle-class comfort with a black nanny whom he worshiped.

"As a kid, I was either drawing or cooking," he says. "I started doing drugs when I was 12 years old, having to take pills because I was fat. I weighed 286 when I was 12 years old."
Later, he says, a brief stint in the Air Force pared him down to 175 pounds.
After high school, Andrew went to business school in Pennsylvania, then on to Fannie Farmer's School of Cookery in Boston (I specialized in pastries"). In 1954, he attended the Art Career School in New York City, the Academy of Art on Sutter Street in San Francisco and the Rudolph Schaefer School of Design on Coit Hill. After returning to New York for more classes, he went back to his hometown in Pennsylvania. "That was my mistake, because I lived there for 28 years after I came back," he says. Andrew supported himself by selling his paintings and doing numerology readings. "I've made more money out of numerology than painting," he claims. "I was also a psychic medium, and I still do readings. In the old days, I thought I had to be high as a kite to do a reading, like Arthur Ford, who was a great psychic who discovered his psychic powers after an automobile accident when he was given morphine. I discovered that wasn't true."

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Kathleen Vanesian