Saturday, July 19, 2008

Valuing Our Local Talent

Posted By on Sat, Jul 19, 2008 at 2:05 PM

A group of local art lovers have helped an accomplished former prison artist secure his first real home since Hurricane Katrina destroyed his Ninth Ward house and studio. 

The art enthusiasts, led by Greg Rackham, owner of Bottom of the Barrel Antiques, bought enough artwork from New Orleans artist Welmon Sharlhorne to pay his rent for six months. He will receive keys to his new home today (Saturday, July 19), and the art that landed him in his new apartment will be on display to the public from 7:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. at 1214 Decatur St. for this evening only.

Sharlhorne began drawing on manila envelopes and file folders with a Bic pen while serving a 20-year sentence at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola. He was released 11 years ago, and since then, his work has been featured at Collection de L’Art Brute in Lausanne, Switzerland; the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Art in Washington, D.C.; the Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans as well as other venues.  

The Houma native has lived in New Orleans since his release from prison, relying on his art to pay for his home in the Ninth Ward. Since Katrina destroyed his neighborhood, he has sold enough of his art to pay for a daily hotel room and food, but could not save up enough money to secure a permanent lease. 

“He’s been chasing his tail all this time,” Rackham says. “When I think of how many people are seeing his art in places like Washington, D.C., and Switzerland, it doesn’t make sense to me that someone so talented should have to live that way.” 

Rackham decided to give Sharlhorne a helping hand, providing him poster boards and art materials to create artworks that could provide him enough money to pay for his rent for a half year. The antiques store owner also introduced other art enthusiasts to the artist's work. 

“I’ve seen art collectors in New Orleans – myself included ? invest a lot in up and coming artists. [Sharlhorne] is a known quantity, which makes his work worth more in a monetary sense. Lots of people understand the value of his work. All I did was introduce some of those people to his new work and it was an easy sell.” 

Sharlhorne’s life and art is the subject of a documentary film.  

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