Albert Mertz (1910-1987), a one-time prize fighter and autoworker, lived with his family in a cinder block house in Lilley Township of Newago County, Michigan. Upon retirement, Mertz spent his days living off the land and creating signs often festooned with greetings, wacky sayings and comments. He used his off-beat creations to decorate his humble home and tempt passing tourists to visit his remote property.
Mertz’s manner and appearance has been affectionately described as resembling that of a leprechaun: engaging, friendly and often mischievous. These traits are also characteristic of the work he hung along the road and stored helter-skelter in his marvelous and highly personal environment. His unique painted constructions covered with backwoods philosophy often took cues from his visitors (“IYAMWHATIYAM”) and the children who begged their parents to be taken home (“IWANNAGOHOME”).
Mertz’s text stands wholesomely apart from the angry rantings of Jesse Howard, the proselytizing of Howard Finster and Sister Gertrude Morgan, and the imaginary language of J.B. Murray. Amazingly, some of his work bears an uncanny resemblance to that of more acclaimed talents, particularly Picasso and Chicago’s own Jim Nutt.
Today his images and signs remain emblematic reminders of a not too distant past, one geographically out of the mainstream and fast disappearing along with much of rural American life. Co-curated by Intuit Board Members Susann Craig and Marjorie Freed, this exhibit is the most comprehensive to date of his body of work.