Wes Cunningham: This is Wes Cunningham and I am here with Ed Hamilton at hisstudio on Shelby. If you could just say your name and say a little bit about yourself, if you were born in Louisville and how you started getting interested in art.
Ed Hamilton: Yeah. Ed Hamilton. Interestingly enough, I was not born inLouisville. I was born in Cincinnati, Ohio. That's a whole nother story, that's another time.
EH: But I grew up here and I grew up in the heart of the black businessdistrict. My dad was a tailor and my mom was a barber. And so I had a wealth of stuff growing up as a child, to play with and get involved in. I was always in my dad's stuff: buttons, boxes, and things he got in and I would tear them up, 1:00tear them down, make stuff out of them. You know, cardboard-- I was the cardboard king you might say. But anyway, long story shot, I think growing up in the heart of that black community down between 6th Street and Walnut Street and 7th (we lived on the corner of 7th and Walnut) and of course, it's now Muhammad Ali Boulevard. So, I was a latch-key kid, didn't have far to go to the shop and home-- lived in an apartment on the third floor. So, I was always interested in looking at people and cars and stuff that goes by. I'd see all the people that worked downtown or worked all around the area there, would come to the shop, get their haircuts, get their shaves. I'd play in the barber chairs, pump them up, pump them down, turn them around and around. I'd see the guys get their suits pressed, pants pressed, a shave and a haircut, and then I'd get the brush off 2:00the coat rack-- whisk broom, and whisk them off. I might earn a quarter or two here and there, it was nice. And I'd sweep up the shop at night-- all the loose hair that would fall on the floor. I had a great childhood growing up. And I grew up by myself, I was the only child. But like I said, I wasn't born here and I have other family that's in Dayton, Ohio. And truth be known, I was adopted and didn't know it.
EH: And discovered my biological mother in 2000-- later than 2000, it was about2004/2005. And come out to find, I had two brothers and two sisters and my biological mother's still alive. She's 87 now.
EH: But my mom that raised me, God bless her, Amy-- she passed away-- and if she3:00would have lived a little bit longer, she'd have been 100.
EH: She was 99. So, and my Dad died when I was 13 and he was sixty-somethingyears old. And he was actually a World War I veteran.
EH: So I always rationalize, how come I was born in Cincinnati? And I thoughtwell, Dad would always take us up to the Cincinnati Crosby Field to see baseball games and so as a child, my rationale was, "Obviously, they were on a trip to Cincinnati and she couldn't hold it no longer and boom-- out I popped." That was my rationale as I grew up, not knowing the big secret that was kept from me as I grew up. And I didn't find out-- I always knew I was a window that didn't close too good but I just couldn't put my finger on it. And so, at 57 is when I really 4:00found out. But anyway, that's all in the book that I wrote.
WC: Where did you go to school in Louisville? Middle/high school?
EH I went to Parkland (?) and started out at Paul Laurence Dunbar and I neverwill forget that then --that was a great school-- then integration came and around the corner, was a school called George G Prentice and that was off the corner of 6th and Chestnut area. And then from there, I went to Parkland Junior High and then ultimately Shawnee High School and then graduated in '69-- no, I'm sorry, '65. And left Shawnee High School and went to art school and graduated from there from '65-'69-- the art center school which was the Louisville School of Art that basically used to sit right in the middle of campus at the University of Louisville-- right next to where the ecumenical building is now-- 5:00there was a big building there.
WC: So, was it a part of U of L?
EH: It was a part of U of L in that we could take classes and exchange classesand stuff like that. Until later on, in the early '80s, late '80s, it went out of business and the University of Louisville kind of took over--
WC: The area?
EH: Yeah, the courses and everything.
WC: Did you take any art classes in high school/middle school?
EH: Yeah, I did. And that was how I found out that I was very gifted in art. Myfirst entry in dealing with art classes was in junior high school with my wonderful teacher by the name of Harriet O'Malley (?). And I never will forget she said, "I'm gonna call your mother." And I thought, "Uh-oh, what'd I do?" And the reason why she was going to call her was she felt I had a talent and I had something that she wanted to help develop and so she did.
