June 2011 | Deb Burst

Hank Holland folk art blossoms

Hank Holland has lived with Cerebral Palsy all his life, but today he finds salvation inside a canvas living with his family in the twilight landscapes of Lockport, Louisiana. Following his mother's footsteps, Hank is a self-taught artist and believes his art is a testament in how to overcome obstacles and realize your dreams. Just three years ago on May 28, 2008, he picked up his first canvas, a few tubes of paint and a cheap set of brushes. Today he does shows across the south, his art hangs in homes and businesses across the country and beyond. In a recent interview he directed me to his Facebook page for his most recent work, and there I found these words on the day of his anniversary. "Wow 2800 paintings later and fans and friends from all over the world, I am so humbled. My work hangs in homes in all 50 states and 54 countries. THANKS Y'ALL for giving me a wonderful life."

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I first met Hank through an acquaintance who was inspired by he and his wife Maria. They both have Cerebral Palsy but always focused in accomplishing their goals. Maria has a degree in marketing from Loyola University and they are proud parents of a young son, Christian, who just graduated from Kindergarten. My first article on Hank was the spring of 2009 and he was still a struggling artist trying to make ends meet. I recently reached out to him and was amazed by his success.

A student of nature, his work explores the innocence of color and light. He sees the world differently now, a bayou filled with life and God's hand on everything. It's a unique palette drawn from visualizing himself in every painting imagining what a Cajun cabin would look like or how it would feel in the shade of an old cypress tree on a hot Louisiana afternoon.

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Growing up in a small rural town Hank was often bullied by other children so his dad built him a tree house in their backyard. It became a refuge where he learned everything grows with love and with that comes hope, faith, courage, prayer, trust and grace. In his Jazzed-up Tree House collection, the paintings exhibit a special energy where Hank revisits his youth dancing and playing music with what he calls his imaginary friends.

Every tree is graced with a big heart scribed with the word "love." You'll also find an outhouse which Hank suggests his fans run their fingers across each day to empty all their stress. The tree house collection is copyrighted through the Library of Congress, something Hank says makes his story of overcoming a disability through his art all the more special.

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Painting for just three years, he is consumed with the desire to experiment. Similar to Clementine Hunter, the renowned Louisiana folk artist from Melrose Plantation, he has found new mediums such as driftwood, corrugated tin and window panes. "I have to paint backwards on the glass," he said adding he uses a mirror to help him.

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But the best way to experience Hank Holland's story is to look at his art. Locally his work appears in stores and galleries around New Orleans as well as weekend showings at Jackson Square, one of the most prestigious spaces for up and coming artists. His website offers many selections and his Facebook page is the best place to find his new work including juke joints, baptismal scenes and wedding tree houses.

Hank and Maria are in the process of writing and illustrating a children's book which will focus on teaching children how to understand and cope with disabilities. Every character will have a Louisiana themed name with some type of disability and will help each other on a journey through the swamp. They hope to produce a series of books on the same subject along with a Hank Holland foundation to provide a scholarship for high school graduates who have a disability and want to pursue a degree in the arts.

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  Artwork photos courtesy of the Hank Holland website and photographer Bill Steber.