Feature Articles

August 2013

Hickory Museum of Art in Hickory, NC, Features Work by Larry Heath

The Hickory Museum of Art in Hickory, NC, is presenting a new exhibition this summer featuring folk art by former Hickory resident Larry Heath. Cutting Tin & Cake will be on view through Oct. 8, 2013, in the Museum’s Gifford, Regal and Windows Galleries.

HMA acquired ten major sculptures by Larry Heath in 2012. Added to two pieces previously donated by the artist, the Museum now has the opportunity to showcase and to frame the needed discussion about the work of this little known, but amazing artist. Heath created masterful sculptures from a single piece of flattened metal. He possessed the conceptual ability to visualize complex scenes and, from a two dimensional sheet, cut and fold the metal to achieve the third dimension, using only simple hand tools.

In a 2001 autobiographical article for VOICES, the annual newsletter of the North Carolina Folk Art Society, Larry Heath opened his essay with a stunningly simple and shocking statement: “I was born to a woman who did not want me.” His birthmother bound her belly to conceal her pregnancy, then turned her son over to her sister to bring up because the sister was married and could “explain” his presence. He was nearly an adult before he learned the truth. The consequences of his mother’s actions were serious birth defects that required many surgeries and many months of hospitalization, and the emotional upheavals of growing up unloved. Heath’s facial deformities had a profound effect on his view of life, but did not hinder his sharp intellect, his energy or ambition, his imagination or unusual grasp of special relations.

In his fifties, after a tumultuous life and difficult relationships, Heath turned to constructing elaborate bird houses and ornamenting them with small tin cutouts. Metal cutting grew to become an artistic obsession. The size and complexity soon included folding the flat, recycled tin to create three dimensional narrative objects that stood on their own as sculpture. Heath’s ability to visualize and plan elaborate, large scale works, to execute the cutting and folding, and to finish pieces with burnishing, chemical or heat treatment or paint made him a technical craftsman. His creativity and originality made him an artist.

A fire at the Heath’s home in 2008 destroyed some sculptures and damaged many. In the ensuing years his former wife Betty Heath worked to clean and restore the collection, but nearly all Heath’s work was affected. Because metal is born in fire, the ten pieces the Museum acquired in 2012 impart the imperative nature of Larry Heath; his hardships, his creative genius, his love of nature and children, his search for peace in his tempestuous world.
Guest curator, Barry Huffman, derived the title of the show from a quote by the artist; Heath once said, “Life and art make great cake.” To accompany the exhibition, Huffman has chosen several photographs from the Museum’s archives of Heath working that demonstrate his creative process. This exhibit is sponsored by the Friends of Larry Heath.

For further information check our NC Institutional Gallery listings, call the Museum at 828/327-8576 or visit (www.hickoryart.org).

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