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Winford Holbert talks about the process he goes through while drawing portraits of famous people throughout history. Holbert has drawn or painted a variety of notables, including Commodore Stephen Decatur, Ulysses S. Grant, and Heinrich Heine, a German poet. Holbert says his favorite large body of work focuses on Commodore Decatur.
Daily photo by Gary Cosby Jr.
Winford Holbert talks about the process he goes through while drawing portraits of famous people throughout history. Holbert has drawn or painted a variety of notables, including Commodore Stephen Decatur, Ulysses S. Grant, and Heinrich Heine, a German poet. Holbert says his favorite large body of work focuses on Commodore Decatur.

Artist drawing history in Valley
Trinity man, 71, sketches variety of notables while pursuing avocation

By Ronnie Thomas
rthomas@decaturdaily.com 340-2438

TRINITY — Winford Holbert once sketched cowboys facing off in six-gun duels. Reading comic books prompted him.

Years later, Civil War generals drew his attention. Driving his family to tours of battlefields at Chattanooga and Chickamauga, Ga., spurred the interest.

Feeding his artistic urge, Holbert advanced from depicting the likes of Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee to drawing other national and international figures. For example: Gen. Douglas MacArthur of World War II fame, German poet Heinrich Heine and Russian composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky, famous for such ballets as "The Nutcracker" and "Romeo and Juliet."

Holbert, 71, has not lost the zeal for his hobby. During the winter, he added Egyptian, Roman and Greek notables to his expanding repertoire.

But the favorite of his large body of work is Commodore Stephen Decatur. Holbert is fond of Decatur's story and, after all, the River City carries his name.

For someone who never had an art lesson, Holbert draws well.

He frames much of his work, cramming walls in the den and bedroom of his Forest Hill Road home.

He has never sold a drawing. He gives them away.

Start to drawing

A sister, Martha Knight, also of Trinity, was responsible for putting him in the art limelight the first and only time. She told his fifth-grade teacher about the cowboy sketches.

"She taped brown paper, like butcher's paper, across the blackboard and gave me an hour to draw," he said.

"I did a landscape scene with a No. 2 lead pencil, which wasn't easy. The class was proud to get out of work watching me."

It was a long time before he drew again.

He also lost interest in school after ninth grade. He went to Kalamazoo, Mich., and worked in a paper mill until snow forced him home.

Holbert worked 20 years at the old Holsum bread bakery on Grant Street. He did everything from catching baked bread off the conveyor to slicing and wrapping it.

After his battlefield trips renewed his interest in art during the late 1960s, he brought home scrap paper from the bakery to draw on.

Oil paintings

He also did oil paintings. He did his last one in 1974, a portrait of Confederate
Maj. Gen. Martin Luther Smith.

He then returned to his trusty carbon drawing pencil.

Holbert's love of history and reading is evident as he shows his work.

He points to Rebel Gen. William Hardee.

"He gathered 62 cannon on the first day of the Battle of Shiloh (April 6, 1862) and pushed the Yankees back to Pittsburgh Landing, on the Tennessee River," Holbert said.

"That's Union Gen. Lew Wallace. He came in that night from the river and put the hurt on the Confederates the second day, stopping their advance."

He notes that although Gen. John Pemberton was a Philadelphia native, he fought for the Rebs on the western front.

Switching to a much earlier time, Holbert motions toward Phillip of Macedonia.

"Everybody knows him. He's the father of Alexander the Great."

Holbert's curious mind once sent him into a sculpting mood after digging up clay on Trinity Mountain. Sitting on a pedestal in a corner of the den is a sculpture of a man's head he shaped using only his hands. Although the man's wearing an Army cap and sunglasses, Holbert thinks he favors Julius Caesar.

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