Tracker Pixel for Entry

​Americana dreams and the Cowboy Prince

by Sabrina Hornung | .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) | Arts | December 21st, 2016

photo by Zach Gibson

When asked how he would describe his work, Richmond, Virginia-based artist Charlie Umhau says,“I’d say it’s a functional Americana version of traditional Greek black figure painted vases married with Howard Finster’s hyper productivity; the black and white gold framed color palate of Civil War tintypes, the sustainable but frenzied improvisation of African American scrap quilts, the talismanic tailoring of Old World shamans dressed for ceremony, spiritually sewn with European folk traditions, then sprinkled with a little bit of Transcendental trench art.”

Umhau, also known as the Cowboy Prince, has had a lifelong fascination with American folk art. It all started with an original Howard Finster sculpture belonging to his parents as well as a copy of the self-taught visionary artist’s book “Stranger from another world” -- which showcased his iconic Paradise Garden. Umhau says “I think even as a kid I couldn’t help but fall in love with the raw homemade earnestness of it all. It just felt really sincere and I want very badly to be sincere.”

Umhau works in a variety of media including two- and three-dimensional pieces, “endurance-based performance art” and even considers himself a folk tailor. The wearable art he produces consists of a mixture between hand-drafted patterns and already existing pieces that he deconstructs. Although he works in a variety of media it all shares the common thread of his unique vision and personal style, combining elements of Americana folk art influence, American mythology, a nod to our nation’s past and a wonderful sense of optimism and energy.

“Making Art for me is an addiction—yes! But predominantly, it is my spiritual practice that gives me an opportunity to feel like I am a little kid sitting on a bathroom sink looking up and watching God smile at me as he shaves.” Umhau says.

HPR: In regard to your performance art, I saw you had a Kickstarter project in 2012 in which you adapted the life of a 19th century peddler. You pulled a fully stocked Amish-style cart (that you created), 237 miles from Richmond VA to Washington DC. Can you tell us a bit about that?

CU: It was simultaneously the greatest year of my life while also the most maddening. Despite the physical challenge of pulling 300 lbs of self-expression out in the world, the psychological effects of how hard I pushed myself, combined with the culture shock of transitioning from a hermitic stay-at-home artist into a public figure, existing very raw and intensely for the whole world to see, certainly made for one hell of an experience.

The big catch phrase of the cart was “Why should we sip from a teacup, when we could drink from the whole river?” I did sell my wares with mixed success, but that was really just an excuse to be out there. The whole project was actually about being a living metaphor for splashing that river water on my generation. Needless to say I got very wet. Most of all though -- in the ambiguousness of modernity -- it was a self-constructed rite of passage that was an absolutely necessary thing for me to do for myself. It was the storming of my Bastille.

HPR: Where did your interest as a folk tailor stem from--do you have a theatre background?

CU: I originally started sewing in an effort to rewild myself in the midst of a transitory season, with intentions initially of self-sufficiency, rather than craftsmanship pushing me forward. I realized that every day I wake up and put on clothing--yet I had no idea how any of my clothes were made. Learning how to meet this basic necessity for myself felt very Thoreauvian and practically transcendental so it is no wonder that learning how to sew was this big turning point in my life, which basically shifted the entire trajectory of how I wanted to show up in the world.

After I started making my own clothes, I left college--where I was originally studying Outdoor Education at a small Quaker college in Indiana. I moved randomly to Richmond, Virginia to pursue sewing full time…all the other art that now pours out of me is a side effect!

I did dabble a little bit in studying Costume Design for theatre, but after a brief stint, I realized I’d prefer to make costumes for everyday life. I felt restless too in just researching costume history. I wanted to know more than just what was trendy in 1789, for example, but rather the meaty whys and hows and the so-what? -- larger pictures of “what-does-this-say?” But I think what I really wanted was to go out and make my own costume history, to take the traditional role of theatrical costume as story telling through clothing and apply it to my own physical existence on earth everyday.

HPR: On your instagram, I noticed that you post a lot of folk costumes and some military uniforms for inspiration--and make notes for study. What do you find most appealing about these designs?

