The Staying Power of York, Alabama

Most artists spend their lives trying to get to New York or Los Angeles. For Garland Farwell, it was the opposite. For the Los Angeles native, and sometime New Yorker, light bulbs of inspiration and curiosity went off when he started thinking about the South.

He took to Google to explore his options and found an artist residency offered by The Coleman Center for the Arts in York, a tiny town in west Alabama, 7 miles from the Mississippi border. He was accepted and packed his bags, expecting to visit long enough to complete the two-month gig. Nine years later, he’s still there.

“The minute I drove into town I knew that this was where I wanted to stay,” he said. “The feeling of, ‘this is what I’ve been looking for and didn’t even realize it.’”

For his residency, Farwell took the work of Alabama artist Mose Tolliver and created community projects that reimagined Tolliver’s work as sculpture, installation and giant puppets.

Soon thereafter, he donned his “artist for hire” hat and began teaching in schools and doing murals around town as well as getting commissions. Starting on Sept. 22, he will lead a program at the Coleman Center called the Sumter County Drawing Experiment. The project runs through Nov. 30 and includes a number of public events – a pop-art Art Party, a Shadows and Light event with music and subliminal sounds, the multiblock Biggest Drawing in Alabama, and a 12-hour Sumter County Drawing Marathon.

Farwell works in a variety of mediums. He loves quilt patterns and will be doing a barn quilt trail with neighboring Choctaw County soon. He also loves radial designs and is obsessed with and can’t stop making hex signs. He’s also passionate about refurbishing and upcycling bicycles and wants to start a bike-share program.

Generally, Farwell loves resurrecting old things and giving them new life, which probably explains why he’s so drawn to York.

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