Hawkins Bolden

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Installation view of Hawkins Bolden’s “Scarecrows” at SHRINE, New York, New York, April 2021. Photo: Nicholas Knight.

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When asked, “Is this art?”, as he was using a heavy ice pick to bore a hole, or “eye”, into an old metal can, Hawkins Bolden’s perplexed response was, “Art? What do ya mean? This, here, this is to scare the birds away.”

Hawkins Bolden (1914-2005) was born in the Bailey’s Bottom section of Memphis, TN, to parents of African American, Creole and Native American descent. Around the age of 7, he was seriously injured while playing baseball when his twin brother swung for and missed an errant pitch that Bolden, who was catcher, stood up to catch. The injury led to multiple seizures, one of which landed him on his back sand left him staring into the sun while playing alone in his yard. The episode left him permanently blind and dashed his hopes of becoming a famous ball player.

Later in life, a niece observed Bolden growing vegetables and tending a small garden in the backyard of the family home. She made the offhand suggestion that a scarecrow would help keep birds and other pests from eating his seed and destroying his plants. Her goodwill-advice unexpectedly triggered a passion that would become the primary focus of the rest of Hawkins Bolden’s life. The elaborate constructions he began creating around 1965 were designed for the sole purpose of protecting his tomato plants, hot peppers and collard greens, along with other Southern staples, but the ingenuity employed transforming found objects into powerful talismans, totems and mask-like faces strikes at the core of artistic invention and creativity.

SHRINE is open Tuesday through Saturday, 12–6 pm. For more information, image requests or inquiries please contact: info@shrine.nyc or call 917-463-3907.

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