Al LaVergne Speaks on his Gift to Nigeria

Posted: July 13, 2015
Source: Katie Houston
Job Title: Marketing & PR Coordinator
Phone: (269) 585-9297

The Kalamazoo Institute of Arts welcomes artist and educator Al LaVergne Thursday, July 16 at 6:30 pm, to discuss his 14-foot steel sculpture, The Gift, created during a year spent in Nigeria.

LaVergne traveled to Obafemi Awolowo University in Ife, Nigeria, in 2012, to explore traditional and contemporary Yoruba sculpture processes and share his own process of sculpting from steel. His time there was funded by a Fulbright Award.

"Most African slaves who were brought to North America came from Nigeria. I see myself as a descendant of that cargo who returned home to bring a gift back to Mother Nigeria," LaVergne says, adding that his skills working with his hands began as a child.

"Growing up in rural Louisiana as the son of a sharecropper, my survival skills developed in unique ways," he explains. "Along with farming skills, we were expected to maintain and make repairs on equipment and tools, and in some cases, to invent them. On occasion, I would accompany my father to the local blacksmith shop to have equipment sharpened. I was always fascinated watching the smith transform the hot metal into shapes. These formative years were the foundation of my later process as artist."

The Kalamazoo resident recently retired as an art professor at Western Michigan University, LaVergne holds a BA from Southern University Baton Rouge, an MA and an MFA from the University of California, Berkeley.

"I began to fabricate in metals when I was a graduate student at Berkeley. I enjoyed working in large scale and I needed to work in a medium that was more durable than clay and wood. I also wanted the freedom to revise my concepts during the process. I soon discovered that once I had developed basic welding skills, any shape could be built with steel. This was an epiphany, and the beginning of my vocabulary as an artist."

LaVegne's work is currently on view at the African American Museum of Dallas in an exhibition, Bayou Sculptors; on WMU's Kalamazoo campus; and in the KIA's West Michigan Area Show and permanent collection.

LaVergne's presentation is included with museum admission of $5. Students pay only $2, and admission is free for members, youth under 18, and active military personnel. For information, see, or phone (269) 349-7775. The artist's website is