I met Alabama’s most unique folk artist today. Joe Minter greeted me at his Birmingham home wearing a decorated hard hat and an elaborate necklace of chains and padlocks.
Joe is a junk sculpture artist, and has spent the last 20 years building the African Village in his backyard. It’s a testament to African American struggles, and divinely inspired as his life’s work.
Mr. Minter lives on a quiet side street, next to a large segregated cemetery with a 200 year history. At first glance his place looks like a jumbled junk yard. But Joe is quick to point out the monuments – the tragedy section, the reformation section, the hope section.
As you pick your way along the maze-like paths you begin to comprehend the collections and artistry. There are grottos and crèches, huts and gazebos, sculptures and paintings. And endless inspirational messages and psalms painted on surfaces or constructed of found objects.
I arrived early in the morning, and the neighbors were quick to point me towards Joe’s house and even ring his bell for me. Joe and his wife live on donations, and I gladly bought his book and a tee shirt in exchange for a look around.
The sculpture garden evoked a myriad of unexpected emotions. I felt sadness and hope, despair and gladness, sinned and redeemed – all at the same time. It was a marvel to wander and wonder at this artist’s massive productivity, which Joe claims all started with a couple of abandoned cars on the property when he purchased the home. Then he received his calling to expand and expound.
Should you find yourself in Birmingham, stop by and see the African Village on Nassau Street. It will be worth the stop.
Tonight I am working my way toward home. It’s been a great winter break. Loved Florida’s Emerald Coast, had a splendid time camping in the motorhome. And the dog may forgive me once I get him home.