EH: And then from that point on, from junior high, I went right to Shawnee and6:00Patty Griffith (?) was the art teacher down there, and she too took me under her wing, so I was very nurtured by these two great art teachers, Harriet O'Malley and Patty Griffith. Had it not been for that, I'm not sure I'd be here talking to you today. Because those two were really the biggest influences in directing me into an art career you might say.
WC: What was kind of your biggest medium, what were you focusing on-- painting, drawing?
EH: Well, as a-- in a school setting, tempera painting, drawing, that type ofthing. And on the side, if they had some clay, you could do some clay things. And that's kind of where I found myself in high school. Painting was more so in junior high and ceramics and that kind of thing. But when I got to high school, 7:00all of a sudden, 3-D kind of grabbed me-- I was more interested in 3-D stuff than I was doing painting. However, one or two pieces that I did in high school, sculpture-wise, and several of my paintings is what got me into art school--
EH: --because you had to put a portfolio together. And we always keptsketchbooks periodically, sketchbooks-- and you had to turn your sketchbook in, and she would look through your sketchbook and see something that might become a painting and so I can show from one of my sketchbooks that did a painting of that got me into art school.
WC: That's cool. So how long were you in art school?
EH: It was from '65-'69.
EH: Uh-huh. '65-'69.
WC: And did you have any kind of experience or any interaction with the local8:00community art group?
EH: At that time, no. Simply because my role was just to go to school and comehome. I wasn't even working at that time. Now, about my second or third year is when I met my lovely wife, Bernadette, on U of L's campus. And we had our first born and he was born in '68 and the year before I graduated, that's when he was born. It was at that point where I did discover a group of artists down in the West End of Louisville.
Little did I realize that there was an artist by the name of G. Caliman Coxe (?)who was the first black high institute graduate of the art institute at the 9:00University of Louisville. And Coxe was a painter and he did marquis (?) for the theatres down in that district for years. Little did I know that he knew me just by virtue of he knew my mother and my father. But I didn't have no idea who he was. And so when we met at the old Louisville Art Workshop on Dartell Terrace (?), he said, "Youngster, you don't know me but I know you. I know your daddy, I know your mama." I said, "Okay." And it turns out, we had an affinity for each other. So in essence, before he passed, he was somewhat like a-- he was almost like a surrogate father to me. We hung out together. When I got my first studio, 10:00I brought him with me. He was at this studio for some years and he was painting up until at least maybe 3/4/5 months before he passed.
WC: I saw there was an exhibit--
WC: --not long before.
EH: Yeah. So anyway, that's when I got my community comeuppance/culture youmight say in the black community. Because being in art school, we were kind of clustered. Everything was geared toward classes and working and making stuff. And so the only community wise stuff that I had going on was my friends that I grew up with or-- in the community-- and my extended family, my aunts, uncles, and that type of thing. But once I met these guys at the old Louisville Art Workshop, that really opened up my eyes to a whole broader world of art and 11:00black artists. For a long time, I thought maybe I was the only black artist in Louisville (laughs). How naïve could you be?
WC: Were you the only one in your class?
EH: I was the only one in my class for about two years and then a couple othercats came along but I was the only one for the first couple of years by myself.
WC: Can you talk a little bit about that early emergence with the Louisville ArtWorkshop and the guys who were still around, some of the guys, and what direction you all were moving?
EH: Well, the workshop's role, as I understand it and I comprehended, was toeducate the community to art and performing arts, poetry, writing, that kind of thing. It was basically a cultural arts center right in the heart of the West End. They taught writing, they taught ceramics, they taught painting, they taught drawing. And so when I got involved, it was great to be able to sit 12:00around with these old guys-- I would sit at their knees man because for a long time, I didn't say much. I was just trying to absorb the intellects that these cats had. Key artists came out of that-- Sam Gilliam. And he was gone before I came along. Bob Thompson, he was gone. They all were much older than I was and so they left early on in the '60s. And so, I was unable to interact with those guys. However, Fred Bond who was the one that spearheaded the Louisville Art Workshop and Bob Douglas who is retired from the Pan African Studies at the University of Louisville, and G.C. Coxe. They were the nucleus of the old Louisville Art Workshop. And so, I learned how to put up exhibitions. I learned 13:00how to put out programs, exhibition guides, stuff like that. There was a place that allowed us to use their printing press and so we could do our designs of catalogs for different shows that would go on. So it was all the stuff that I was learning as I was coming up through the ranks with these cats.
