LaVon Van Williams was born in Florida in 1957 and grew up in Colorado before coming to play basketball at the University of Kentucky playing with the winning team that captured the national NCAA championship in 1978. After LaVon finished playing basketball he settled in Lexington and has worked for many years as a teacher’s aide and youth basketball coach. He has worked in artist residency programs with the Kentucky Arts Council to teach about his art and African culture.
It was LaVon’s older brother Dave who taught him the basic principles of a traditional style of relief woodcarving which has its origins in coastal South Carolina’s African Gullah/Geechie culture. LaVon was immediately fascinated with carving and he went on to adopt this traditional relief style and make it his own. His art is also influenced by his father’s love of jazz and his mother’s colorful abstract quilts.
LaVon uses wood from a variety of sources – from old furniture and drawer fronts, to wood from torn down houses, to wide planks of wood fresh from lumberyards. Using chisels and a mallet, LaVon produces two-sided wood relief sculptures that focus on the human figure. His subjects are portrayed by removing minimal wood and their proportions are abstract and seemingly larger than life. Yet his subjects are extremely recognizable and his use of vibrant color highlights their forms. More importantly, LaVon’s subjects are always engaged with each other, which brings both tension and grace to his portrayal of scenes and scenarios from African-American life.
Works by LaVon Van Williams can be found at the Kentucky Folk Art Center, Morehead, KY; and the Kentucky Artisan Center at Berea, Berea, KY.