Although I don’t understand it, many people tell me that my art makes them happy and touches them in a spiritual way. Perhaps because I always seek to honor & glorify my faith in God, who is the center of my life. As I get older, I realize that the something I am searching for is a closer walk with God through my art.
The influence of Southern folk culture and many diverse life experiences are incorporated in the eclectic paintings of acclaimed artist William Hemmerling.
Bill was born in Chicago and migrated to Ponchatoula, a small town in Louisiana near New Orleans, where he built a 25-year career as a visual artist for Sears, setting up interior store displays. He began painting in 2002, after finding a board on the side of the road during a morning jog and adorning it with some house paint he had on hand.
He was a self-taught artist, having had no formal training, yet his work reflects sophistication in both subject matter and materials used. Bill was constantly searching for and using “found” materials and objects that frequently suggested the subject and theme of the paintings. Famed for creating the 2005 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival poster, he also was the artist for the 2008 and 2009 Ponchatoula Strawberry Festival posters. In early 2009, Hemmerling’s work was also on display at an art show in a palace in Santa Domingo, capitol of the Dominican Republic.
There is an element of fantasy in much of Bill’s work, perhaps because he often painted in the early morning hours, inspired by the fleeting memory of a night’s dream. He also explored single themes series such as Cotton, The Preacher, The Washwoman, Jazz Musicians, Famous People, Architecture, and various spiritual themes. Bill was known as one of those rare individuals who could capture his faith visually. His work conveys a sense of serenity that can have a profound effect on admirers and collectors. Bill’s eloquent depictions of Southern African American folk culture resonates with viewers. He is perhaps best known for his recurring image of an African American woman named “Sweet Olive.” Bill’s love of people and his enthusiasm and interest in the creative process, paired with his humble and somewhat offbeat nature, lent excitement and energy to his work.
I call myself a painter instead of an artist because I am self-taught. My inspiration comes from my life experiences, my Catholic upbringing, and my faith. I paint on recycled materials and found objects using house paint and wood stain; my creativity is influenced by the uniqueness of the materials I use. I paint from my imagination—but sometimes it is not very realistic. Collectors who view my art use their imaginations to take them to a place in their own minds.
Bill died in 2009 of colon cancer at the age of 66. His life was celebrated by many friends and family at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, with a Catholic mass, lively gospel music directed by Cynthia, a moving eulogy by Clancy DuBos, a funeral procession led by Sweet Olive and directed by Quint Davis of Jazz Fest.
The procession started with Bill’s casket being placed in a horse-drawn carriage as the music began with the somber ballad, “A Closer Walk With Thee.” It then proceeded through 12 blocks of the French Quarter complete with police escort, passing in front of Saint Louis Cathedral at high noon as the bells tolled, and ending at Café du Monde with free coffee and beignets. Musicians from Preservation Hall and members of the Social Aid and Pleasure Club performed in honor of the late artist as mourners waved white handkerchiefs high, second-line style, throughout the procession.
The motorcade continued to the burial ground in Ponchatoula where we were me by a Jazz Band at the cemetery. An extraordinary tribute for a very humble man.