Lonnie Holley’s Art

As I mentioned in my last post, I went to an interesting program at the Missouri Historical Society on Friday evening. I mistakenly thought the film that night was about the Gee’s Bend quilts. Instead, it was a documentary titled The Sandman’s Garden.

The Sandman is Lonnie Holley, a self-taught (as far as I can determine) artist who comes from the same part of Alabama as the Gee’s Bend quilters. In fact, I think he knew them. At any rate, the film described a year-long project of his art in the sculpture garden at the Museum of Art in Birmingham.

Lonnie’s art might be described as “found” art. He constructed his various pieces of things he found — in the trash, along roads, on loading docks. If he saw something interesting, he wasn’t shy about asking if he could have it. He seemed to have a real drive to make art from things we throw away and try to make people understand that they’re throwing their life away.

The people at the museum took Lonnie to a recycling center and let him load a big dumpster with all the things he thought he could use. The dumpster was then moved by a crane up over a wall and into the garden area where the art would be. Lonnie’s excitement at what he found in the recycling center was touching. In some ways, he seemed like an innocent child but the messages of his pieces had far more depth to them than a child’s message.

After the film, there was a Q&A session. Five of the Gee’s Bend quilters were there on the stage but they didn’t want to say anything. They just wanted to support Lonnie. At the end of the evening, the museum employee who introduced the program made mention of the music which had filled the museum while the quilters were there. Singing and praying was a big part of their quilt-making. So she asked if they’d “sing us out” and they began a song as they left the stage and sang while we left the auditorium. Lonnie stood at the door to the hallway, shaking hands with each one, much as a preacher shakes hands after a church service.

It was an interesting evening. I was sorry more people hadn’t come to the program.

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