1 month ago

Alabama artist Lonnie Holley finds art in the discarded

Lonnie Holley sees things. Standing in a dirt lot in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, he spied a piece of rusty metal, a bit of blue string, a broken yellow broom handle, a plastic spoon.

“If you don’t mind, would you step away from the camera and get me that rottening piece of tin right there,” he directed. “Now get me that blue piece of thing while you’re at it. Beautiful. Just like that.”

Holley has an intuitive vision for how each piece will fit together and it extends beyond the strewn-about items. From the helicopter flying overhead to the utility pole at the edge of the lot leaning under the weight of a gaggle of wires, a bright pink wall to the right, and a garbage truck rumbling by. Each instance provides Holley with a chance to weave a parable about interconnectedness. Each piece of “garbage” will be salvaged and transformed.

“The reason why I choose to use some things is from the strength of the objects themselves,” he said. “It’s something that has to have something going on for it. For something that’s a piece of trash or garbage and you get it and you fall in love with it because it’s a new idea.”

Lonnie Holley creates permanent art out of cast-off materials from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Lonnie Bradley Holley Sr. is an artist, musician, filmmaker and educator. He grew up in Birmingham, one of 27 children in his family, during the Jim Crow era. He began making art in 1979 after his niece and nephew died in a house fire. His sister couldn’t afford to buy grave markers, so he took some cast-off sandstone from the nearby steel foundry and carved tombstones out of that material. Not only did that make her happy, but he found that process to be very cathartic. He continued creating sandstone carvings and began making sculptures and assemblages out of other found objects.

“He was making art generally about things that he saw happening in the world,” said Matt Arnett, Holley’s manager. “Eventually that stuff found its way into museums, and people started recognizing its importance.”

That includes a groundbreaking exhibition, “More Than Land or Sky: Art from Appalachia,” at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American Art in 1981.

“Artists like Lonnie came of age during the civil rights movement, were heavily inspired by that movement and they had something to say, too,” Arnett said. “They were inspired by the civil rights movement to come out and start making work. The consequences of having your thoughts and ideas be known, it could be fatal.”

Holley is part of a wave of self-taught Alabama artists that includes Thornton Dial, Joe Minter and others, most of whom were collected and championed by Arnett’s father, William Arnett, founder of the Souls Grown Deep Foundation that gifted a large number of works to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City in 2014. Those works were in a 2018 Met exhibition called “History Refused to Die.”

“It was a slow process,” Arnett said. “It’s not until recently that Lonnie’s work has been entering the most esteemed art museums in the world.”

His pieces are now in permanent collections of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Met and others.

“I didn’t understand that, just being a simple African-American, self-taught, never having a proper education, could come into an art world like this now,” Holley said. “Think about my works being in the Smithsonian within four months after I start creating. And now my works are on a permanent exhibition at the United Nations. On a permanent exhibition in the Smithsonian.”

Holley continued to make art at his family’s homestead in Birmingham for many years, eventually turning the area into a large art environment. That was bulldozed by the city in 1997 to make way for airport expansion. He moved to nearby Harpersville for a while before relocating to Atlanta in 2010.

A few years after making those first tombstones, Holley found an old Casio keyboard in a Goodwill shop in Birmingham and started making music. “He did that privately,” Arnett said. “He didn’t expect that anyone would hear his music. If you were lucky enough to show up at his house when he was making art and he had the keyboard out, you might have heard it.”

At age 62, when most folks are starting to think about retirement, Holley began releasing recorded music commercially, first through the Atlanta-based Dust-to-Digital, and more recently via hipster label Jagjaguwar. “I started going into the studio very late in life,” he said with a smile. “But I had been singing and moaning and groaning like my grandmama and granddaddy and them, and I think their mama and granddaddy and them did the same thing.”

The New York Times calls his music haunting and unclassifiable. The New Yorker uses words like melange and shamanistic. NPR says droney and nocturnal.

“I think the music I make now is just like my art; it’s a lesson, it’s all a lesson,” he said. “I’ve been telling everybody ever since I got on the music scene or went into a studio, I sung about it, how my music and my art is like Siamese twins. They’re oneness, coming from the same brain.”

