LaVon Williams

Cool Papa Bell

Lexington, KY
Carved pine, oil paint and stains

“I came across this piece of pine at the start of the baseball season and thought about doing a baseball player. James Thomas “Cool Papa” Bell was a center fielder in the Negro leagues from 1922 to 1950. He is considered by many baseball observers to have been one of the fastest men ever to play the game. Many stories were told about “Cool Papa” Bell. It was said that he was so fast that when he turned off his light to go to bed, he would be in the bed before the room got dark! Years later, Mohammed Ali often took stories about “Cool Papa” Bell and applied them to himself. My brother introduced me to the basic principles of a traditional style of relief woodcarving, which has its origins in coastal South Carolina’s African Gullah/Geechie culture. I portray figures by removing minimal wood using chisels and a mallet. I use a variety of woods—mainly poplar and pine—much of it repurposed and found. People are the most interesting things on earth. Once you think you have them all figured out, they change and surprise you.” Born in Florida in 1957, LaVon Williams is a self-taught artist who grew up in Colorado. He played basketball for the University of Kentucky’s NCAA championship team in 1978, then went on to play professional basketball abroad before returning to Kentucky. His work has been published and is found in many collections, including the Kentucky Folk Art Museum. Although abstract and often larger than life, Williams’s subjects are extremely recognizable and engaged in life. They are dramatic, strong and graceful portrayals of African-American life.