Hawkins Bolden and his identical twin, Monroe, were born September 10, 1914, in the Bailey’s Bottom section of Memphis. As his late sister, Elizabeth Williams told it, “Daddy was a Creole man from Middleton, Tennessee; Mama was an Indian lady from Alabama. Her daddy came as a slave from Africa and married this Indian lady after he was set free. Daddy and Mama had relatives from down in Georgia who talked Geechee (an African American dialect spoken along the Atlantic coast).”
After an accident at age seven, Bolden began to experience seizures. One day, when Hawkins was eight, he collapsed to the ground, landed on his back, and stared up at the sun. He never saw again. “I couldn’t stop looking at the sun,” he says. “I just looked and my eyes went dark. I never did see nothing after that. I can feel things. I know the sunshine. I can feel the heat.”
Most of his works, perhaps all, are representational. Human faces and bodies. Some are self-portraits. A hairy growth on his face near his mouth is represented on some of the faces he makes, created of artificial Christmas tree pine needles, a patch of shag carpet, or whatever else fits the role.
A visitor once asked Bolden what he has in mind when he makes a piece for the yard, suggesting that surely he has a reason for doing all this. “Yes sir, I do!” He says emphatically. “The birds be thinking something going to get them. They get scared. They stay away.”
Artist Lonnie Holley, who has visited Hawkins Bolden on two occasions, offers this interpretation:
"After losing his sight, he searched to hear. He is always looking for the sound to please his spirit. He is a constant listener, reaching to receive the right material to catch the perfect sound. . . . The blow of the bat still rings in his ears. . . . When a man have cried over something, and when a man have toiled over something and been conducted by the spirit of what he’s used to hearing, the different sounds he makes in the quiet of himself, the different things that he hear from within that quietness of himself, allow him to create the perfect, that others can receive. He does that so that others can see. Why fear what is within ourselves? He was not trying to frighten the bird away. He was trying to attract it, so he could hear its beautiful sound."