James R Hedges III, who was known as “Jimmy”, died at his farm in Rising Fawn, Georgia, in a drowning accident on July 13, 2014. He had been a lifelong resident of Lookout Mountain, Georgia.
Hedges was educated in the American South. He became interested in real estate development and created Hedges Farms on 500 acres of land, which he equipped with roads and ponds, and whose natural beauty he enhanced with several rock sculptures he created himself. His modest home was filled with works made by his favourite artists, including Justin McCarthy, Sterling Strauser, Alvin Jarrett, Jon Serl and Mose Tolliver, as well as with his own carvings.
photo of James R. Hedges, III by Alison Spiesman
On his property in the early 2000s, Hedges designed and built Rising Fawn Art Gallery, a facility with cathedral ceilings and space in which to hang quilts and large paintings, as well as his eclectic collection of Southern, self-taught artists’ works, which he offered for sale. Hedges also created Rising Fawn Folk Art Sculpture Garden in a tree-filled setting adjacent to the gallery. That project became an ongoing work-in-progress featuring more than 30 stone carvings. Today it also is home to works by Hubert Walters, Tim Lewis and Charles Simmons. There, Hedges built a stone memorial in honour of the victims of and the rescue workers who responded to the terrorist attacks in the United States of September 11, 2001.
Hedges emerged on the art scene in the early 1990s, driving a vintage blue dump truck loaded with self-taught artists’ works. He was seen as charming, enthusiastic and handsome, and he offered attractive works of art at reasonable prices.
I first met Hedges in April 1992 in Lafayette, Louisiana, at the opening of “It’ll Come True: Eleven Artists, First and Last”, the second exhibition of works that had been assembled from the holdings of the Louisiana-based collectors Warren and Sylvia Lowe. That exhibition featured works they had acquired since the presentation of a first exhibition of selections from their collection, “Baking in the Sun: Visionary Images from the South”, in the late 1980s, including pieces by Sulton Rogers and Herbert Singleton. Sylvia Lowe told Hedges that she had purchased works of art in many unusual places, but that buying art from him off the back of a dump truck had topped them all.
Over the years, Hedges avidly collected and sold the works of several artists, whose creations were among his favourites. He promoted them with postcards, fact sheets or colourful pamphlets that he created himself. They included Purvis Young, the potters Georgia Blizzard and Marie Rogers, the stone carver Charles Simmons, the multi-media artist Hubert Walters and Haint Bradley, a maker of psychedelic art.
Hedges was a road warrior. Often he drove to Miami to visit Young, selected some of the artist’s paintings, travelled with him to see shows in Chicago and New York, and then escorted him back to Miami. Hedges travelled to the Mississippi Delta to visit his two sons, who lived there, and while in that region also visited the quilters Sarah Mary Taylor and OL Harper, the blues musician and maker of clay sculptures, James “Son Ford” Thomas, LV Hull and other local artists.
Hedges often offered free delivery to his customers of their purchases from Rising Fawn Gallery. As a result, he found himself hauling large paintings to collectors in Alabama, Louisiana and Texas, and combining deliveries with home visits, for many of his customers became his friends. While making these trips, Hedges frequently stopped to call upon self-taught artists and their families, and bring them gifts. One could say he never met a folk artist with whom he did not enjoy visiting.
Hedges built up Rising Fawn Gallery’s reputation in the folk art field; he took part in the Outsider Art Fair (New York), Intui’s's Collectorama (Chicago), Folk Fest (Atlanta) and other similar events. A talented, self-taught wood carver himself, over a 40-year period, he created a memorable body of his own work. He started out by carving songbirds and once said, “I always been drawn to wood.” He began working with basswood but later primarily used cedar wood and white pine. He acknowledged the influence of several self-taught artists who had inspired him, including Joe Light, Bessie Harvey and Charlie Lucas.
At one point in his career, for a period of four years, Hedges stopped making his carvings. It was due to a challenge from the folk artist Homer Green that he resumed making art, at which time he began producing large works using a chain saw. The subjects of his carvings varied from public figures, such as US President Barack Obama and the South African political activist, Nelson Mandela, to some of the intriguing, memorable characters he had come across in his travels. Among them: a hostess at a restaurant called Dreamland BBQ, various preachers and the artists Georgia Blizzard and William Edmondson.
One of Hedges’ great works is his bust of the artist Jimmy Lee Sudduth, Ain’t Thet Something (c. 1997); it vividly captures the essence of the physical presence and lively personality of that well-known outsider artist and blues musician from Alabama, who died in 2007. Another strong Hedges work is Bubba Loves Amber, a humourous portrayal of the racial integration of highway-repair crews in the American South in the 1980s, a time when a handful of women were allowed to take part in such rugged work, but mainly and merely as sign holders. In this work, Bubba’s eyes gaze down at Amber’s backside as he appears to fall in love with her. Today, in the US, Hedges’ carvings can be found in several private, museum and corporate art collections.
Hedges is survived by his mother, three sons, two grandsons and three siblings. Financial contributions in his memory can be made to the Folk Art Society of America, which hopes to establish and offer a scholarship award in his honour.
by Micki Beth Stiller