Just Folks

Kevin Napper finds folk art irresistible

Published in 2023 Florida Super Lawyers magazine

By Beth Taylor on June 21, 2023

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When Kevin Napper needs a pleasant diversion from handling white-collar crime cases, he sits back and looks around his office.

For more than three decades, the Tampa defense attorney has found himself drawn to the bright colors and simple media of American folk art. His collection features works by well-known artists such as Purvis Young, Annie Tolliver, Ruby Williams and John “Cornbread” Anderson.

Like the blues and Americana music, he says, folk art always seems to lift his spirits.

“These self-taught artists make wonderful art out of found objects such as plywood, chicken wire, bone, cloth and tin,” Napper says. “And their exhibitions sell out in every gallery.”

Though Napper doesn’t collect the art as an investment, some of the artists have grown more popular over time. For instance, Purvis Young lived homeless in Miami’s Overtown neighborhood, where he painted murals in dark alleys and doors of condemned buildings, before he died in 2010 at age 67. In the late 1980s, Young was discovered by wealthy collector Bernard Davis, owner of the Miami Art Museum. His works are now in the Smithsonian’s permanent collection and hang on the walls of Hollywood celebrities including Dan Aykroyd and Jim Belushi. A Young painting graces David Byrne’s American Utopia album cover.

“The art is joyful, sort of lyrical, and there is a musical quality to it,” Napper says. “Folk art evokes all of life’s emotions: its happiness, sadness, joy and sorrow, poverty, wealth, creativity.”

Works by well-known folk artists such as Buddy Snipes (left), Annie Tolliver (center) and Ruby Williams (right) brighten the day at the Law Office of Kevin J. Napper.

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