WC: Was there a big focus on African American culture in the Louisville ArtWorkshop or was it more of just art culture as a whole?
EH: There was an emphasis but there was also-- it was an open door. In otherwords, there was nothing-- it wasn't just concrete African American, the diaspora. But, it was a combination of that along with whites who taught classes and we all interacted together. It was a very-- how would you say, what's the 14:00word I'm looking for? Diverse group of people. And that was good because as diverse as the Louisville Art Workshop was, the Louisville art scene in Louisville was not-- we couldn't even show at a gallery.
EH: That's why Sam and Bubba (?) and all of them-- they left town because-- whenthey came along, there was no place for them to exhibit their works except at the Louisville Art Workshop and in churches, church basements, stuff like that-- YMCA. They couldn't go downtown and put their stuff up anywhere. So, the workshop was the catalyst for educating Louisville about-- not only the black arts but showcasing everybody. It didn't matter if you were black or white or Chinese or whatever. It was a diverse place to come and that's what was the 15:00beauty of the Louisville Art Workshop, it didn't discriminate-- let's say that. Where we didn't discriminate but you'd go uptown and unfortunately, there was discrimination.
We actually picketed (?) because we were included in the "Popery of the Arts."One year, we were all involved in that and we were set up in Stewart's Dry Goods Store downtown and various other venues and then that was a wonderful thing to be a part of. But then next year, for some reason, (laughs) nobody got the memo at the workshop and so this thing went off. And we went "Wait a minute, what happened? How come we aren't a part of this?" It's a citywide event all over. And so, you know what the cry was-- "Hey man, I'm making my sign." So, we 16:00(laughs)-- G.C. started making protest signs and Fred and some other people and there I was with the group marching up and down Walnut Street between 5th and 4th (laughs). I guess you could say that was my very first protest movement that I was involved in because I really wasn't involved in the civil rights protests-- my mother wouldn't allow it. She said, "You're not going out there." I said, "Mom, I gotta go out there, I gotta go now." "No, no, no." She was very adamant about that and unfortunately, she pulled a tight rope on me.
But anyway, that was my very first protest. So after that they didn't forget wewere-- but things happen--
WC: Can you talk a little bit about the arts and talent shows that the West EndCommunity Council used to have?
EH: Now, let me see-- the West End Community Council--17:00
WC: I know a couple of them were before your involvement--
EC: Yeah, sure
WC: --but I think a couple of them might have been afterward as well.
EH: Yeah, I'm trying to think. I'm trying to put it in context because I was soinvolved with the workshop, it might have been something that overlapped and I just wasn't really conscious of who was involved in that kind of stuff.
WC: From what I've understood, it was very overlapped. Louisville Art Workshopbasically was one of the people running it.
EH: Yeah. Ok. And I do know when the African American-- what was it not the--used to do stuff on the Belvedere, when the Belvedere was built-- of course, that was a little bit later, that was in the early '70s. And we were a part of doing stuff up there, art wise. But I do recall the West End Louisville Council doing some art exhibits and things around, yeah.
WC: And can you expand a little bit on the three guys who you mentioned were the nucleus?18:00
EH: The catalyst.
