Association for Creative Zoology
For years, UT has been home to the acclaimed George and Helen Spelvin Folk Art Collection, which gives a glimpse into the lives of ordinary people telling their stories through their handiwork.
The crafts and narratives of the eleven self-taught artists are compelling—like the story of Juanita Richardson, who lost an uncle and father to alcoholism. As a result, she started painting beer bottles with the belief that turning them into art meant they would no longer be used as containers for alcohol.
In looking through the folk art collection, however, there are nagging clues that something is not quite right.
George Spelvin? As in the fictitious name used in a play’s program when an actor is performing two roles? Doesn’t that picture of Loretta Howard, the creator of the interracial rag doll friendship chain, bear a striking resemblance to English professor Mary Papke? Wait. Is E.B. Hazzard, inventor of the alien communication device, really Neil Greenberg, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology?
Yes. Yes. And Yes.
The Spelvin collection is part of the extensive Hokes Archives, which bills itself as “the fabrication and documentation of rare and unusual artifacts.”
The archives, which have been exhibited regionally, nationally, and internationally, are the brainchild of Beauvais Lyons, UT Chancellor’s Professor and James R. Cox Professor of Art.
“All this fakery is a mask that allows me to address truths in one way or another,” says Lyons. “Art holds up a mirror to our society. People slow down and reflect more deeply about things they don’t understand or aren’t sure of. I want art to be a speed bump.”
Lyons draws inspiration for projects from visits to museums and current events and issues. He then builds a body of work around them. The Association for Creative Zoology and its displays were created to address the evolution vs. creationism debate. It is dedicated to “understanding the beauty and complexity of God’s creation” and claims that God formed new species from existing ones. It calls the process “zoomorphic juncture.”
Exhibits include lithograph prints and taxidermy of animals such as the groundhog-fish (a fish with a groundhog’s head) and the micropterus trichopilarus (a cat with a fish’s head).
His works always include a drop of the real in a sea of fakes.
Lyons, who teaches lithography (printing on stone) and intaglio (engraving a design on a surface), is head of the university’s printmaking master’s program, ranked fourth in the nation by U.S. News and World Report.
“Most of my work is tied together with printmaking because its historic qualities give authenticity to the exhibits,” he says.
The Hokes Archives also include the faux history of three civilizations: the Apasht, the Arenot, and Aazudians. Lyons made the vessels, excavated ruins, and other artifacts that tell the story of these fictional ancient peoples.
Another project is Hokes Medical Arts, a collection of anatomical diagrams that look both realistic and odd at the same time.
“Like any work of art, it’s taking the viewer on a journey to someplace that seems familiar, but they’ve never been there before,” Lyons says.
Before he begins a project, Lyons conducts research—but not so much that it impedes his creative process. He refers to his works as “mock-academics,” akin to “mockumentary” movies that present fictitious events in a documentary format.
Although Lyons spends a lot of time in the land of fiction, he is grounded in the real world.
“I clearly know the difference,” he says with a laugh. “It’s not like I’m psychotic or something.”
As for the future, Lyons has several project ideas brewing in his head. He’s interested in biographies and creating imaginary historical personages.
“At some point I want to make a fictitious member of the German Expressionist group Die Brücke,” he says.
Lyons will stage his paintings.
“He’ll probably have a German first name like Helmut or something and a Polish last name,” he says.