09/23/1991 at 01:00 AM EDT
UNTIL RECENTLY, MARLOU FREEMAN had never thought of herself as an artist. A waitress at O'Toole's Roadhouse in Laurel, Md., Freeman, 47, thought she was just a collector. As a child, she hoarded rocks and marbles. Later she went on an Avon kick—accumulating plates, cups, saucers and figurines. Then it was liquor miniatures. Next she settled on Dallas Cowboys paraphernalia. "I liked stuff," she says.
About 10 years ago, though, Freeman bought her first refrigerator magnet—and found a new obsession, one that would propel her into the heady New York art world. Her entire oeuvre—more than 2,300 magnets picked up at gift shops—is on display in the Loren & Pere gallery in New York City until Oct. 25.
"She's created a kitsch masterpiece," says Alesh Loren, the gallery owner. "I believe that she's an extension of Andy Warhol."
Loren has published a color catalogue of "Marlou's Magnets" and plans to have the exhibit, which is mounted on old refrigerator doors, travel to Los Angeles and Chicago later this year.
Freeman's collection went public only after she decided earlier this year that she wanted to buy a mobile home. Her for-sale ad didn't generate any bids for her collection but did prompt Loren to offer her an exhibition. The magnets, which had covered her refrigerator, stove and dishwasher and spilled over onto metal plates on her walls, were shipped to the gallery. "Nothing like this has ever happened to me," says Freeman, a divorcee who has been a waitress for 20 years. "At the opening of my show, an artist walked up to me and asked for my autograph. I thought I would die."