WC: Yeah. The real catalyst was Fred Bond (?). Fred Bond is a direct relative ofJulian Bond (?). And he comes out of a family of educators and Fred taught school, was a ceramicist at heart, a painter. And married to a wonderful lady by the name of Anna Bond (?) who he had five kids with. But Anna was a poet. And they actually lived at the workshop in the back. And so, it was he that I contacted when I was graduating from art school and my sculptor teacher said that, "There's a group of guys in the West End that--" Because I wanted somebody else to see what I was doing because my show wasn't going to be up but a week. 19:00
EH: And he said, "I think there's a group of guys down in the West End." I said"Ok!" So I ran down there man, the Sunday my show was going down, I went down there and knocked on the door (knocking sounds) and Fred Bond came and I said, "Mr. Bond, I'm Ed Hamilton and I'm graduating from art school and I just need somebody to take a look at what I'm doing because I'm not sure what direction I should take." And he said, "Sure!" And I think Bob was there too, so I put them in my car and we went down to the art school and they said, "Man, you've got to be a part of our group." Well I'm saying, "Okay. What is this? What group are ya'll?" So, Fred's really the catalyst that kept everybody together and stuff but worked like a dog. It was a shame of the power house of knowledge that these cats had and could not tap that money. You've got to have money to do stuff, 20:00it's so hard. Because everybody was trying to tap money all over town.
But anyway, so then Bob Douglas was there and he and Fred were kind of the twothat kind of gelled it together. And Bob was married, had five daughters and taught out at the University of Louisville and was a painter. As a matter of fact, he's still got his studio here at the studio now upstairs, up there. And so we became real tight and then of course, G.C. was the elder statesman of the group who worked at Fort Knox for years, as an illustrator--him and his brother.
G.C.'s family came from Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Dutch area, and his dadwas a preacher. And he had two brothers and a sister-- no, three brothers and a sister. Helen was his sister who lived in Detroit. John Coxe, who lived in 21:00Louisville here with G.C.. And then the other brother, Bill lived out of town in D.C.. He was an architect. Let me see, so how many is that? G.C., John, Bill, that's three. Yeah three brothers-- because Gus Coxe was I think was next oldest to G.C.-- as I recall now, I might be wrong. But, there was G.C., John, Bill, and Gus. Gus was in World War II and was injured and became paraplegic and he was a painter and he painted with his brushes strapped to his hands. So now, everybody's gone. G.C.'s passed, John's passed, Bill's passed, and Gus is 22:00passed. Everybody's gone. Helen, I think is holding on --God bless her-- in Detroit still but she may be in a home, I'm not sure. I've not heard much about her because we used to go there when I was doing my Joe Lewis piece in Detroit and we'd hang at her house. G.C. would go with me back and forth-- we'd travel together.
So, basically, it was the three of those guys, G.C., Fred Bond, and Bob Douglasand then a sundry group of other folks who came along and wanted to be involved. So at one time, we were putting on exhibitions, and dance performances, and put out catalogs, did a show at speed museum for Bubba (Bob Thompson) and put that catalog out. So we were doing it, man-- we were hitting it hard, baby. And as I 23:00was progressing further up into the ranks, I was learning so much about how art affects a community-- as it affects it now, no question about it.
But at that time, being black and trying to be an artist, even in the blackcommunity, they would look at you and think, "Man, you better get a real job." (Laughs). Nobody buying no artwork, where're you selling it at? That was the reality of it. That's one of the blessings that I thank God that I was able to discover these cats when I was fresh and green coming out of art school. It really made an impact on my life.
WC: How were you all received throughout, other than the couple of times whenthey left you all out or-- were you all received pretty well in the community? 24:00
EH: We were because interestingly enough, we had our tentacles on the bordercommunity through our newspaper, the Courier Journal. And one of the art critics followed the workshop for a long time. And it wasn't anything for Sarah Lansdale to write us up and put us in the paper. We were always doing something and she would put it in the paper. As a matter of fact, I was going through some stuff the other day and found an early article on one of G.C.'s first exhibits down there that she wrote up in the paper. So, if you were getting in the paper, then people had to know you existed. You see, that was the key-- how do we get people to realize that we are here? Because there was no gallery that would show our works at that time so people didn't realize, well, who are these cats man? So, 25:00the broader community read about the Louisville Art Workshop and Fred, really being the so-called intellect of the group --between him and Bob-- was always writing something and getting it out into the public sector. So that's how it came about. And then we'd get on TV spots. My first --I never will forget-- we went on TV, promoting a show and the man said, "Mr. Hamilton, what are you---?"
