ArtBeat – McHugh’s Candy Store Gallery

by Ed Goldman

In my late 20s I was accosted in a small art gallery by a solid, stern older woman who began to tell me what I should buy—and why. Taking in her quasi-Mammy Yoakum ensemble and emphatic tone, I almost said something rude but thought better of it, life being short, seniors deserving respect and so forth.

Glad I kept my mouth shut. She was Adeliza McHugh, I was in the art gallery she created and ran in Folsom, and the piece she was suggesting I buy was called “Walrus, Wallabies and Wallflowers” by Maija Peeples. I did as I was told and thereupon entered the fabulous world of the California Funk movement.

The artists, art and founder of McHugh’s Candy Store Gallery are being celebrated in a lively retrospective show at the Crocker Art Museum that runs through May 1. Curated and documented by the Crocker’s clever and ever-accessible Dr. Scott Shields—not all curators are either of those, much less both— the show features some of the more imaginative works and practitioners of the period.   

Among the artists featured, some of whose art I’ve been privileged to buy over the years, are David Gilhooly, Gladys Nilsson, Sandra Shannonhouse, Robert Arneson, Clayton Bailey, Roy De Forest, Irving Marcus, Jim Nutt, Jack Ogden, and Peter VandenBerge. 

While this is the first full-fledged tribute to the Candy Store, which opened 60 years ago and closed 30 years later, various artists and fans have made attempts to memorialize it in the years since McHugh’s death in 2003, at 91. These have included Peter VandenBerge’s daughter Camille, herself an accomplished artist, who put on a show about growing up in the shadow of that bygone era called “Kid in the Candy Store” a little more than five years ago. But it was less a tribute to the original gallery than a showcase for mainly her own work (which I wrote about for both the Business Journal and Sacramento Magazine).

The Candy Store began life as an actual candy store, on a hill off Folsom’s main drag, Sutter Street. It had only two rooms. When the customers for confections died off (I hope I don’t mean that literally), McHugh turned it into a cluttered exhibition space for paintings, ceramics, drawings and, while it contributed to the crowded demeanor of the rooms, even some installation art.

McHugh had no formal art training, which may have been her saving grace even though many of her artists were formally trained artists and even art professors. What she had was an untainted-by-tradition eye—two, in fact—for the authentic, satiric, majestic and, especially in the case of Peeples’ and Gilhooley’s work, the whimsical.

Gilhooley, for example, created an entire fictitious culture ruled by frogs. One of my prized purchases was a sculpture that featured the frog god Osiris in his crypt, which was mounted on a pyre of ceramic dung. Out of his stomach grew the tree of life, flowered with clay cans and packages of junk food. I still regret selling the piece a decade ago but have replaced it with two other, if smaller, masterworks: Witches’ Sabbath (1970) and Giant Frog Burger from 1994, the latter of which looks exactly what it sounds like.

I focus on these pieces to underscore a point about Funk art and its adherents. The movement was neither about creating “safe” art, such as you might find in the conference room of corporations attempting to look mildly hip, nor true “outsider” art, which can prove disturbing and not likely to complement the over-decorated (but still basic-beige-motif) living rooms of homes in Granite Bay or Gold River.

Entering my then-home in East Sacramento some years ago, the wife of a prominent ad executive stood in the doorway eyeing the collection of modern pieces we’d collected and hung on every one of the house’s exposed three stories. “Oh, I like the art,” she sighed in the clenched-teeth style of Jim Backus’s Thurston Howell III, “but I just don’t know that I could live with it.”

This time, unlike in my first encounter with Adeliza McHugh, I did not keep my mouth shut. “I’m not sure anyone’s asked you to,” I said.

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About the Author

Ed Goldman wrote a daily column for the Sacramento Business Journal for eight years, often about the arts, and in 2019 began a thrice-weekly online column, The Goldman State, which now has readers in 28 states.

He has been an art collector, painter and cartoonist for 50+ years.

Explore more from Ed Goldman at goldmanstate.com.

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