Heather Spencer Holmes


StudioMagic in Metal

Written by Brett Levine    

Photo by Jerry Siegel

Styling and Make Up by Shelby McDonald, Beauty Shock

 

For Heather Spencer Holmes, creativity has always been synonymous with community. “I first came to working in metal by literally turning up at a metal pour at Sloss and having Rick Batten invite me to participate,” she says. “I was breaking up radiator cores and Rick came over to ask me to stop. I didn’t want to because I was having so much fun, but he only wanted me to stop so he could show me how the furnace worked.”

This sense of openness and camaraderie from the Birmingham metalworking community made Holmes feel right at home, and the experience was truly transformative.  “I knew from the first time I ever saw metal come out of the furnace that this was something I truly wanted to do,” she says. “I was taking art classes at UAB, but in less than a month I was enrolled at Bessemer State Technical College five days a week. I got a scholarship, and I got a welder, and I literally took it from there.”

Her commitment to learning fundamentals and her interest in both art and process led to a number of unexpected opportunities: “I had the chance to work with Brad Morton, one of Birmingham’s most respected sculptors, as a studio assistant. This was an incredible learning experience. I also started to get personal commissions, predominantly for functional pieces. I did signage and interior fixtures for Theodora in Homewood, as well as a series of decorative art panels that served as moveable fencing for a series of community gardens in Birmingham.” Holmes also enjoyed commissions that forced her to work outside her comfort zone. “I had the chance to cast an Addy award designed by Big Communications and to design a trophy for the rivalry game between the UAB and Memphis football teams,” she says. “It was called the Battle of the Bones, and I designed the trophy, which is a bronze rack of ribs. Memphis changed conferences, so the trophy’s there to stay for now!”

From the beginning, Holmes has always made community partnerships and education a cornerstone of her arts practice. “I was deeply involved with the Sloss Metal Arts Summer Program for many years,” she says. “I worked with the Birmingham Museum of Art and Magic City Art Connection to link my jellyfish installation, Smack, which was on display at the Museum, with the Imagination Festival children’s project that took place in Linn Park during the festival.” Holmes continuously strives to leverage her commitment to education in the arts environment, working with the Alys Stephens Center on Light Dreams, as well as the Moss Rock Festival, Magic City Art Connection, Dia de Los Muertos, and the MESH Art Collective. Holmes recently received a Distinguished Service Award from the Alabama Art Education Association for service within the profession. She puts it this way: “Really, I just see my role as giving children the access and freedom to be creative.”

This understated approach consistently results in the ability to create engaging community projects and artworks and to produce works that are intelligent yet accessible. The MESH Collective’s Light Brite Jumbo is a classic example. Premiered at the inaugural Light Dreams, and shown subsequently at the Digital Graffiti show at Alys Beach, Holmes describes the piece as borne from a love of working with a creative family. “We had just undergone major changes in the artistic structure at Sloss, and many of the people involved were moving in new directions,” she explains. “I wanted to keep what I regarded as a truly remarkable creative community intact, so I asked a number of my friends and colleagues if they would be interested in forming the MESH Art Collective. Here we can produce projects that are larger or more adventurous than we might pursue individually or using technologies we might not pursue on our own, but since we are conceiving and creating together, we each still have the time and the space to do our own works as well.”

For Holmes this means using any available space to work on her series Is There Life on Mars at the same time that she is settling into her new role as the director of MAKEbhm, a new maker space in Birmingham. “I’ve always thought of Sloss as the first maker space Birmingham ever had,” she says. “Now MAKEbhm has the chance to bring new approaches and new opportunities to people who love the idea of a creative community but who may not have the resources to have their own studios or who may simply love the idea of working with a group of other innovative people.” Whether the creativity is on the level of the individual or the community, the outcome is still the same: “I knew one person when I came to Birmingham 22 years ago, and three days later, I had a job and an apartment and I’d been invited to a party! It is clear that there is such an incredible creative spirit here. For me, Birmingham truly is the Magic City.”

One Response to “Heather Spencer Holmes”

  1. Jamie Glass says:

    Heather Holmes is an amazing artist,
    neighbor,wife, and mother!
    Her company is magic!

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