EH:-- I was so scared that my mouth wouldn't mo--
EH: So I had to learn --later on-- I had to learn the aspect of being able to--somebody to stick a mic in your face and start talking-- because it's hard. 26:00
WC: Oh yeah.
EH: And I'm thinking, "Oh lord." You've got to think fast on your feet, youknow. So, I had to-- there came a time when I had to stop being at their knees and start talking myself and promoting not only what I did but how the workshop affected us all and me, myself and everything. So, it all worked out.
WC: So, you've talked quite a bit about the intellect of the group and can youexpand a little bit on this intellect and how it meets art and how that overlaps because I feel like it's kind of a trend, especially in African American history in the 20th century. A lot of artists in intellectual circles, they tended to move hand in hand.
EH: Oh, I would agree with you on that and I think particularly in the blackcommunity, we tend to be more storytellers. And if you sit at the knees of these 27:00people who have come through trials and tribulations and hard times and have experienced the stuff, you hear all this stuff and then you try to-- how does it equate into what you do artistically? There's a point of suffering for your art. And I think most artists suffer for their art. And trying to get what's within you out to show people who you are and what you do. I'm trying to figure out a good example of that-- uh, shoot. Well, maybe it will come to me later.
But anyway, the intellect-- I was so fascinated by the intellect that Fred andBob had based on the diaspora from Africa because Bob is somewhat an authority 28:00on African art and Fred is more the authority in regard to contemporary artists. And so I would --this back and forth from the diaspora to where we are now in the U.S. and the artists that we all studied as we were coming through the ranks-- the Jasper Johns, The Robert Rauschenbergs, The Jackson Pollocks, the Picassos. And yet, how we created art in America vs how art was created in Africa-- because African art is not based on capitalism, it's based on ritualism and yet it has such power to it that even Americans or Europeans would study-- 29:00"Oh my god, this stuff is powerful." And so I would listen to these cats talk about stuff like that. And to be able to hear it verbatim from people who experienced it vs going to my art history book adjacent and never seeing anybody that looked like me. Although they did have a little section of African American art, but they didn't have any section of contemporary artists-- black artists. And so until later on, things would change on that issue.
EH: To me, that was fascinating just to be able to learn more about the outreachof how we outreached into African art and contemporary art.
WC: Yeah. Want to pause it?
EH: Yeah, pause it.30:00
EH: Okay, what were we talking about?
WC: I have another similar, related question: How did you see the black cultureand black arts-- what impact did you see it having on African Americans as a whole in America. Did you see the arts used as a way to advance?
EH: Well, I can only speak from what I was experiencing myself here inLouisville. And it just opened up other doors of being able to realize that there were others out there doing the same thing but even going through the same type of things one would go through here in Louisville or Chicago or LA or Cincinnati or Lexington or you know, the survival thing. I think what the arts 31:00is all about --whether it's black or white-- it's a survival thing that if it's in you, you've got to get it out. You can't suppress it. And to suppress it means you're suppressing all of your energy and so once you get that energy out-- because art speaks to culture, speaks to people. It's something that is bigger than all of us. And there's beauty in the eye of the beholder and there's also controversy in the eye of the beholder because art tends to-- you either like it-- some you don't. But it makes you think, it provokes you, and it puts 32:00you on another plane outside of your usual day to day routine. Whether you're doing pay pay mâché or making pots or painting or collage work or just making something. People-- man has to make something-- we're always making something. But why do we make it? I guess that's the big question. Why do we make art? I'm not making art because I'm making it like the Africans did, naturalistic and ju-ju stuff but yet I feel like I have some ju-ju in me that I've got to get out so that I can showcase what God has given us as creative man. You know what I'm saying?
EH: It's a wide spectrum of what we do and how we learn it and yet we share it33:00all over. We share our works, we share our minds and it's something that man's gonna do. We can't help ourselves, we gotta be making something all the time. Every time you look up, man's making something, can't help. And I don't know if that answers your question or not.
WC: Uh-huh. How did your experience, especially with the art workshop and thatcommunity, how did that inform your art?
