Watercolor crayon on paper. With artists signature in the lower right of image. Archivally framed to museum standards with museum glass on the front. There is some damage from previous owners due to improper storage. There is a tear center left, some adhesive in the lower right, surface loss upper right, and tears at the edges.
Artwork Size: 23 3/4"x 17 7/8"
Frame Size: 29" x 23"
Simon Sparrow was born in 1925 in West Africa to a Native American mother and Yoruban father. He grew up in the Great Smoky Mountains of North Carolina on a Cherokee Reservation. He lived in Philadelphia and New York and served in the army, before settling in Madison, Wisconsin in the 1970’s. Sparrow became a well-known preacher and artist in Madison. Like Prophet Blackmon, he was a self-taught “outsider” artist and a street evangelist whose spiritual beliefs were integral to his art. Sparrow felt an affinityto the natural world and began his spiritual journey as a young boy. The artist claimed to have started preaching and painting at the age of seven, when God told him: “Open up your mouth and I will speak for you.” Sparrow responded by walking into the woods near his home, climbing atop a tree stump and talking to the animals. ‘The birds would stop their twittering, and the squirrels would stop chattering,’ he claimed, ‘and they’d all just sit there quietly, listening to me.; He returned to the stump daily to communicate with the animals, until one day he unexpectedly began speaking in tongues: ‘That’s where I started preaching,’ he declared. Soon-but several decades before he officially began his ministry as a street preacher – Sparrow showed up at the pulpit of his family’s Pentecostal church. He preached and called himself a child of God, noting: ‘You is saved by God, by the Son, by the Holy Ghost. Not by no religion. Religion is man-made.’
Sparrow also started making art at age seven, when he began drawing stick figures in the sand and pictures on scrap paper. One day when he was drawing on pieces of plywood in his yard, a man passed by and was struck by a drawing that he offered to buy it. Sparrow was so offended, he recalled, that ‘I nearly sicked my dog on him,’ but his mother intervened, establishing a selling price that was ‘high enough, so I wasn’t mad at her.’ With inspiration from what he called “spirit” Sparrow created his art. Like Blackmon, he believed his images came from God. Before he started to paint, he would let his mind go blank so the spirit could enter. He described this process as ‘sweeter than anything on earth…. I feel like I’m climbing.’ He was best known for his mixed-media assemblages of found and discarded objects that he began creating in the 1970’s and 1980’s in Madison which often contained a combination of Christian iconography and West African religion.
Simon Sparrow, who like Prophet Blackmon believed his art came from God, died in 2000. He posthumously received a Wisconsin Visual Art Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012. One of his assemblage works appeared on the PBS program Antiques Road Show. His works are in the collections of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Minnesota Museum of American Art.