When Columbus, GA artists Najee and Seteria Dorsey purchased a house six months ago, they wanted the yard to reflect their love for art.
While searching their belongings, they discovered some aluminum/ployethylene artwork that Najee created four years ago.
The pieces — 28-inches tall and 11-14 inches wide — displayed Black women picking flowers wearing big summer hats.
Recognizing the potential for lawn art, the couple wondered if there was a market for that sort of thing.
On May 20, they took about a dozen pieces to an art show in Washington, and got the answer to that question.
“I sold every piece I had and took some additional orders,” said Najee. “And we were like, ‘Wow, it’s kind of blowing up.’ So we ramped up our production.”
Once back in Columbus, Najee shot a video of the artwork by the fountain on Broadway. On June 1, he posted the video on Instagram and Facebook, and was shocked by the results.
“I was looking and next thing you know, I had 4,000 views, 5,000 views,” he said. “… The numbers continued to climb hour after hour and within three days we had eclipsed over 500,000 views.”
Now, the Dorseys are getting orders from all over the United States, many of them from Georgia, California, Texas, the Carolinas, Chicago, New York and New Jersey.
“What we found is that there are a lot of people that garden and take pride in their homes that didn’t have any representation of themselves that was available to them,” Najee said. “When you do a Google search for African-American lawn art, you get the old black jockey, you get an angel or two, and that’s about it. And so it’s like a ‘who knew?’ kind of thing.”
The couple wanted to develop a brand, rather than just a product. So they adopted the name “Garden Art for the Soul” to reflect an ongoing narrative. Najee said each piece helps tell the story of black self-identity.
“It’s a Southern narrative probably closest to a Gullah Geechee or African-American-Sunday-after-church kind of thing,” he said. “These are images that most people can relate to in terms of African American culture.”
The couple started with three images. Najee said they’re now up to eight, and they will continue adding more to the catalog.
The Dorseys, founders of a Black Art in America website, moved to Columbus from Atlanta three years ago. Last year, they opened the local BAIA gallery at 1433 17 St.
In 2014, Najee’s multimedia artwork was featured in a Columbus Museum exhibit titled the “Leaving Mississippi — Reflections on Heroes and Folklore: Works by Najee Dorsey.”
The exhibit won Najee many local fans, including Aflac CEO Dan Amos and his wife, Kathelen, who later donated $100,000 to the Columbus Museum for a black art initiative. Aflac also purchased one of Najee’s pieces.
“Garden Art for the Soul” is just the couple’s latest endeavor.
“It was basically inspired by us recently buying a home and digging deeper roots here in Columbus,” said Najee, who lives with his wife on 18th Ave. “One of the things that we always wanted to do when we got our own space — after renting lofts and different condos in Atlanta — is to be able to curate and make it our own. Building a garden was one of the things that we were really interested in.
“And so, as a result of getting the house, spending a lot of time in the backyard, and getting our living space right, we saw a need to extend our love of art into yards,” he said.