Raggly but Still Sweeping My Way to Heaven

Lonnie Holley
Raggly but Still Sweeping My Way to Heaven

Lonnie Holley (b. 1950 Birmingham, Alabama) Raggly but Still Sweeping My Way to Heaven, 2017, Vintage chair, men's shirt form, brass flag stand, and long-handled broom,137 x 18 x 19 1/2 inches, Museum purchase, The Dorothy Johnston Towne (Class of 1923) Fund 2021.12.1

The Davis recently purchased the sculpture Raggly but Still Sweeping My Way to Heaven by Lonnie Holley, the first work by the artist in the collections. A self-taught artist, Holley began sculpting in 1979 after carving two memorials out of sandstone for his nieces who died in a house fire. Prolific, he is constantly creating works in a wide variety of media, both as a visual artist producing paintings, sculptures, drawings, videos and performances, as well as a musician. Holley exhibits his art and performs concerts worldwide, and his work is held in public and private collections including The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, The National Gallery of Art, and the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Lonnie Holley was born in Birmingham, Alabama in 1950, the seventh of twenty-seven children. Taken from his family as a baby, Holley’s guardian changed often as a child. Working various jobs from a young age, such as picking up trash at a drive-in theater, instilled in him the value of hard work. At 11, he was arrested for violating a city-wide curfew and was sent to the Alabama Industrial School for Negro Children. He was released four years later when his grandmother found him and brought him back home to his biological family. The trauma and hardships endured in his childhood greatly inform and shape his art.

Raggly but Still Sweeping My Way to Heaven was previously in the collection of William Arnett, an important collector of art from self-taught African American artists in the South. According to Arnett, “The use of found materials…is…the great sculptural tradition of the black South.” Holley works within this tradition, creating assemblage sculptures such as Raggly but Still Sweeping My Way to Heaven, which is comprised of a male mannequin’s torso attached to a wooden chair by a brass flag stand, with a long handled broom protruding from the mannequin’s neck. All of the components of the sculpture are functional objects that now show signs of the work they have performed: a back leg on the chair has been replaced, the mannequin is dented and scratched, and the straws on the broom are frayed and pulling apart. Despite their “raggly” state, these objects still have purpose, and the broom, as the title suggests, stands 11 ½ feet off the ground, sweeping upward to heaven.