Alexander donates Harvey sculpture to Blount museum

By Lance Coleman
Senior reporter
Blount Today

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander has some leadership potential. At least that’s what his friends at Richard Williams Leadership Academy think

On Tuesday, they made him an honorary cadet in the academy during a brief ceremony at the Alcoa City Center. Alexander was on hand to donate a sculpture of the late Alcoa artist Bessie Harvey to the Blount County Historical Museum.

George Williams, director of the Alcoa City Center and brother of the late Blount County Commissioner Richard Williams, told the senator that the academy volunteers strive to build leaders.

"We feel you have some potential," he said to Alexander, bringing laughter from those gathered for the dedication.

Maryville High School sophomore Tiffini Littlejohn presented a purple leadership academy T-shirt to the senator. Alexander said he used to accept T-shirts like that one saying that he would wear them when he went running. "Now I say I’ll wear it when I walk," Alexander said.

The senator praised the teachers and leaders of Blount County for their work with youth. "Maryville and Alcoa do a good job of emphasizing academics and athletics," he said.

Tramika Boldin, a Maryville College student and an academy tutor, talked about how she and several others tutor between 15 and 20 students from area schools every week.

Boldin said the tutors often look at the students’ textbooks, go to the accompanying website for the textbooks and get material to help the students master the different subjects. Three students the tutors work with were failing in either English or Algebra before they began. "Now they’re up to B averages," she said.

Alexander also spoke with a Blount Memorial Hospital representative who talked about the nursing school the hospital runs with Lincoln Memorial University at the center.

At the dedication ceremony, dignitaries from throughout the area and several of Bessie Harvey’s family members were on hand.

Alexander elicited a laugh from the crowd when he spoke of a recent stop at a convenience store on East Lamar Alexander Parkway, the route of U.S. 321 named in his honor. The senator said he had to pick up a few things, didn’t have any cash and so he used his credit card. The clerk at the counter looked at the card and then looked at him "She said, ‘Were you named after this road?’ " he said as the crowd laughed.

Alexander said the story of Bessie Harvey reminded him of how often people don’t realize the talent they have right in their own hometowns.

The senator said he regretted that he never got to meet Harvey. What was impressive about Harvey’s work was she could make something out of nothing, Alexander said. "She would get items we would pass by or throw away and make something out of it," he said.

Her first exhibit was at Blount Memorial Hospital where she worked about 20 years ago. "By 1994, her art was selected by the Whitney Museum of Art in New York," Alexander said. Soon thereafter, one of her pieces was on the cover of the arts section of the New York Times.

"She went from not being noticed to the front page of the art section of the New York Times," Alexander said. "I think we who pride ourselves on being Blount Countians should be proud of one of our own."

Alexander said he and his wife purchased the Harvey sculpture of a man and his dog for a special reason. "Honey and I bought this with the intent of donating this to the museum," he said.

According to press reports, The walking dog figure is valued at between $2,000 and $4,000. It is a carved and assembled figure of a black man with a chain to his dog. It is made of wood, fabric, paint, popcorn, chain and other materials.

"We had right in our midst one of the most important artists," Alexander said. "We are grateful for her art and for her life."

The Blount County Historical Museum will move into the current Blount County Health Department offices across from Blount Memorial Hospital when the health department moves to the former Blount County Library. Currently, the museum’s displays are packed in the former Blount County Public Library building.

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