Monday, October 29, 2012

Self-Taught Southern African American Artist Lonnie Holley b 1950

Lonnie Bradley Holley, sometimes known as The Sand Man, is an African American artist & art educator.

Holley began his artistic life in 1979, by carving tombstones for his sister's two children who died in a house fire. He used blocks of a soft sandstone-like by-product of metal casting which was discarded in piles by a foundry near his sister's house. He believes that divine intervention led him to the material & inspired his artwork.

Inspired to create, Holley made other carvings & assembled them in his yard along with various found objects. In 1981, he brought a few examples of his sandstone carvings to Birmingham Museum of Art director Richard Murray.

Murray introduced him to the organizers of the 1981 exhibition "More Than Land & Sky: Art from Appalachia" at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Soon his work was being acquired by other institutions, such as the American Folk Art Museum in New York & the High Museum of Art in Atlanta. His work has also been displayed at the White House and in Birmingham, England.

By the mid-1980s, his work had diversified to include paintings & recycled found-object sculptures. His yard & adjacent abandoned lots near his home became an immersive art environment that was celebrated by visitors from the art world, but plundered by scrap-metal scavengers & eventually threatened by the expansion of the Birmingham International Airport.

In late 1996, Holley was notified that his hilltop property near the airport would be condemned. He rejected the airport authority's offer to buy the property at the market rate of $14,000, knowing that his site-specific installation had personal & artistic value, he demanded $250,000. The dispute went to probate court; & in 1997, a settlement was reached & the airport authority paid $165,700 to move Holley's family & work to a larger property in Harpersville, Alabama.