The life of Bessie

Fans, friends celebrate annual Bessie Harvey Day

Bessie Harvey’s family honor the life and work of the famed artist who lived in Alcoa at Bessie Harvey Day at the MLK Community Center. From left are Mwaingi Dean, grandson; Elizabeth Dean, daughter; and James Bowman, grandson.

Bessie Harvey’s family honor the life and work of the famed artist who lived in Alcoa at Bessie Harvey Day at the MLK Community Center. From left are Mwaingi Dean, grandson; Elizabeth Dean, daughter; and James Bowman, grandson.

The Alcoa High School Step Team provided entertainment at the Bessie Harvey Day celebration. Members of the team are Tara Teeter, Deon Monique Timmons, Alexis Phillips, Aliscia Shiverdecker, Shante Brabson, Ashiarna Johnson, Kashira Henry, Shenita Minor and Dazzy Cole.

Photo by Leslie Karnowski

The Alcoa High School Step Team provided entertainment at the Bessie Harvey Day celebration. Members of the team are Tara Teeter, Deon Monique Timmons, Alexis Phillips, Aliscia Shiverdecker, Shante Brabson, Ashiarna Johnson, Kashira Henry, Shenita Minor and Dazzy Cole.

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.

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