EH: Oh, well it opened my whole, as I said before-- once I started learning thatI was not the only black artist in town and once I started learning about how artists created outside of my pastures, I just wanted to be like all these other cats, man. I didn't want to do exactly what they were doing but I wanted to do 34:00it my way. But you have to learn the basics and you have to learn the techniques and you have to go through-- there are artists who are self taught that didn't go to a formal school. It doesn't negate what they do. Because even some self taught stuff, man, is powerful. Whoo! But sometimes, we who go through academic stuff tend to get, you know, uh-oh. I can't balance this stuff over here because they say I can't balance this stuff over here. I can't put this color over here because--. But if you don't give a damn of what you're doing, you're going to do it your way: voom, voom, voom, voom, voom. And who cares. I guess what I'm saying is sometimes when we get too learneth, it wants to stifle you because now 35:00you're following too many rules. There's too many rules. In everything we do, there are rules. And sometimes, rules are made to be broken, you see. And so the best art to me is to break the rules and just do it. Worry about the consequences after you've done it. But if you study too much, and you get involved with it too much, then you may overwork it and then you think, "Oh, God, sheesh, I shouldn't have done that." Then you start rationalizing with yourself.
Well art can-- art will beat you up. It will kick you out if you let it. But ifyou flow with it, and that's how I-- I had to learn how to flow with it. And I 36:00had to learn that there's nothing new. However, you can take what's been done and, shhk, turn it another way. Because basically, there's nothing new in art. What you think you did today, somebody did forty years ago. When I did junkology, now all of the sudden junks become popular-- they've got artists doing junk stuff. I was doing junk in the seventies. So my time came and somebody else's time comes. It's all about a time thing. Everybody gets their time in space.
WC: About what year did the Louisville Art Workshop cease to be?
EH: Uh, seventy-- probably around seventy-- let me see, I became director-- Ithink it was like '75 I think, I'm trying to see now, let me think because I met 37:00bar-- yeah I think around '75-- I think between '75 and '77 we were on the downstroke. It was about ready to just-- because we moved from the original place. Fred couldn't sustain it so he moved to Cincinnati and took over a position at the Cincinnati Art's Consortium, became the director of that. Bob left-- was in Iowa, getting his PhD. So that left only me and G.C. still around. Somehow, I got conned into becoming the director of it for about a year or so, bumped heads trying to raise money. All I wanted to do was make art, I didn't want to be no director. But I did it. And at that point, it just fizzled on out. 38:00
WC: And is that around the time when you started to take off nationally?
EH: No. I didn't take off nationally until '83. I was at that time, I was stilldoing my junkology/confinement stuff, I was doing religious works. Between '73 and '78 is when I met Barney Bright so that opened my door for public art in '73 when I met him. ____ (?) is actually out here teaching school at Iroquois High School-- teaching arts and teaching sculpture/ceramics.
WC: Can you expand on meeting Barney Bright?
EH: Yeah. At this time, it was '73 and I was actually in the midst of buying39:00clay one day at King's Ceramics Shop which was next door to Barney's studio but it was in the same building. Just a wall separated King's Ceramics Shop and Barney's main studio just like this. And so, that's where we would buy clay for school. And so this one particular day, I pulled up in front of King's which was Barney's-- and I knew this was Barney's studio because I'd been following him since I was in art school but I'd never met the man. And so, as I was (39:42) getting the clay loaded up in the car and talking to Daniel King --Daniel King was a wonderful old gentleman who you just couldn't go in there and buy something and come out-- he liked to talk.
EH: You know, Daniel. Well, you're always talking about politics, or the worldly40:00stuff --who is doing what-- that kind of thing, and I looked at my watch and I thought, "Oh, I've gotta get out of here, I've gotta get back to school." Well-- loaded up the car, parked right in front of Barney's studio, looked over at the front door and said, "You know, why don't you knock on the door, maybe he'll let you see his studio, maybe you could meet him." I said, "No, no he ain't gonna let me," my rationale was I had this big old afro, I'm gonna scare this man.
