Soul-Moving Folk Art in Alabama

Joe Minter bowling balls

I’ve never really liked Folk Art, so was surprised at myself for having two stops in one trip. Perhaps it’s their subjects, or I’m evolving. Doesn’t matter. These are more than folk art; they’re history and passion (and a bit of obsession).

Joe Minter’s Yard

An acre-ish, abutting a cemetery. From the street it’s a cluttered mess. Actually, even from within it’s a cluttered mess. Take a breath and look at the trees within the forest, so to speak. There’s whimsey with smiley faces made of pot lids. And there’s history with replicas of slave ships.

Knock on the door and Joe will come out, pose for a picture, tell you a story, and leave you be. It was the best art “gallery” I’ve ever been to!

The majority of the work in Joe Minter’s Yard (Birmingham, AL) is about African American history. He presents it bluntly and juxtaposed with scripture passages of love and peace. Over time his work has evolved to commemorate his reactions to world events like Tsunamis and local like a district plumbing issue.

Walking through, it became more of a garden to me, each lesson he learned planted for others to reap. It reminded me of the wailing wall from the book the Secret Life of Bees. This is a place for him to express what pains and inspires him.

Watch the slideshow for a sampling of the experience.

Ave Maria Grotto

Who knew Monks did folk art? With shells? In Alabama? (meanwhile, who knew there were Monks in Alabama?)

Brother Joseph Zoettl worked on the Ave Maria Grotto for 46 years. He built 125 miniatures of churches and Catholic monuments, as well as the Seven Wonders of the World, the Leaning Tower of Pisa…whatever caught his fancy.

Ave Maria Grotto

The architectural detail is stunning. The scale and precision. And all of this without ever having visited any of these places and working only from photos for reference.

Then comes the whimsy. Shells from Florida, glass floats from Maine, gifts from all 50 states to incorporate into his work.

It was like a doll house city. A miniature city on a hillside. Not everything was to my taste, but you can’t deny the artistry and dedication.


Watch the slideshow for a sampling of the experience.

What kind of art do you like? Where do you think Folk Art fits within the world of “gallery art”?

6 Responses


Great start to your journey and blog. You ‘ve got me hooked, and I am looking forward to your future stops/posts!

Wow! Thanks, friend


very cool place—really enjoy the photos.
creating an environment of personal expression is an interesting curious & engaging experience.


My great-uncle started his religious life there in Alabama! My entire family went there with him when he became a bishop back in the 1980s. Cool to see it again! Really enjoying the stories – and Joe’s yard!

how cool to have that connection!


My folks gave me a lot of exposure to art throughout my childhood and I grew to have a real appreciation for folk art. I believe it belongs right next to “gallery art”.
Because that child, or adult, who is walking through a museum/gallery and is not drawn to anything just might be drawn to the folk art and it can open their world. Because art is in the eye of the beholder and it all deserves to be seen and a chance to be appreciated. Because folk art very often uses found/local objects and gives us a different way to see the “ordinary”. And lastly, because folk art can give great insight into the culture and community of the artist more often than other mediums. It feels culturally rich and I love the stories it can tell.
Thanks for sharing and letting me share!

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