“He says often, ‘I didn’t come here to make you dance. You might not like everything I’m here to tell you,’” said Arnett. “There’s not anybody else like him.”

Holley’s performances are heavy on improvisation, which means you’ll never see the same exact thing twice. His unique sound and its immersive experience has gotten the attention not just of the top-tier music critics, but also of wildly popular indie musicians like Animal Collective, Deerhunter and Bon Iver, and he’s performed or toured with each.

While Holley’s sound can be dreamy and avant-garde, his lyrical themes often have a heavy socio-political bent. Holley’s “Mith” album includes tracks like “I’m A Suspect” and “I Snuck Off the Slave Ship.”

“His message has been consistent for the three decades that he’s been making music,” Arnett said. “It’s just taken the rest of the world that long to catch up with the ideas of what he’s trying to teach us about ourselves and our country and the environment.”

“Mith” just celebrated its 1-year anniversary. Holley has spent much of that time on the road.

In a recent Facebook post he wrote, “I’ve been to a lot of islands this year, and that will continue. Australia, Tasmania, Aoteoroa/New Zealand’s North and South Islands, the UK, and just yesterday, Horn Island. Coming up later this summer will be Madeira Island and Sardinia.”

Holley is playing shows around the U.S. for most of the rest of 2019, including a recent gig at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans, where he will unveil a new sculpture.

Holley added the title of director to his resume last year. His short film, “I Snuck Off the Slave Ship,” premiered at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year. Named for the song from the “Mith” album, the film is described as “an assemblage of Holley’s encounters with the slave ship ‘America’ and a testament to imagination as resistance.”

Next year will finally see the release of “Thumbs Up for Mother Universe: The Lonnie Holley Story,” the full-length documentary by Director George King that has been germinating for more than 20 years.

“I always was more like a planter, the one that puts the seeds in the ground and give them time to grow and teach somebody how to harvest from that,” Holley said. “So, with that kind of message as an artist, that’s what I go out into the world and work with.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

10 mins ago

Schumer deputy fundraising for Doug Jones

Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), the highest-ranking member of the Senate Democratic leadership besides Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), is now publicly raising money for endangered Senator Doug Jones (D-AL).

In a recent tweet, Durbin urged his followers to donate to Jones’ campaign.

The tweet links to a fundraising landing page with Durbin’s own campaign logo on it.

“Contribute now to help Doug Jones beat Jeff Sessions in Alabama’s Senate race,” the page urges.

This follows a trend of national Democrats fundraising for Jones based off of former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions entering the crowded Republican primary to reclaim his old Senate seat.


Senator Kamala Harris’ (D-CA) presidential campaign launched a fundraising blitz with contributions split between her campaign and Jones’, and Sens. Chris Murphy (D-CT) and Brian Schatz (D-HI) have followed suit. Schatz also serves on Schumer’s Senate Democratic leadership team as chief deputy whip.

Per Murphy, his and Schatz’s respective fundraising appeals raised $40,000 for Jones’ campaign in the first day alone.

Jones welcomed the support, tweeting, “It is awesome to be in the company of such great friends – and true public servants.”

In the past three quarters, Jones raised 77%, 88% and 88%, respectively, of his individual itemized contributions from outside the state of Alabama.

Californians and New Yorkers have been Jones’ largest sources of funding, with the Washington, D.C. area and other liberal metropolitan strongholds like Chicago also playing major roles.

In addition to Sessions, the competitive GOP Senate primary field includes former Auburn University head football coach Tommy Tuberville, Congressman Bradley Byrne (AL-01), former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, Secretary of State John Merrill and State Rep. Arnold Mooney (R-Indian Springs).

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

34 mins ago

BCA names Kellie Hope director of regional affairs for South Alabama

The Business Council of Alabama (BCA) on Tuesday announced that Kellie Hope has been named director of regional affairs. Her primary focus will be the organization’s membership in South Alabama.

According to a release, Hope’s responsibilities will span from membership services to governmental affairs and will include creating opportunities for elected officials to learn more about the unique needs of the business community in this important region of the state. She will also be working closely with chambers of commerce in South Alabama.

