Keeneland Magazine

NO4 2013

Keeneland, Investing in Racing's Future since 1936.

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Page 63 of 91

Kentucky Crafted LaVon Van Williams Jr. There's a party going on — dancing, singing, guitar playing, horn blowing — in a beige vinyl-sided house edged by a chain link fence on Lexington's Jefferson Street. But the neighbors never complain because they don't hear a thing. The partiers are pieces of art: singers, musicians, and dancers coaxed from planks of wood with chisel and mallet by artist LaVon Van Williams Jr. The happy clutter of art is gathered in the front room of the Jefferson Street house, Williams' studio. He works there early mornings and weekends when he is not working part-time at Morton Elementary School. The room also serves as Williams' resource library. On one wall, bookshelves rise to the ceiling, heaped with books about great artists, but also about dance, fashion, and architecture. Sketch pads, flled with hundreds of Williams' drawings and ideas, are stacked among the books. In the middle of it all, the 6-foot-6 Williams sits in a wooden chair. The former University of Kentucky basketball star is a quiet man and a keen observer. His attention to detail and to movement is apparent in his reliefs of African Americans in familiar scenes. His art depicts the sorrow of funerals, the jubilance of a party, the deep notes of a well-played bass. From the rough, waist-high table in the back yard where Williams likes to work, he can watch his neighbors walk by and see churchgoers dressed up in heels and hats arriving at a church across Jefferson. What he observes about people, from their gait to their fashion sense, works its way into his carvings. His art preserves black culture in a neighborhood that is quickly becoming gentrifed. LaVon Van Williams embraced his love of art after a long career in professional basketball. brother Dave, also a wood carver, of-town collector bought the brothers' work. dress shoes of his jazz players remind him of the "He said, 'I love this work. It has a Harlem feel, a jazzy dapper, older black men he'd see on childhood visits paintings favor his carvings. ing at his work when he and his late years ago. The other artists stopped laughing when an out- Williams' art. The snappy suits and the long, pointed those stained-glass windows and Lord's Supper when he caught other artists laugh- had their frst gallery show in Denver As with other folk artists, life experience infuences to Florida. He spent his time in a church pew, and sure. His insecurity was verifed feel.' He said he could hear Miles [Davis] playing," Williams said. Williams has been making art ever since. He often wishes he His father listened to jazz records, and had studied art in college and has even tried taking a class or two. Williams developed a deep love of music. He never lasted long though because his teachers' suggestions The oversized instruments played by musi- chafed. One, for example, told Williams never to use circles in cians with long, large hands in his pieces em- his work. phasize music's importance to him. When Williams was casting about, trying to fgure out what to do with his life after years of playing basketball in international leagues, his mother offered the answer. "Do what you do best," she said. "Art." Williams wasn't so 64 KEENELAND WINTER 2013 "Now, I always start with a circle," he said with a grin. In Kentucky, most will frst think of Williams as a basketball player. He was, after all, a Parade All-American, recruited from Colorado by Joe B. Hall. He was a member of Hall's 1978 NCAA Basketball Championship team. Yet Williams would rather be remembered as an artist. "Creating art was always my frst love," he said. "I would have always chosen art over basketball."

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