His pen and ink drawings have graced the walls of several museums throughout the Delta and some as far away as the nation's capital, but Alonzo Ford prides himself almost as much in the lilies, zinnias, roses and sunflowers that he raises in a garden on his old homestead in the Southland community near Lexa.
His pen and ink drawings have graced the walls of several museums throughout the Delta and some as far away as the nation’s capital, but Alonzo Ford prides himself almost as much in the lilies, zinnias, roses and sunflowers that he raises in a garden on his old homestead in the Southland community near Lexa.
Ford’s story and some of his works of art are featured in the summer edition of Delta Crossroads, a quarterly magazine based in Northeast Arkansas.
Born in 1941, the next-to youngest of 13 children – 11 boys and two girls to Henry and Cornelia Ford – in the Delta Crossroads article, the artist recalls the hard work his parents put into establishing the family farm. The Fords raised fruits, vegetables, hay and cotton along with some cows, hogs, chickens and ducks.
“The family,” recalls Ford, “was always amazingly self-sufficient.”
So self-sufficient in fact that they managed to put aside enough money to buy the land for the farm without the aid of a bank.
In 1951, when Alonzo was only 10, the family built the farmhouse and outbuildings.
Ford told Delta Crossroads that his dad was a, “Hard-working man who laid brick, did carpentry work while keeping the farm operating.” He recalled helping his dad with the carpentry work. The family also operated a sorghum mill on the farm.
The magazine reported that when several of the Ford children reached 16, they left the family farm to seek fame and fortune elsewhere. Eventually, Alonzo left too, working brief stints in Detroit, Chicago and Milwaukee and at one time, California.
Henry Ford died in 1961 and Alonzo returned to help his mom run the farm. Like his dad, Alonzo frequently worked as many as three jobs at one time including a compress and lumber mill in the Helena-West Helena area.
Alonzo was 40 years old before he began to dabble seriously in art. In the late 70s and early 80s, Alonzo took art classes at Phillips Community College. He would make a 25-mile round trip by bicycle to attend those classes. He began to take his artwork seriously after a prolonged illness.
Most of his images are scenes from his childhood and frequently feature church and community scenes as well as youngsters playing ball and other games together.
Alonzo, a perfectionist by nature, calls art, “the hardest work I’ve done.” Early in his career he went to the Arkansas Arts Center in Little Rock “to learn more about art.”
He doesn’t plan his work. He says, “I sit down and it just comes.”
Alonzo’s work was first displayed at the West Helena Public Library in the 1990s. He also has had exhibits at the Phillips County Museum of Helena, the Hot Springs Fine Arts Center, Helena’s Delta Cultural Center, the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute on Petit Jean Mountain and the Collector’s Art Gallery in Washington D.C.
His exhibit, “Familiar Figures: Drawings by Alonzo Ford” at the Arts and Science Center of Southeast Arkansas at Pine Bluff received excellent reviews. According to Delta Crossroads, the Arkansas Arts Center is planning a one-man show for Ford, probably in February 2016.
Alonzo currently resides in solitude on the family farm, happily attending to his two loves, art and gardening.
Editor’s Note: Information for this article was gathered and compiled from Delta Crossroads Magazine, various press releases and previous interviews with Ford.