In a statement, BCA President and CEO Katie Boyd Britt outlined that Hope is an exciting addition to an already top-notch team.

“Kellie Hope is well known and well respected in the Mobile business community, and we are proud to have her join our team,” Britt said.


“Her knowledge and relationships position her to be invaluable to BCA members in south Alabama and to help grow and serve our membership in this region of the state,” Britt continued. “This new position will give us the opportunity to provide boots on the ground while at the same time prioritizing membership services on a more local level.”

Hope expressed that she is “grateful for this opportunity.”

“I look forward to wearing the BCA jersey and being the consummate team player and a champion for BCA’s mission to further develop, empower and support the business community of south Alabama. I am honored by Katie’s friendship and her trust, and I am equally honored by the trust and approval of the BCA leadership,” Hope added.

Hope comes to BCA from the Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce, where she had served as vice president of community and governmental affairs since 2017. Prior to the chamber, she served as external affairs manager for Southern Light (now Uniti Fiber), developing local government relations across the Gulf Coast. Hope was responsible for legislative and regulatory issues impacting the fiber company in Alabama, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi.

Additionally, Hope has 10-plus years’ experience in the health care sector, including director of community services and communications for Tulane University Hospital; administrator and mental health coordinator for Cooper Green Mercy Hospital in Birmingham; and owner of the Louisiana Health and Wellness Group in Houma, LA, providing a partial hospitalization program for mentally ill adults.

Hope earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting and a Master of Social Work from Tulane University. Additionally, she is a graduate of Leadership Mobile in 2015 and Leadership Alabama in 2017 and currently serves on the boards of directors of Goodwill Easter Seals of the Gulf Coast, Dumas Wesley Community Center and Downtown Parks Conservancy.

Hope’s job at BCA is effective immediately. She will be based in Mobile.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

2 hours ago

Steven Reed sworn in as mayor of Montgomery

MONTGOMERY — Steven L. Reed on Tuesday morning was sworn in as the City of Montgomery’s 57th mayor.

An exuberant crowd packed the Montgomery Performing Arts Center to view the historic occasion firsthand, as Reed is now the first black mayor of Alabama’s capital city.

The momentous occasion was a theme in Reed’s inaugural address, as he repeatedly made references to Montgomery’s status as the cradle of the Confederacy and birthplace of the Civil Rights Movement.

Whether it be the slave trade’s former prominence in the city or the fact that his parents could still not eat in whites-only restaurants when they came to town, Reed made it clear Montgomery has come a long way.

However, he emphasized that the way to look is forward — for continued progress and greater prosperity.


“When your memories are bigger than your dreams, you’re in big trouble,” Reed said. “There are no chains on our imaginations.”

He also stressed a continued need for unity — across socioeconomic, racial and religious lines.

“What we can never be again is a divided Montgomery,” the mayor proclaimed.

Outlining that the city is at the intersection of history and possibility, he advised that Montgomery faces a lot of very real challenges. He said that it might not happen quickly but that solutions were on the way to create safer neighborhoods, better classrooms and further opportunities for all.

Reed mentioned laying more fiber, investing in pre-k, focusing on workforce development and paying teachers more as key priorities.

He shared his vision for Montgomery as “a New South capital for all,” in which all — not just the few — are able to thrive.

Reed’s speech came after his father, Dr. Joe Reed, gave “brief” remarks.

Dr. Reed’s first piece of advice to his son was: “Keep God in the forefront.”

He urged the new mayor to not be afraid to pray for guidance or ask others to pray for him.

The inauguration ceremony came during a special meeting of the Montgomery City Council.

After the entire council was sworn in, the members reelected Charles Jinright as council president and Tracy Larkin as council president pro tem.

Reed was sworn in by U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson of the Middle District of Alabama.

You can view a video of the proceedings and remarks from both Reeds here.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

3 hours ago

Small business remains ‘upbeat’ about economy; Workforce needs remain a priority

The small business economic engine continues to run strong, according to the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) October Optimism Index.