CU: First off, for me the common thread between military uniforms and folk costumes is their functionality; they are clothes that are meant to be used, meant to be lived in and well worn. All clothing speaks a language, but I think they can speak it the loudest. For both there is also a gorgeous psychological component, a thrilling element of “dressing to kill,” of clothing’s functionality to protect its wearer in both a spiritual and physical sense.

My biggest obsession is the crossover between these ideals -- I find myself daydreaming about First World War soldiers with parts of their traditional folk costumes secretly worn underneath their uniforms in the trenches or the juxtaposition of a machine gunner wearing high-tops brought from home. While one “costume” blends the wearer in with the rest, the other signifies our individuality. We don’t stop being ourselves when we put on a uniform, so I love finding the little aesthetic examples of this resistance.

YOU SHOULD KNOW:

Check out the cowboy prince on Instagram @thecowboyprince

Recently in:

BISMARCK– The debate over whether the state needs an ethics commission has been ongoing for years, four times defeated by the legislature. This year, however, concerned citizens turned to the power of the initiated measure, and…

There will be a rocking event on coming this Thursday called Night Bazaar by Folkways. Night Bazaar is an event highlighting the community with a full spectrum of unique experiences, food, music, art and performances. Night Bazaar…

Thursday, August 23, 5-6:30 p.m.Plains Art Museum, 704 1st Ave. NDr. Craig Howe, Director of the Center for American Indian Research and Native Studies (CAIRNS), will lead an art and poetry workshop in conjunction with the…

On August 14, The Bismarck Tribune reported that “A popular insecticide could be banned for agricultural use.” Popular as it may be I can think of a whole slew of adjectives that would be more appropriate like questionable,…

Well, Mr. President, Have You No Sense Of Decency Sir, At Long Last?We might have another flag debate in this country. We still see the Confederate symbol flying in activities promoted by white supremacists on the streets of…

FARGO - A collection of memories from High Plains Reader's annual Cocktail Showdown. Participants were judged on creativity, flavor, and presentation; and this year we added a new category. Like years before, each establishment was…

By Ben Myhre benmyhre35@gmail.com If you are a gardener in the area, you know that this is the time of year when zucchini becomes plentiful. In fact, many have a tough time using all of it. You may see just a small little zucchini…

Woodstock: even people who were born years after the original three-day music festival recognize the name. The event, which took place between August 15th and 18th at Max Yasgur’s dairy farm in southern New York and attracted…

Elsie Fisher’s Kayla Day is the lonely but indefatigable middle-school protagonist of first-time feature filmmaker Bo Burnham’s “Eighth Grade,” a winning addition to the pantheon of the adolescent cinematic bildungsroman.…

It may be cliche to say the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree, but when wet plate artist Shane Balkowitsch found out that his 15-year-old daughter Abby Balkowitsch was following in his photography footsteps, he was…

By Stella Mehlhoffstellamehlhoff@gmail.comAs I stared out of Guthrie Theater’s Amber room at a bird’s eye of the cityscape and river below, I hardly took in the night lights, my mind was too focused on the art I had just…

Fargo has its share of people who are passionate about stand-up comedy, even if the success of clubs devoted to it has been mixed. Despite the fact we have seen places like Courtney’s Comedy Club and Level 2 Comedy Club close…

When I was first introduced to the traditional spirit of my ancestors, Akvavit (or aquavit), I never thought I’d ever find myself standing next to a giant “Viking” ship while comparing different brands of the “water of…

I’m a big man, I’m tall and powerful, but this also causes some issues in the body department. I suffer from acute scoliosis in my lower back, and pain radiates from this area on a daily basis. I have only ever had one massage…

By Melissa Martinmelissamartincounselor@live.comThink back to one of your worst small decisions. Then answer the following questions:How did you make the decision?What happened after the decision?When did you know it was the worst…

Well, after nearly a dozen years of delay, it looks like Billings County is finally going to build a bridge over the Little Missouri State Scenic River north of Medora. The county posted a notice in the Federal Register on October…