From sandstone tombstones to internationally-acclaimed artist — Lonnie Holley

Lonnie Holley

February 10, 1950 –
Harpersville, AL
Folk art environment, sculptures, and paintings

When he created sandstone tombstones for his sister’s children after they died in a house fire, Lonnie Holley found an outlet for his profound grief.  Soon he began to build an environment of found objects and sandstone sculptures in his Birmingham, Alabama yard.

After showing his carvings to the director of the Birmingham Museum of Art, his work was included in the 1981 exhibition “More than Land and Sky, Art from Appalachia” in Washington, D.C. When the local airport needed to expand, Lonnie and his family were forced to leave behind their home and art environment. They relocated to Harpersville, where he continues to create symbolic imagery in a wide variety of mediums: sculpture, assemblages, and paintings. 

In 2011, Lonnie Holley and three other African American self-taught artists—Kevin Sampson, Mr. Imagination, and Charlie Lucas—were invited to create site-specific installations in Venice in conjunction with the 2011 Biennale.

Unfortunately this potentially groundbreaking exhibition was abruptly canceled two weeks before the artists were to depart for Venice. The four artists and a curator, decided to travel to Venice anyway to create an exhibition during the Biennale even though they had no materials and financial support.

L’Espace Re-Evolution offered these American artists the opportunity to create an exhibition in less than one week in one of the most beautiful spaces in Venice, a 1000 year old garden located on the Zattere on Dorsoduro next to the Vedova Foundation and near the Pinault and Guggenheim collections. Limited by time and working with only materials they found on the streets and in the waters of Venice, the four artists  created almost 50 site specific works that respect the Venetian spirit of this special place.

(Excerpted from Paul Flack’s Who-Ha Blog(Photos © Copyright Kelly Ludwig, all rights reserved)

Bibliography & Links:

“Detour Art—Outsider, Folk Art, and Visionary Folk Art Environments Coast to Coast, Art and Photographs from the Collection of Kelly Ludwig” by Kelly Ludwig, Kansas City Star Books, 2007.

On DVD – Rare Visions and Roadside Revelations, “Southern Flavor”, KCPT, Kansas City Public Television, 1999-2001.

“American Folk Art, A Regional Reference” by Kristin G. Congdon and Kara Kelley Hallmark, ABC-CLIO Publishers, California, 2012.

“Museum of American Folk Art Encyclopedia of Twentieth Century American Folk Art and Artists” by  Chuck and Jan Rosenak, Abbeville Press, New York, 1990.

“20th Century American Folk, Self Taught, and Outsider Art” by Betty-Carol Sellen, Cynthia J. Johnson, Neal-Schuman Publishers, New York, 1993.

“Self-Made Worlds: Visionary Environments” by Roger Manley and Mark Sloan, Aperture, New York, 1997.

“Let it Shine: Self-Taught Art from the T. Marshall Hahn Collection”  by Lynne E. Spriggs, Joanne Cubbs, Lynda Roscoe Hartigan, Susan Mitchell Crawley, Michael E. Shapiro and Peter Harholdt, organized by the High Museum of Art, 2001.

“Light of the Spirit : Portraits of Southern Outsider Artists” by Karekin Goekjian and Robert Peacock, University of Mississippi Press, 1998.

“Self Taught, Outsider, and Folk Art—A guide to American Artists, Locations and Resources” by Betty-Carol Sellen with Cynthia J. Johnson, McFarland & Company, 2000.

“Contemporary American Folk Art  – A Collector’s Guide”  Chuck and Jan Rosenak, Abbeville Press, 1996.

“Flying Free: Twentieth-Century Self-Taught Art from the Collection of Ellin and Baron Gordon” by Ellin Gordon, Barbara L. Luck and Tom Patterson, exhibit catalog for The Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Center, 1997.

“Souls Grown Deep: African American vernacular Art of the South”, Vol 1, Arnett, et al, 1995.

“Souls Grown Deep: African American Vernacular Art of the South”, Vol 2, Arnett, et al, 2001.

“American Self-Taught Art: An Illustrated Analysis of 20th Century Artists and Trends with 1,319 Capsule Biographies” by Florence Laffal and Julius Laffal, 2003.

“Rare Visions and Roadside Revelations Coast to Coast Travel-o-Pedia” by Randy Mason, et. al., Kansas City Star Books, 2009.

Marsha Weber Art Objects

Luise Ross Gallery: “Lonnie Holley”