Lonnie Holley

 

HOLLEY, LONNIE
(1950-)
is a polymath creator of artworks in many media, including found-object assemblages, carvings in wood and sandstone, and paintings. The seventh of twenty-sevenchildren, his younger years, spent in a succession of foster homes and reformatories, were crushingly sad. As a teenager, he often flirted with crime, and ended up inFlorida as a short-order cook at Disney World. In 1979, after relocating to his native Birmingham, Alabama, he became distraught over the death of his sister’s twodaughters in a fire, and made his first artwork: small, carved, ceremonial tombstones. He moved into a house on land (unofficially a garbage dump) first cleared by hisgrandfather two generations earlier. Holley was soon making grave markers for area children as well as pets, from which evolved more elaborate carvings made of asandstone-like slag, which is a by-product of castings from local foundries.Holley also began creating commemorative, accumulative sculptures from other types of debris and cast-off consumer goods, which for conceptual reasons hesituated in his yard amid the same piles of fallow scrap that had given birth to the artworks. He dubbed his hillside display Holleywood, and devoted it to laying bareeach of the world’s problems along with the illusions that mask them. This “yard show” grew rapidly in the 1980s to include more than two acres and thousands of artworks in many media, addressing themes of personal history, family, and community, as well as a host of metaphysical concerns. Many of the works linked the mostlocal of neighborhood ills, such as the dissolution of families and interpersonal abuses, to broader societal and global issues, such as ecological trauma and theexpendability of human life.During its heyday in the early 1990s, Holley’s yard, filled with artworks up to twenty feet tall and incorporating environmental features, including his own home, thesurrounding forest, and the old garbage dump, was at the time one of the most ambitious projects in American art. His property, however, lay in the path of Birminghamairport’s planned expansion. The collision between Holley and local authorities became increasingly vituperative during the mid-1990s, when his art and site were also repeatedly vandalized. He finally settled out of court with the planners in 1997, and relocated to nearby Harpersville. Holley wasforced to dismantle the original yard, and as a result much of his work was lost. He continues to produce paintings and sculpture, as well as site-specific works on theHarpersville property.
See also

African American Folk Art (Vernacular Art); Environments, Folk; Painting, American Folk; Sculpture, Folk; Yard Show.
BIBLIOGRAPHY
Arnett, William, and Paul Arnett, eds.
Souls Grown Deep: African American Vernacular Art of the South,
vol. 2. Atlanta, Ga., 2001.Longhauser, Elsa, and Harald Szeemann.
Self-Taught Artists of the Twentieth Century: An American Anthology.
New York, 1998.Spriggs, Lynne, Joanne Cubbs, Lynda Roscoe Hartigan, and Susan Mitchell Crawley.
Let It Shine: Self-Taught Art from the T.Marshall Hahn Collection.
Atlanta, Ga.,2001