Aaron Sanders Head's exhibition, "Ain't Gonna Study War No More," will be on view in Kentuck's Museum Gallery June 1st to July 2nd, 2023. The exhibit, featuring new works from Aaron Sanders Head, was unveiled on Kentuck's June Art Night.
Aaron's upbringing helped him to develop a love of rural Alabama and the ability to incorporate its unique beauty through an unique artistic method. Aaron grew up in both rural Grady, AL and Hope Hull, AL, born to an artist mother and an agricultural worker father. His grandparents were also both mail carriers, and Aaron would often accompany them on their routes throughout the small, rural towns of Alabama. All of these things combined lead him to create quilts made of naturally-dyed textiles, pigmented from plants native to Alabama, with locally-sourced and previously-owned scraps of fabric that, together, represent community and the beauty of Alabama.
With "Ain't Gonna Study War No More," Aaron Sanders Head aims to "explore methods of living with and attempting to resolve conflict, on both a global scale and a personal one."
The textiles used to create the new quilts are comprised entirely of second-hand fabric from community members—pieces of linen, clothing, and personal items—that have been naturally dyed using plants from the Hale County area, including indigo, sumac, and goldenrod. Aaron expressed at Art Night that he enjoys and finds significance in using plants native to the region in which his art was created, because it forever connects the place to the art.
"My works are a testimony to the generous, fierce natural beauty of Alabama and its people..."
One of Aaron's primary goals with his art is for the pieces to look like the places where they were made. He grows his own materials in what he calls his "dye garden," located in Greensboro, AL, however, the plants used for his hand-made dyes often have complex regional histories. Along with their powerful usage in Indigenous, African American, and rural medicine practice, the materials also recall the horrors of forced labor and enslavement which were historically used to harvest them. Together, the materials form a relationship with the workmanship, the history of the land, and radical ideas of unification and reclamation.
"My ongoing practice explores the unifying and reclaiming abilities of textiles and natural dyes, and uses the familiarity of textiles and quilts as a mode of storytelling."
Aaron has several experienced artists to thank for his inspiration and knowledge of the craft. After dropping out of art school in Boston, Aaron attended the University of Alabama where he studied art history with emphasis on the vernacular architecture photographed by William Christenberry, an alumni of UA and fellow native of Hale County who is known for photographing rural Alabama. Like Aaron's textiles, no two photographs from Christenberry are exactly alike, though they all reveal the unique beauty and complex history of Alabama.
After graduating from The University of Alabama, Aaron worked at the Kentuck Art Center for some time before moving to Huntsville and becoming an administrator at Lowe Mill ARTS & Entertainment, which is known as the largest privately-owned arts facility in the South. Once there, he attended a natural dye workshop hosted by artist and fashion designer, Nadene Mairesse, a native of Florence, AL. There, Aaron's interest in natural dyes intensified, and Mairesse became his mentor, sharing her techniques, recipes, and helping Aaron establish his artistic vision.
Aaron Sanders Head has also spoken in the past about how Yvonne Wells, a longtime Guest Artist at the Kentuck Festival of the Arts, has inspired him in his own work. Yvonne Wells is a self-taught quilter from Tuscaloosa whose story quilts have been exhibited around the world.
"The reason Yvonne's work resonates so strongly with me is the untapped access to her mind, unfettered by self-consciousness or outside influence. This really gets at the heart of the reason why I admire folk and outsider art in general, but Yvonne has little concern for traditional notions of perfection (which is a crippling, widespread issue with quilters) and what many think of as traditional quilting techniques. " - Aaron Sanders Head
Aaron also acknowledges the influence that the women of Gee's Bend have had on his own work. Gee's Bend residents are direct descendants of enslaved people that worked the cotton plantation established in 1816 by Joseph Gee. The art of quiltmaking was passed down for generations, and their quilts are now known internationally and were hailed by the New York Times as "some of the most miraculous works of modern art that America has produced." Gee's Bend is located an hour's drive away from Greensboro, where Aaron currently lives. He aims to some day repay the artistic debt he owes Gee's Bend and the Black Belt. He currently owns a gallery/studio space in the downtown area of Greensboro, and his goal is to open a multi-campus arts center that will include residency spaces for artists and programs open to the community that nurtured his artistic ability.
Aaron began his own dye garden in 2019. Inspired to decrease the cost of dyes (for the scale that he produces for his work), and reducing his sourcing footprint for materials -- Aaron now grows almost a dozen different plants for his natural dyeing process, including Japanese Indigo and French Marigold.
On July 1st, Aaron Sanders Head will host a dyeing with flowers workshop at Kentuck Art Center where he will teach participants how to dye using some of his favorite "dye garden" materials while exploring various techniques he uses to create long-lasting dye in his own works, including bundle dyeing, immersion, and shibori. Registration for this workshop closes on June 26, 2023 at 12 PM.
Aaron also has an exhibition at Kentuck's Gallery at Hotel Indigo until July 30, 2023. Read this blog post to see the exhibition.
We encourage you to visit this show in person during our open hours of Monday-Friday, 9:30am-5:30pm and Saturday-Sunday, 12pm-4pm. Please call Kentuck at 205-758-1257 to inquire about purchasing any of Aaron's textiles.
All "Flash" pieces vary in size, but range from 7.5"x9.5" to 11"x17". Please call for specific dimensions.