P.J. Hornberger's Folk Art Gallery looks like a dollhouse beside U.S. 290 in Carmine. Inside the little purple building she displays an assortment of her eclectic carvings and paintings.
It's really no surprise that the gallery looks like a playhouse, because some of Hornberger's reoccurring subjects have taken on personalities of their own. "It's fun to do different characters," she says. "I can't imagine having to paint just birds all the time. I'm lucky because I get to mix it up."
There is a pair of pet chickens that pops up in her art from time to time. "I loved those chickens and couldn't stand it when they died. So I made it so they could live on forever," she says with a laugh. Sister Ernell is the conservative one, and Sister Lola is the bawdy one. "She's not cheap; she's just popular," Hornberger says.
Hornberger's art is a mixture of paintings and wood carvings in the grand tradition of American folk art. The pieces are often a mix of whimsy and history. Folk art expands the boundaries of perceived notions of what is art. "In folk art there is no right, and there is no wrong," she says. "It has to be whimsical, and it has to make you feel something. Whether you like it or not."
It was Hornberger's husband, Richard, who got her into making folk art in a backdoor sort of way. Richard was always whittling around the house, and she was always telling him how he should do it. Finally, 27 years ago, he told her if she knew so much, she should do it herself. So she did. She joined a wood-carving club to learn the tricks of the trade. "But the men kept telling me how to do the carvings," she says. She learned the skills she needed and left them in the sawdust. Hornberger mainly uses redwood center wood for her sculptures.
At one time, she was working 10 to 12 hours a day in her wood shop carving rabbits, whales, pigs, and other items limited only by her unlimited imagination. "It's hard, dirty work, but I love it," Hornberger says. "Especially when something comes out like I envisioned it."
The African-American influences in Hornberger's art are very evident, and she doesn't deny the connection. "I love black art, and I love black people," she says. "When I first saw work by Grandma Moses, I was just blown away. It is some of the most amazing stuff I have ever seen."
If her husband helped her find her medium, it was the folk art of the rural South that helped her find her voice. Growing up in segregated South Texas, she never understood why she couldn't play with some kids just because of the color of their skin.
"When we traveled to East Texas when I was a kid," she says, "I used to think those people with a pig or chicken in the front yard were the coolest people in the world." For a city girl, picking cotton looked like picking stars out of the field.
Hornberger has had galleries in Austin and Round Top, but the Carmine location has been one of the best so far. "I get to meet so many nice people," she says. A couple of women from Wisconsin stopped in recently, just because they saw the purple building.
"When folk art gets in your blood, it's hard to get it out," she says. "I look at things now and see it as it should be carved in wood. I've done a lot of things in my life, but the best feeling I've ever had was when I've created something."
P.J. Hornberger's Folk Art Gallery is on the north side of U.S. 290 in Carmine, about 10 miles west of Brenham. She says when she grows up she'll have real business hours until then; the gallery opens Thursday through Sunday. It's a short walk from her kitchen, so if you don't see anyone around, give her a call at 979/278-3466. To see her work on the Web, go to www.pjhornberger.com.
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