Rutherford "Tubby" Brown, who died July 23 at age 74, was a whirlwind of creative energy. His white clapboard home and yard in Jefferson, near Gainesville, were filled with his wooden cutouts, birdhouses and objects made of junk, like the star-spangled Uncle Sam stove
tops, made out of tin cans, that hung on a swing set.
Maybe Brown worked so furiously because, like so many self-taught artists, he got a late start. Trained as a carpenter, he ran a grocery store for 35 years and began making art after a heart condition forced him to retire in 1981. Brown, who became less tubby after the
diagnosis, put those carpentry skills to especially good use in his vividly painted cutout tableaux.
The University of Georgia graduate would carve inch-thick figures -- free-standing and framed -- about subjects ranging from biblical stories like Jonah and the whale to pop music. Elvis Presley was a favorite. In one piece, the rocker stands on a record player, and
the record -- "Teddy Bear" -- turns around. The artist was quite proud of that.
Brown was friendly with fellow folk artist R.A. Miller, who lives not too far away, and he was a longtime fan and collector of Meaders-family face jugs. Jeanne Kronsnoble, director of Main Street Gallery, which carries Brown's work, describes him as "a wheeler-dealer
in a way."
"He was a businessman about his art," she says. "He had his price -- usually $100 -- and that was it, no matter what."
Once commercial galleries discovered him, they would swoop in and carry off the goods, but there was always something for visitors to peruse in Brown's shop in the sunroom. He was always busy making something, often experimenting with materials, but never too busy to
"Tubby was a character," says Kronsnoble. "He liked to entertain people. He loved to show them his work. He never thought of it seriously. He just had fun with it."
Brown suffered a heart attack a year ago and never quite recovered. His art making virtually ceased.
He is survived by his wife, Betty Langford Brown of Jefferson; sons Andy Brown of Jefferson and Phil Brown of Washington, Ga.; daughter Pat Healan of Jefferson; brother James Enoch Brown of Jefferson; sisters Frances Howard of Decatur and Wineva Williams of Jefferson;
six grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.