Acclaimed Kentucky folk artist LaVon Van Williams Jr. will be the Artist in the Schools for the 2017 Foothills Folk Art Festival, which will take place in downtown Newton on Oct. 7. The festival is a partnership between the Downtown Newton Development Association and the Hickory Museum of Art. The presenting sponsor is Catawba Valley Medical Center.
Williams carves low-relief wooden sculptures of contemporary African-American life. Williams received the Kentucky Governor’s Award in the Arts in 2006. In 2009, the Kentucky Folk Art Center in Morehead, Ky., held a retrospective exhibit of his art called “Rhythm and Relief.” He is featured in the book “When the Spirit Speaks: Self-Taught Art of the South,” by Catawba County resident Margaret Day Allen, and is included in several other books about self-taught art.
Williams will present a program about his art at Riverbend Middle School on Thursday, Oct. 5, and at Newton-Conover Middle School on Friday, Oct. 6. The Artist in the Schools Program is made possible by a donation from the Duke Energy Foundation.
He will be selling his art at the Foothills Folk Art Festival from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 7 around the 1924 Courthouse Square in downtown Newton. In addition, his art will be featured in the exhibition “New Horizons: Self-Taught Art in the 21st Century” at the Hickory Museum of Art, located at 234 Third Ave. NE, Hickory. For more information about the exhibition, visit www.hickoryart.org.
The artist’s work will also be featured — along with other selected festival artists — at the Foothills Folk Art Festival Preview Night at Newton-Conover Auditorium, 60 West 6th St., Newton. Tickets for Preview Night are available at www.newton-conoverauditorium.org.
Williams was born in 1958 in Lakeland, Fla. He learned to carve from a brother, who was taught by an uncle. His father’s love of jazz also influenced Williams’ later art. He was recruited to play basketball for the University of Kentucky and was a member of the Wildcat’s team that won the NCAA Championship in 1978. He earned a college degree in sociology, but did not study art.
After playing professional basketball in Europe, he returned to the United States uncertain about his future career. He felt attracted to art and began painting. However, at the urging of a mentor, he decided to return to his African-influenced woodcarving. In this medium, he found his artistic voice.
Williams’ carvings are filled with emotional energy as he depicts dancers, lovers, church worshipers and jazz musicians. He also carves wooden panels, which often depict an emotional moment with a group in intertwined people.