Anthony Tavis Folk Art, Helena
The Maker: Anthony Tavis
His first booth wasn’t fancy – but folks still came by to buy.
“I’d just graduated from the University of Alabama in 2010, and they were having the Druid City Arts Festival on campus,” Anthony Tavis remembers. “I’d never participated in anything like that, but the entry fee was only $10, so I thought I’d give it a shot.”
Tavis’ wife, Melissa, helped him build a small booth with duct tape holding up his folk art. “By the end of the fair I’d sold a bunch of my small pieces, and boom! I knew I wanted to do that again.”
A Rhode Island native, Tavis moved to Tuscaloosa after meeting Melissa. “She was from Alabama, so we came down here, and I studied geography at the university,” he says. “I’d always drawn pictures and made stuff, but never really sold any of it. Then I met some artists while living in Tuscaloosa, and on a visit to Clarksdale, Mississippi, I fell in love with Delta blues and its history.”
Inspired by the Druid City and the Delta, the self-taught artist started using Southern scenes and symbols such as angels, demons, blues singers, guitars and pigs in his works, created from a variety of store-bought and found materials.
“I’d see something by the side of the road or at a construction site, ask permission to take it, and carry it home,” he says. “Things like old doors from kitchen cabinets and discarded pieces of wood.”
These days, Tavis creates colorful folk pieces in his garage and a backyard “art shack.” He sells them on his website, in galleries and at festivals from Florence to Birmingham.
“Alabama’s art scene is booming, especially around Birmingham,” he says. “Even small towns like Hamilton have great festivals. One of my favorites is the Arts Alive Festival in Florence. The folks there have been very supportive.”
While many of Tavis’ works incorporate musical and mystical themes, his porcine paintings are among the artist’s most popular. His pig pieces hang in homes, businesses and barbecue joints around the state.
“I was watching a video on Alabama barbecue restaurants, and one of my pigs made a cameo appearance in it,” he says. “I never know where my pieces are going show up. I’ve shipped them to places as far away as Norway.”
His sons, 7-year-old Caleb and 5-year-old Cooper, provide him with a few artistic ideas.
“If they’re into rocket ships, I do rocket ships,” he says with a laugh. “They’re also into nature, so we spend a lot of time at the Alabama Wildlife Center at Oak Mountain State Park. It’s a great place, and one of the nonprofits that I support with my art.”
And feelings, more than finances, are what keep the artist painting and putting up booths at art fairs around the Southeast. “I promise you, we aren’t getting rich doing this,” Tavis says. “But the great thing about folk art is that I don’t have to limit myself to one or two subjects. I can use my imagination, be with my family and have a great time.”
The Product: Southern-themed paintings, wall art, T-shirts, stickers and more.
Take Home: A “Grateful Pig” T-shirt ($26) or acrylic painting ($75)