The nationwide small business organization released the findings of its monthly index on Tuesday, with the index once again showing gains in that sector of the economy.

The leader of NFIB’s Alabama association expressed continued optimism among members.


“[S]mall business owners in Alabama generally are upbeat about the direction of the economy,” explained NFIB state director Rosemary Elebash. “Their primary concern at the moment is finding enough good job applicants.”

NFIB president and CEO Juanita Duggan, an Alabama native, credits sound policy for the gains despite some recent media fixation on potential negative trends.

“A continued focus on a recession by policymakers, talking heads, and the media clearly caused some consternation among small businesses in previous months, but after shifting their focus to other topics, it’s become clear that owners are not experiencing the predicted turmoil,” said Duggan. “Small business owners are continuing to create jobs, raise wages, and grow their businesses, thanks to tax cuts and deregulation, and nothing is stopping them except for finding qualified workers.”

As a result of small business continuing to hire and create new jobs, the index found that actual job creation in October exceeded that in September.

As Elebash noted, meeting the workforce needs of thriving small businesses remain both a challenge and a priority.

Twenty-five percent of the owners in the NFIB survey selected “finding qualified labor” as their top business problem, more than cited taxes or regulations.

“Labor shortages are impacting investment adversely – a new truck, or tractor, or crane is of no value if operators cannot be hired to operate them,” said NFIB chief economist William Dunkelberg.

At a small business panel hosted by Yellowhammer last month, Alabama’s workforce development needs drove much of the conversation.

“We have a significant shortage of qualified workers,” said Elebash, who participated in the panel discussion.

State Rep. Danny Garrett (R-Trussville) is a member of a workforce development commission assembled by Lt. Governor Will Ainsworth.

Also a participant in Yellowhammer’s small business event, he outlined the fact that Alabama needs to implement a sound strategy to address its workforce needs.

“Not only do we need to develop our workforce for current jobs, we’ve got to get out front and understand where we are going,” advised Garrett.

For now, NFIB’s Dunkelberg remains bullish on an economy in which small business is prospering.

“The economy is doing well given the labor constraints it faces. Unemployment is very low, incomes are rising, and inflation is low. That’s a good economy,” Dunkelberg concluded.

Tim Howe is an owner of Yellowhammer Multimedia

4 hours ago

10 fun family Thanksgiving tradition ideas

This year my mom and I got started talking about traditions. You know, what activities do we want to pass down from generation to generation, especially since there are grandbabies runnin’ around now!

We chatted about all the standards: painting/carving pumpkins at Halloween, baking cookies/gingerbread houses at Christmas and present wrapping parties throughout the year for birthdays, etc.

But we soon realized that other than a day full of cooking, we were coming up dry with a fun tradition for Thanksgiving. Aside from curling up to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade (which is a tradition I will always cherish), we decided we needed to remedy this clear unfairness to such an important holiday.

It seems pretty unfortunate that the only time most people gather and converse about God’s many blessings is around the dining room table once a year on Thanksgiving. It would be nice if there was a way we could remind ourselves daily what we have to be grateful for and what our family members are grateful for as well. So, I’ve scoured the minds of my much smarter friends to help us all out this year.

I present to you 10 fun family Thanksgiving tradition ideas:


(1) Create a thankfulness countdown – For each day in the month of Thanksgiving, talk as a family about something or someone you are thankful for. There are several ways you can display the results of your thankfulness chats. You could cut out turkey shapes and allow children to write a new item to be thankful for each day on a feather. You could use a chalkboard displayed prominently for all family members to see throughout the day. You could even use a journal to keep as family treasure forever. No matter how you preserve the fruits of these chats, I promise it will change your whole perspective and get you more excited than ever to spend an entire month focused on all your many blessings!

(2) Save to give! – For the entire month, pick up a few extra items each time you go grocery shopping. Blankets, warm coats and clothes are nice to have on hand as well. Reach out to local shelters, women’s’ groups and churches to see what needs they may have for the upcoming holiday. Make it a priority to give back in whatever way you feel called. Thanksgiving is a reminder of all the many blessings we have been gifted, and a perfect opportunity to give back to those in deepest need of our love and kindness.

