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Stan Herd’s portrait of John Lewis: ‘Lending art to causes … that have changed the world’

John Lewis by Stan Herd, cover

By David Pendered

A tribute to John Lewis to be unveiled Monday in Freedom Park is being created by a renowned Earthwork artist who fashioned this image of the civil rights leader soon after he completed works of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.

Stan Herd, sunset

Artist Stan Herd is to unveil his Earthwork portrait of civil rights icon John Lewis, at Freedom Park, on Monday. Credit: Kelly Jordan

Stan Herd is creating the image of Lewis near the intersection of Moreland and North avenues. The piece follows his portraits of the president- and vice-president-elect, and his attention-grabbing creations in three battleground states – Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

Herd calls his Lewis piece a “temporary earthwork,” meaning that he used natural materials to make an ephemeral geoglyph, a type of art that may be best recognized as the Nazca Lines in Peru.

The artist Christo is another artist who created temporary displays of contemporary art, including the surrounding of islands in Miami’s Biscayne Bay with a floating fabric, in 1983, and the draping of Germany’s Reichstag with 1 million square feet of shiny fabric and 9.7 miles of polypropylene rope.

Herd has been called the “father of crop art” for his Earthwork representations created in China, Cuba, Australia and Brazil, as well as at least 13 U.S. states. The work in China took a year to create, according to a report on his webpage.

Regarding the image of Lewis, Herd said it fits into his life’s work to highlight individuals who have improved mankind:

Artist Stan Herd (right) and civil rights worker J.T. Johnson hold the portrait of John Lewis used as the guide for Herd’s Earthwork creation in Freedom Park. Credit: Kelly Jordan

  • “In general, I hope to bring attention to land, and the people who work the land, who value the landscape and Mother Earth; that is my family. I also have been involved, all my life, in lending art to causes and issues and thoughts and opinions that have changed the world. That is John Lewis.”

Herd was at work on Sunday afternoon. The partly cloudy weather was an improvement on the overcast skies earlier in the week. Lighting is important in shaping grass and grounds, and adding natural materials, to provide the colors and textures that will appear from the sky as an image of John Lewis.

Painstaking preparation appears to be an essential component of a successful work. In this case, Herd started with a portrait of Lewis, showing head and shoulders. This image was transcribed to the ground and the work entails the use of grass clipping devices to carve furrows, and the addition of natural materials to add texture and color.

Preparations included gaining support from Atlanta city officials to install the art. A central concern was for the image to be apolitical, Herd said. Discussions ensued for about two weeks and the city granted approval for the image of Lewis to be installed near the eastern tip of a roadway renamed in Lewis’ honor, the John Lewis Freedom Parkway.

Herd compared his works to a performance art piece. In a conversation on Dec. 30, when the project was just starting to take shape on the ground, Herd described the process of creating such an Earthwork:

John Lewis by Stan Herd

This aerial view shows the Earthwork image of John Lewis taking shape under the hands of artist Stan Herd. Courtesy of Stan Herd

  • “Part of the dance is seeing if it is possible. Going into a city where I don’t know people and seeing if it has merits, if I have the ability to pull that off and spread a positive story about it.
  • “The work is a compilation of weeks of research, Googling, calling agriculture extension agencies, calling governments to see who will be supportive and who won’t.
  • “I’m dogged. Part of it is my age, and recovering from cancer. I’m hell-bent to change the world with art.”

Each Earthwork will last for a few shining moments. By definition, Earthworks, including the Lewis piece, fade away. Part of Herd’s arrangement with the city is to return in the Spring and make sure it has faded away:

  • “We’re in winter and everything is dormant. Every branch that falls is going to stay where it falls. The image will fade somewhat because of rain and winds and traffic, and dogs running across. But will last until Spring and they have asked me to come back in Spring and make sure I haven’t left a mess.”

Herd looks forward to the return visit, and reuniting with new friends met at Manuel’s Tavern:

  • “It will give me an opportunity to reconnect.”


Stan Herd, John Lewis, start

Earthwork artist Stan Herd works from a grid on a portrait of John Lewis to transfer the image to a large plot of ground, where the artwork is created with grass cutting tools and natural materials. Credit: Kelly Jordan

David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow.


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1 Comment

  1. Ken Hardy January 4, 2021 9:05 am

    Let me guess, this portrait of Lewis is being funded by some pot of money from a City that already can’t pay its bills on time and can’t keep the street crime from exploding because it does not have enough police, LOLReport


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