Celebrating Outlaw Artist: “Billy Foster’s Appalachia” exhibit

Art show curator Jose Rizo and collector Benny Dunfee are proud to present “Billy Foster’s Appalachia” to solidify Foster’s legacy as a West Virginia artist.

“He really depicted a lot of coal mining scenes, a lot of Appalachian scenes, rural scenes, moonshining people, and then just really a lot Native American stuff,” said Rizo. “A lot of the images that he produced were pretty much off the top of his head; largely self-taught.”

Dunfee was a longtime friend of the late Billy Foster, and for the past 25 years has collected 155 of the artist’s pieces.

“I met him in the early 90s at the country store down in Robson,” the collector said. “Started talking to him, buying his art and I just loved them, and loved the stories behind them, the quotes. It’s like working a jigsaw puzzle — trying to figure out.”

Rizo likes Foster’s pen and ink drawings.

“They’re very, very detailed — you can see all the shading that he did and I just think that’s some of his best work,” said the curator.

According to Dunfee, Foster was in and out of jail over his lifetime, and spent 28 years in Moundsville Penitentiary; but art was his saving grace.

“He got in prison, started doing art and it helped him a lot escape, living the pictures in the prison,” the collector said.

“All the guards liked him just by doing art — he got a lot of breaks (a lot of favors).”

Among Dunfee’s favorite Foster pieces, include one with the West Virginia seal and others with leather. This exhibit means so much to him.

“It’s real emotional, I’m sorry,” he said.

“He (Foster) became a close friend, right? You must miss him a lot.”

“Yes,” the collector said.

Besides the historic Billy Foster pictures, the show highlights 17 local West Virginia artists.

“I’m just really happy to be part of this obviously, put the show together and partner (Weathered Ground Brewery) with great organizations in our community.”

*The show benefitted West Virginia Collective.

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