-- It's the seventies, the Superfly era and I talked myself out of it until Iwas actually getting ready to turn the key and I'll be dang-- he come out the front door to check his mail on the side of the building. (Gasps) It was all I could do was to contain myself-- I got out of the car, I walked over to him, I said, "Mr. Bright, I'm Ed Hamilton, a graduate of art school, and I know of your 41:00works, I've seen them and--" I guess this is what I said, something to this effect, "I'd love to see your studio." He said, "Sure come on in! Come on in." Oh, lord have mercy, I crossed that threshold. It was over. School was over.
--He says, "Where'd you go to school?" I said, "Well I was at the art's center."He said, "I taught out there, nice. And I saw this piece on the block and I'm gonna show you what it was."
(Scuffling, looking for piece)
That was an early rendering, direct plaster, that I did of a take off of one of42:00Rodin's studies from the gates of hell. He did an Adam and an Eve, and this one was the Adam, okay? And he said, "I saw this sitting out there and I always wondered who did that." I said, "You're talking about that plaster man?" He said, "Yeah. He has his hands like boom de boom." I said, "That was my piece."
EH: He said, "I knew it was a little rough, but it has something and I alwayswondered who did that. I wanted to say something to whoever did it, I was going to tell them, you have some potential of something, you have something going on there." Well, long story short, he said, "I've got a job coming up and are you willing to help?" I said, "Yeah, I'm ready. I'm ready." Got home, told my wife, I said, "Babe, I won't be going back to school."
EH: --"I'm going to be working with Mr. Barney Bright." "What?" She knew right43:00then that it was just the way it was, I had to do it. I can't not believe if I had passed that opportunity up, I wouldn't be here. Unh-uh. No, because all the stars were lined up. And if you miss an opportunity, it might not come back. You see what I mean?
EH: So that's what opened the door to me doing this sculpture like this.
WC: And you stayed, did you stay in contact with the local artists? You saidG.C. was like--
EH: Aw, yeah but I knew other artists all over town, white and black, whatever.Because I was always at the Speed Museum doing something, yeah.
WC: One question I had and I think I mentioned last time I was over here wasI've noticed a lot of the works, especially the ones you've been famous for are 44:00around major black figures or civil rights figures. Is that by design or is it just kind of that's what you've been--
EH: In other words, I didn't choose to do them, it chose me by virtue of comingby way of letter or recommendation and competing for them. I didn't intend on thinking I was going to do this kind of work, I didn't. I wanted to be like Barney and do public works and portraits and stuff but I had to realize early on that I couldn't be Barney. Barney had it already set up and people knew who he was and what he did. And I was just a little worker bee under him but 45:00learning/absorbing his ways of how to do things, how to create a working model, scale it up, and be able to make it big outdoors. That was the main thing that I wanted to learn. And I knew that I wasn't going to find a market here for doing that kind of thing here and I didn't. What I found the market for was liturgical things for Catholic Churches and so it was through the Catholic Churches that I was able to make a living creating various items, iconic items like Jesuses and Mother Marys and tabernacles and processional crosses and stuff like that, you see?
EH: That kept me busy and that enabled me to open up a studio, to move from abasement studio on Main Street to the cloisters to here, see? And I worked with 46:00Barney --that last thing I worked on with Barney was the clock that we did.
And after that, we kept in touch and from time to time if he needed a mold madeor something, I'd make that or whatever but we basically just stayed in touch with each other. I'd go up there and see what he's doing. He'd call me or I'd call him. "Hey man, what're you doing? Come on up, I gotta show you something." And the tragedy was when in '97 --it was a little earlier than '97-- he developed cancer. It was either throat cancer or lung, one of the two that took him out. And so, I had actually just finished The Spirit of Freedom piece and I said, "Barney, you've got to come and see it, man." He said, "I'm coming, I'm 47:00coming." And periodically, I'd run into him at the grocery story or something and say, "When are you gonna see, you coming, man?" He'd say, "I'm coming, I'm coming." And that's when he told me, last time I saw him personally, in Krogers. He said, "I've got good news and I've got bad news. I've come through a diagnosis from the doctor--
WC: Pause this.
