Hawkins Bolden

 

        80 year old Hawkins Boldin was born and raised in West Tennessee. His mother and father had seven children. Four boys - Walter, Clarance, Joe and Hawkins, and 3 girls - Lula, Laura, and Elizabeth.

        At eight years of age while playing ball with his brothers, Hawkins was catching and his twin brother was batting - Hawkins was accidentally hit in the head with the bat. Hawkins sister Elizabeth explained that the family characteristically has small "Indian" skulls and the blow to Hawkins head caused the brain to swell rapidly. Hawkins was operated on, but was left totally blind with recurring epileptic seizures which were later brought under control with Dilantin.

        While he can spell his name, Hawkins never attended school and was never married. Hawkins was cared for by his parents until their deaths, at which time his sister Elizabeth took over the role of seeing after Hawkins.

        Hawkins has always had an intense curiosity and is constantly tinkering with found objects. As a child, he did everything by feel, making kites for his brothers and sisters, and even a radio out of an old wooden cigar box, wire and batteries. His main interest in recent years has been his garden where he spends much of his time working the soil, weeding, and building scarecrows to protect his garden of tomatoes, snap beans, collards, and greens from the birds.

        Hawkins has been "doing his scarecrows ever since 1970," says his sister Elizabeth. Some neighbors consider Hawkins work Voodoo. [One of his first pieces was made with an old chair he found in the alley, a pair of old blue jeans and a chitlin bucket for a head. Today this piece is perhaps his most widely known and published piece of work and is part of the permanent collection of           . One of his early advocates is an art dealer from Atlanta who purchases the vast majority of Hawkins work. Every few months the dealer brings a check for $600.00, $800.00 and recently $1,500.00 to purchase all of Hawkins works. The check goes to his sister for safe keeping and Hawkins is usually given 50 one dollar bills by the dealer so he will not be taken advantage of and can use it to spend at the store.

        His dealer friend also brings him wire, and found objects for Hawkins to use in his art work. Hawkins occasionally sells art to others from his garden. One man from El Paso recently paid Hawkins $15.00 for 3 pieces of art and another recently gave him $100.00 for some art.

        For quite some time I saw the work of Hawkins Bolden as nothing more than discarded alley rubbish simplistically fashioned into scare crows to keep the birds from his garden.

        On one of many trips through Memphis Tennessee, on the way to visit my children in the Mississippi Delta, I decided to stop and meet this man whose work has intrigued so many, yet failed to touch me. It was a cool Spring morning when I arrived West Tennessee. Hawkins neighborhood is a seedy, drug infested area sandwiched between the old and affluent midtown section and the devastating heat of downtown which abutts the Mississippi River.

        My first encounter with Hawkins Bolden came as I approached the side of his modest home behind the Piggly Wiggly Supermarket. Hawkins was scurring around his fenced in back yard on all fours, surveying and resurveying every inch of his private kingdom where not a blade of grass grew in this early part of the season.