Bessie Harvey once told a magazine reporter, “”I’ve got a free spirit, and I won’t be under nobody’s thumb. Nobody will conquer me.”
The results of that free spirit lives on in Harvey’s artwork. Fans, family and friends of the late folk artist sculptor gathered on Oct. 10 to celebrate Bessie Harvey Day at the Martin Luther King, Jr., Community Center in Alcoa.
The celebration featured food, music, entertainment and a showing of a filmstrip of Bessie, talking about her life in her own words. The Alcoa High School Step Team performed, and participants got to see an exhibit of Harvey’s work.
Harvey was born in 1929 in Dallas, Ga., the seventh of 13 children. She married at age 14 and moved to Tennessee. Harvey had 11 children, and, reported in biographies of her life that she sought relief from the rigors of motherhood and an alcoholic husband by sculpting late at night, taking tree roots and branches and bringing out the images she saw in them.
She would create “dolls” in wood - often adding glitter, beads, and pieces of her own hair. She often meditated during the creative process and through her visionary art made communion with God. She also had a strong interest in her African heritage and often named her pieces from an African-English dictionary.
Harvey died in 1994. Her artwork has been exhibited many places, including the Knoxville Museum of Art and New York City’s Whitney Museum.