ARCHIE BYRON Archie Byron Main < BACK

Archie Byron was born in 1928 in Atlanta, Georgia, into a family of ten children. His father was a voice instructor and his mother was a seamstress, but primarily his maternal grandmother raised him. In 1946, Byron was drafted into the Navy and fought on Okinawa during World War II. He attended technical school under the G.I. Bill and became a bricklayer for sixteen years. In 1961, he was recruited into the Atlanta sheriff's department. Later, he founded the first African American-owned private-investigator firm in the United States. Byron was a boyhood friend of Martin Luther King Jr., and following King's assassination, the King family hired Byron's firm as bodyguards. From 1981 to 1990, Byron served as a member of the Atlanta City Council.

In West Atlanta, Byron built a complex that included the family home, his art studio, a fishing and hunting-gear store and a firing range. He loved the outdoors. In 1975, he began to collect roots and branches that he sculpted into animals and other forms. Two years later, he began using gunstock sawdust from his shop, using glue and water to create a paste. He molded the mixture into freestanding and bas-relief sculptures of his family members, abstract forms, dogs, flowers, self-portraits and also religious and political images.

As his art output grew, so did his reputation as a folk artist. In 1986, he was included in an art exhibition in Malmo, Sweden. Byron was commissioned by Mayor Shirley Franklin to create life-size figures seated on benches on Piedmont Avenue in downtown Atlanta. In later years, when he was no longer able to work with sawdust for health reasons, he began painting.

His art is found in many major private art collections, the High Museum of Art in Atlanta and the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington. His work was exhibited in Passionate Visions of the American South, which originated at the New Orleans Museum of Art and traveled to other venues. He was also honored as an artist in residence at the New Orleans Museum of Art.

On August 29, 2005, after a long struggle with lung cancer, Archie Byron died at the age of seventy-seven. With his passing, Atlanta lost one of its most beloved folk artists who was also a prominent figure in Atlanta's history. He is survived by his wife, Joyce, their four children, seven grandchildren and ten great-grandchildren.

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