When I started my gallery, Chivaree Southern Art & Design, I was honored and thrilled that Aaron Hequembourg agreed to let me represent him. Congratulations, Aaron, on making your third appearance at the Smithsonian Craft Show this year!
Hequembourg was formally trained in engraving and printmaking on a scholarship to the University of Iowa. Upon graduating, without a press, Aaron started to produce abstracted figurative paintings engraved into wood panels. In 1997 Aaron and his wife Hope were married in the front yard of a farm in middle Georgia that has been in her family since 1815. They proceeded to move into the farmhouse and have four children. At one point, a family member suggested he “get a permit and burn down those sharecropper houses” that were scattered over the farm. Aaron became the first person to step foot in many of these structures in nearly 80 years. He discovered that some began as slave quarters and still contained tools, artifacts and a host of printed materials from the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Engraved painting on salvaged antique printed materials and wood. The Hequembourgs’ daughter Sinclair looks over their farm’s horse paddock.
The artist was inspired to research photography from that period, which together with the houses and their contents provided inspiration and subject matter for a new body of work. Hequembourg laminates book and music pages onto panels framed by wood salvaged from the houses, and he then engraves his compositions through the paper into the work, sometimes enshrining artifacts from the houses into the surface plane. The work moved beyond repurposing materials to preserving 200 years of history that was once lost.
Slaveship Gown. Wood from 19th century sharecropper houses; 1875 encyclopedia pages, book plates from 1836 & 1920’s. Engraving, painting and wood-block printing.
For the pattern of the subject’s gown, Hequembourg created a woodblock of the well-known 18th-century diagram, known as the Brookes, of the hold of a slave ship. The image first appeared in London as part of a report by slave-trade abolitionists. The printed source Hequembourg used as a template for the woodblock appears in the lower right hand corner.
Since 2012, Hequembourg has shifted to producing subject-driven work, portraying his present-day neighbors in Monticello, many of whom can trace their roots in the town for generations. His combination of painting with direct engraving into the picture surface shows their faces and hands in naturalistic, powerful detail. He continues to incorporate antique printed materials and objects into his pieces, which places his subjects in a context fraught with ambivalence: a rural South that has been, by turns, idyllic and oppressive.
Josephine is the artist’s neighbor, most frequent subject, and greatest inspiration. The artists considers his subjects to be his collaborators and pays them 10% of the sales price of any piece they appear in.
The first year I was open, Aaron suggested an idea that became an annual event: a Thanksgiving tent show to benefit a local charity. The Highlands-Cashiers Humane Society, a wonderful no-kill shelter and veterinary service organization, was our partner, and Aaron donated an original work of art every year with an animal theme to be raffled off to benefit HCCS.
Dachsund Girl, 2014. Engraved painting on antique printed materials.
This was one of the pieces Aaron created for Chivaree Gallery’s Thanksgiving raffle to benefit the Highlands-Cashiers Humane Society. In addition to the proceeds from the raffle, we donated 10% of the sales proceeds from Aaron’s tent show to HCCS every year.
In 2016, 2013 and 2012, Hequembourg participated in the Smithsonian Craft Show, arguably the most prestigious national juried exhibition and sale of fine American craft. (View his 2016 Artist’s page here.) Some of the “Best in Show” awards he has won since 2011 include the St. Louis Art Fair (2014), MMoCA Art Fair on the Square (Madison, WI, 2015 and 2014), Artisphere (Greenville, SC, May 2014), CottonSouth Fine Arts Festival (Madison, GA, September 2013), Cherry Creek Arts Festival (Denver, 2013), the Des Moines Arts Festival (2013), Pensacola’s Great Gulfcoast Arts Festival (2012), and the Columbus (OH) Arts Festival (2011). He now regularly serves as a juror at many of the fairs where he has previously won major prizes. He has received three Awards of Excellence from the American Crafts Council: two in Atlanta (2009 and 2007) and one in Charlotte (2007).