Joe Legge’s “official funeral ceremony” was held at the Estatoah Wayfarers’ Chapel in Dillard, Ga., on Jan. 17 at 4 p.m. The Rev. Ron Lindahn and the Rev. Patricia Squires officiated. Several hours before the service, many of Joe’s friends gathered in the Legge studio, a yellow, cinder-block garage down on the Dillard highway (across U.S. 441 from the Cupboard Café).
It was “a motley crew.” More than 100 people and an assortment of stray dogs (fed by Joe and Eric) mingled in the studio, many staring raptly at Joe’s imposing sculptures of contorted monks, grinning apes and sensual nudes. Business men in suits, old hippies, a Native American shaman, an African-American poet, a man dressed like a Cossack, a New York playwright, women bedecked with feathers, a uniformed honor guard (Joe was a Vietnam vet) and bearded guys with plaited hair and Sufi attire; a motorcycle club, and anemic young women in granny dresses and Doc Martins — all talking, laughing and exchanging “Joe Legge stories.”
In the chapel, a few of Joe’s impressive sculptures stood at the altar and photographs of Legge covered the walls: Joe in Vietnam, Joe as an award-winning hair dresser, a wedding day portrait, Joe carving and molding stone, wood and leather, and a smiling Joe wearing his cap with the Air Force insignia and a T-shirt (his favorite) that proclaimed “Not of The Earth.”
Joe’s service consisted of extemporaneous testimonials from his friends. One by one, they came to stand by the funeral urn and speak: a memorable party in Joe Legge’s barn; the time Joe carved a gigantic Viking warrior for Valdosta High School in exchange for an early release from prison (convicted of possessing an illegal substance); the creation of stone sculptures, art deco panels, church portals; a woman that drove from Florida (she was late) to tell us about her bed that Joe carved with a watchful angel that hovered over her as she slept; a legendary trip to New York; a moving tribute from his two sons and his “extended family;” and an honor guard ceremony complete with drums, bugle, fired rifles and a folded American flag.
Several speakers were from major galleries — businessmen who acted as liaisons between Joe and private collectors — many who commissioned works of startling originality: a private library filled with intricate art deco columns; gargoyles and medieval demons; a house filled with furniture that appeared to emerge from the floor. There were no representatives from acknowledged art organizations since Joe Legge never sought or received their endorsement.
“I’m a folk artist,” he would say. “That means there are no rules.”
An especially striking statement came from one of Joe’s friends who said, “Joe liked to tell wonderful lies, but he also told unbelievable stories that were true. I could never tell the difference. Joe was that way, too. He was a being lost somewhere between fantasy and reality. He was truly ‘not of the earth.’”
Donations to the Joe Legge Legacy Fund can be sent to: Joe Legge Legacy Fund, C/O Eric Legge, P.O. Box 57, Dillard, Ga., 30537.