--That reminded me-- are we on? That reminded me I left out somebody. MervAubespin who was a very instrumental that worked for the Courier Journal and was a member of the workshop as well. So over the years, we've all kept in touch with each other except the ones that have gone on, gone on to glory.
So, as I left Barney's and got my own thing going-- Oh, between the workshop,48:00Iroquois High School, Barney, J.C.C.-- opened up the sculpture department there and created that for them and that's when I moved over to the cloisters and that was in like '75, that's when that was. And I stayed over there from about '75 until about '76, ultimately late '76/'77, moved here. And so let me see, as I was talking about Barney, he said, "I've got good news, I've been to the doctor and they looked at everything and everything looks pretty good. But the bad news is, they found a polyp on my throat." And it wasn't much longer after that. He 49:00never got up here to see the final Spirit of Freedom and before he died, I would send pictures by way of his son, Jeff, when he would visit him at the hospital. I never went to the hospital because I guess he was in intensive care or something and so I was pleased that-- and he was going in and out-- and Jeff said he saw it, remembered it looked good. And he'd go out and then we went on vacation, the way we came back, turned on the T.V. and that's when it said Barney Bright died.
WC: Going back a little ways, back to the-- your first days with the workshop--was there any similarity or similar ideas as more of the black arts movement as 50:00a whole and this black nationalism/black national art?
EH: Uh-huh, yeah.
WC: Was there any of that going on here in Louisville?
EH: Yeah it was. There was an organization called the Four Quarters that wasinto the black nationalist movement you might say. And they were doing cultural type things too. They were a little more, I would say, in my opinion, a little more radicalized than we were. In other words, there were some cases, I wasn't black enough. I mean, you had to really be, you had to hit head on. I'm talking Stokely Carmichael blacks, that kind of-- so we were just-- And there was an interchange of ideas and stuff, we would go to their things and they would go to 51:00our things. Everybody had their own sense of ownership of what they were doing. You didn't infringe on anybody's territory you might say. They didn't go over and try to take our people and we didn't go over there and try and take away their people. But there was stuff going on around the city, different venues.
WC: It was called the Four Quarters?
EH: Four Quarters, yeah.
WC: Do you remember any specific names, people that--
EH: Yeah, Jimmy Dokes (??) who is dead now, a man by the name of Jimmy Dokes.Uh, Paul Mackenzie (?) Ronald Long (?), Ron Long is still alive, Paul is passed away too. And there were a host of others, but Gregory Gisby (?)-- he was into astrology and that type of thing and I grew up with Gregory. And some others, 52:00but I can't recall their names right off hand but they were down at 38th and Broadway, there was a building down there on Broadway.
They reminded me of the Black Panthers, how they would go in the community anddo things for the people-- feed the people, that type of thing, take care of the people. We took care of people art wise and they took care of people community based stuff. So there was a difference.
WC: Just to kind of end/closing, is there anything else, a story or somethingfrom your days with the workshop that stands out or anything else that is worth mentioning?
EH: Shoot, just being there was ultimate in my opinion. It made me a much more53:00well rounded person, okay? It got me out of my own little enclave/community, what I thought was safe that was going on. And it brought me out, I learned so much through the workshop. I learned how to interact with community leaders and interact with other artists all over the states even-- because we'd go outside of Louisville for things, Bowling Green, places like that doing stuff. It was just a blessing to be able to realize that I was not out there by myself-- that there was somebody, there were others trying to do the same thing you doing. But when you do it together, there's power in that and you can do so much. One 54:00person can only do so much, but you get twelve people together-- man, you can move mountains. So in that aspect, to me it's been a blessing that A. I was able to go to art school and B. I was able to be a part of Louisville Art Workshop. C. Meet Barney Bright. And now, being able to come all the way around from where I started and now be able to move out into the--
EH: --you know, the vastness.
EH: You know, the vastness of the creativity that's in me. And if it hadn't havecome out, where would I be today? Man's got to create. Man's got to procreate.
WC: That's a good place to stop.55:00