Hawkins Bolden and his identical twin, Monroe, were born September 10, 1914, in the Bailey’s Bottom section of Memphis to a Creole father and an American Indian mother. As a child, Hawkins wanted only to play baseball so he often played at home, in the streets and in vacant lots scattered throughout the rows of small wooden shacks. During one such game, at the age of seven while playing catcher, Hawkins was struck in the head by his twin brother’s unexpected swing at a high and outside ball. For the following year, he suffered from seizures until one landed him flat on his back and staring into the sun. All went black and he never saw again.
In 1930 the Bolden family moved into a small house in midtown Memphis, where he would live with his older sister Elizabeth (the last two surviving siblings) for almost seventy years. As Memphis expanded, Hawkins noted the changes, “There used to be a big field over here where I found stuff. Then they went and built a big building on it. I used to find stuff in the streets, and in the alleys, where people throwed it away. People don’’hrow nothing away no more. Everything is worth money now. I can’t go in the streets; too many cars now. The garbage men used to give me stuff ‘cause they knowed I would make use of it. They don’t give me nothing no more. I used to get the children around here to find me stuff. They won’t do that now. They ain’t got time.”
Like most artists, Bolden has made things all his life. “I started making faces and things out of stuff I found, probably about 1965. One of my nieces said, ‘Put them in your garden to keep the birds out.’ So I guess you can call them things scarecrows.” Some are self-portraits. A hairy growth on his face near his mouth is represented on some of the faces he makes, created of artificial Christmas tree pine needles, a patch of shag carpet, or whatever else fits the role. “Sometimes I feel words on something, but I don’t know what it is. I don’t ask nobody about it or about color, neither. I don’t worry about color. I know when I can make something by how it feels.”1
1 © Souls Grown Deep Foundation