Another way you can give back is to serve in the weeks leading up (and even on Thanksgiving Day), at your local shelter. These individuals are often without any other means of providing a meal to their families and investing in their lives is something you will be very grateful you made time to do. Often, having the ability to give back is one of our greatest blessings.

(3) Create love baskets – Before the insanity of the season truly kicks in, take a few moments to create Love Baskets for your closest family and friends. Consider baking some cookies with your children and gathering some hot cocoa supplies. You can purchase inexpensive baskets and wrapping supplies at your local dollar store. Put little baskets together to take and drop off at your loved ones’ houses. Share with them that you want to make it a point each year to remind those you love just how much you love them. Trust me, this tradition will swiftly become one that all of your friends and family look forward to year after year!

(4) Host a family game night – Who says you can only be thankful and fun on a few nights each year? Put together a night of fun-filled with games and story-telling. Invite your friends and family to participate. Trade off with hosting duties. Throw in an extra level of fun by having a theme. Making time for each other is one of the most important parts of the holiday season.

(5) Start a Friendsgiving supper club with friends – When I think about Thanksgiving, all that comes to mind (food-wise) is a giant turkey, tons of fluffy dressing and canned cranberry sauce (the form of canned cranberry sauce is emblazoned in my brain forever, y’all). Since you know you will be enjoying all the spoils of a pilgrim-approved meal later in November, spend the rest of the month gathering with friends each week to share taco night, noodle night, Italian night, BBQ bonanza, etc. This is such a fun way to make sure and spend time loving on your friends and also saving the Thanksgiving approved nosh for later!

(6) Family affirmation craft – Instead of lurking in the corner attempting to avoid the political conversations we all know are bound to fill the halls of our homes this year, be intentional about changing the topic of conversation! Take the talk back inward and chat about all the many ways you are grateful for one another.

Here’s how to get it going: Every November, give each family member a card for every other family member. (So if there are 10 family members total, give each family member nine cards).

Write each family member’s name on the back of their respective card. Then, ask each family member to write something nice, something they love or something they are grateful for about each of the other family members on their respective cards. (They could also choose to include a quote or story about the family member, too.)

Select an “organizer” who will collect all of the cards and add them to a binder ring for each family member. Do this for a few years in a row and each family member will have tons of uplifting messages, quotes, and encouraging words of love to reflect upon.

I love this concept because it reminds us daily of why we love each other, why we are grateful to God for giving us one another and how we should live in gratitude all year long.

(7) Create a family recipe Book – Take some time to sit down the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving to reach out to you family members requesting them to bring their favorite recipes to Thanksgiving dinner. Once collected, put them all together and make copies to create a treasure for each family. You can create recipe books in almost all online photo hubs such as Shutterfly, Snapfish, even Walgreens will print a photo book for you in under an hour. These will become unique memory books worthy of passing down for generations to come!

(8) Personalize your place settings – Rather than the simple name card, consider crafting a special welcome for your thanksgiving dinner guests. Using the same card idea, jot down personality traits, encouraging words or quotes to include as well. The more personal you make your loved ones feel, the more deeply those memories will last with them forever.

(9) Set up a simple craft table for children – One of the more stressful parts of holiday entertaining is what to do with all the little ones running around. Planning ahead saves the day! Using an inexpensive card table, lay out a paper tablecloth with crayons. You can also pick up very inexpensive crafts at Hobby Lobby or Michaels throughout the season (Heads up: both stores dramatically mark down their products the closer to the day, but stock is always better the further out you prepare …). Set up a station to control the frustration! There’s you a catchy new motto. By providing them a “home,” children will feel welcomed and entertained for hours giving you time to socialize without the stress.

(10) Get outside! – One of my favorite traditions from childhood is playing a game of whiffle ball with the whole family as soon as everyone woke up from their “turkey nap,” as my grandmother called it. We would block out an entire afternoon of fun by picking teams, setting the rules and involving even the tiniest of family members in the fun. To take it up a notch, we even started crafting team uniforms. Make this day all about gathering in love to celebrate the gift of a family to treasure and memories worth making together.